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Monday, May 08, 2006
Posted 10:54 PM by

Rethinking Jubelirer

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer is catching flack from his constituents for initially shepherding last year's legislative pay raise into law, even though his change of heart is mostly responsible for its repeal.I don't live in his Pennsylvania senatorial district and I'm not even a member of his party, but two newspaper stories this morning got me wondering if I've been too hard on state Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer.

At least, about Jubelirer's "quarterbacking" last year's now-repealed legislative pay raise into law. The eight-term Republican's reversal and subsequent written apology to his constituents made statewide news last year.

I'm still plenty pissed at him, though, for saying he was against legalizing slot machine parlors and then taking campaign money from licensee hopeful Louis DeNaples. But that's another story.

Bob is weaving but still catching the most flack from his constituents about the pay raise.

Jubelierer's initial support of the pay raise was "part of the trappings of being in power," Dennis Brown, 67, of Roaring Spring told the Associated Press over the weekend. Brown is now supporting a Jubelirer primary challenger, John Eichelberger.

That's because Brown probably missed a Nov. 20, 2005, story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review which credits Jubelirer's change of heart with crashing down the house of cards the pay raise was built upon.

As the story goes, Jubelirer, R-Altoona, walked into the office of Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow at 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31, and told him, "I have bad news for you. ... I'm sorry, I've changed my mind"

Jubelirer wanted to get rid of the unvouchered expenses portion of the pay raise, a legal trick that let incumbents take the raise early despite a provision in the state Constitution that's supposed to prevent it.

"The fact is, we were getting nothing done," Jubelirer told the Trib. "It dominated everything. And I felt the time had come to absolutely listen to the public out there. I did what I thought was right."

Mellow said, "I never saw it coming." Neither did House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, who later asked Jubelirer, "How can you do this unilaterally? There were four caucuses, the governor and the (state) Supreme Court" involved in passing the pay raise, DeWeese said.

DeWeese's statement alone proves the point of Common Cause's federal lawsuit, which alleges collusion and favorable rulings between the state's highest court and lawmakers in exchange for a pay raise that would also cover the courts and the executive branch.

Jubelirer's decision led to a Nov. 1 secret meeting in Jubelirer's office attended by all of the state's top lawmakers. "Jubelirer seemed to be beset by an extravagant case of the jitters," DeWeese recalled. "It became clear to all of us within about 30 seconds of entering the room that Robert Jubelirer was morphing into John Hancock trying to erase his name from the Declaration of Independence."

But it wasn't Jubelirer's courage that brought the full repeal to a floor vote. Sensing weakness, Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, and Sen. Sean Logan, D-Monroeville, cut a deal with staffers of Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll to make sure their bill for a full repeal made it to the floor before leaders could bring a bill outlawing only the unvouchered expenses.

Jubelirer tried to talk Logan out of it, but in the end accepted most of the blame and rebuke - not credit - by his peers for the full repeal.

Instead of being hailed as a hero of taxpayers, House Majority Leader Sam Smith accused Jubelirer of secretly trying to keep the judges' pay increase because his wife, Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, was in line for a hefty salary hike.

"I'm convinced that he doesn't have more than half a dozen people out of 253 (members of the Legislature) that have a shred of respect for his commitment to the institution of the General Assembly," DeWeese told the Tribune-Review.

He also called Jubelirer's decision an act of "epic cowardice," and added, "We'll certainly never name a building after him."

This from a guy who supported the pay raise until the second vote came for its repeal, leaving House Minority Whip Mike Veon hanging in the wind as the lone dissenting lawmaker.

There's one thing I hate more than unrestrained greed, and that's a mean-spirited schoolyard bully who lacks the courage of his convictions.

House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese called Jubelirer's decision an act of 'epic cowardice,' even though DeWeese reversed his position and voted for the pay raise repeal before it passed the second time round.Anybody who has ever read about the Milgram experiment knows that peer pressure can be a powerful force. The social psychology experiment found just 35 percent of those tested refused to administer a lethal shock to another person despite orders from an authority figure.

For his willingness to stand up to such scorn and do what's right, whether he believed in it or not, voters in the 30th-district, which includes Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon and parts of Fulton counties, should seriously consider sending Jubelirer back to the Senate next Tuesday.

Plus, it would really piss off the powers that be in Harrisburg and that - even more than Jubelirer's past accomplishments in office or his endorsement by Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann - might be the reason to return him there.

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