"What's black and white and read all over?"

Monday, July 14, 2008
Posted 11:59 PM by

I apologize Mr. DeWeese

House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese (left) has not been charged with any wrongdoing. His former top aide and former House minority whip Mike Veon (right) have.Only my second blog back from a long hiatus and I find myself unprecentedly apologizing to the still-somewhat-honorable H. William DeWeese, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House.

Not bad.

DeWeese was not indicted by a state grand jury last week as another blogger predicted he might be.

Instead, state Attorney General Tom Corbett completed the first phase of his investigation by filing charges against former Beaver County legislator Mike Veon, Rep. Sean Ramaley, D-Beaver, and 10 former or suspended House Democratic staffers for taxpayer-funded bonuses paid to legislative staffers for campaign work as well as other political work done on the taxpayers' dime.

All were arraigned in Harrisburg on Friday.

Among them was Mike Manzo, DeWeese's former chief of staff, who also faces charges of handing a do-nothing job to Angela Bertugli, a former office intern he was "shtupping," as Inquirer columnist Stu Bykofky called it.

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review has even run a profile of the former small-town beauty queen. In that article, DeWeese, the loquacious House party leader and family friend who brought Bertugli to Harrisburg, was at a loss for words. "I'm heartbroken," he said Friday in an e-mail to the newspaper.

Before you go feeling sorry for the guy, factor this into your thinking:

  • DeWeese and Veon were the only two state representatives who voted against repealing the pay raise lawmakers gave themselves in 2005.
  • They have also been among the chief supporters of casino gambling in Pennsylvania and were important cogs in the fledgling industry's lobbying and campaign contribution efforts.
  • DeWeese has said he acted aboveboard in all matters and expects to be cleared. He has portrayed himself, in public statements and through subordinates, as a hands-off leader who left the details to Veon, according to the Tribune-Review.

That's karma, Bill. What you put out into the ether will inevitably come back and bite hard.

I don't know whether to congratulate Corbett for not overreaching and arraigning DeWeese without the Bonusgate evidence to back it up, or whether another prosecutorial shoe may eventually drop from the Feds.

Lord knows, it would be long overdue. Slotsylvania needs an anema, not just a sex scandal.

That's because Corbett, who eyes the governors' mansion himself, accepted at least $35,000 in campaign contributions from a now-indicted slots parlor owner, Louis DeNaples, while running for attorney general.

Corbett says he won't give the money back unless DeNaples is convicted of lying to the state Gambling Control Board about his association with two mob bosses and two political fixers.

The Bonusgate scandal is but an ice cube compared to the titantic iceberg of legalized corruption the DeNaples case represents. Not only did Corbett, the state's top law enforcement officer, take money from DeNaples, so did Gov. Ed Rendell, judges, lawmakers and party leaders on both sides of the aisle.

In fact, DeNaples spread more than $1 million in campaign cash around in the years running up to the midnight passage of the 2004 law that legalized slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania and his eventual state license to operate the $415 million Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos.

However, the Dauphin County District Attorney's case against the Dunmore billionaire isn't proceeding nearly as fast as DeNaples' case against him and the media.

To prove their assertion that grand jury leaks have tainted the case against their client, DeNaples' lawyers have subpoenaed 15 reporters from six news organizations - including 10 from The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. Lawyers for the news organizations have asked the judge to throw out all the subpoenas for journalists, saying that the state's shield law protects them from having to identify confidential sources.

The shield law states that no reporter "shall be required to disclose the source of any information procured or obtained by such person, in any legal proceeding, trial or investigation before any government unit."

On top of this travesty taking place in a mysteriously closed court, DeNaples' attorney, former federal prosecutor Sal Cognetti Jr., was able to legally obtain the cell phone records for the Dauphin County district attorney, his chief deputy, and two troopers assigned to an organized-crime unit without telling the prosecutors or police.

Francis Chardo, the first assistant prosecutor in Dauphin County and one of the prosecutors whose records were disclosed, was outraged. "This could get somebody killed," Chardo said of the precedent being set.

Cognetti successfully prosecuted DeNaples for felony fraud as an assistant U.S. attorney back in the '70s. He was also one of two law enforcement officials to vouch for him when he applied for his slots parlor license.

The other was U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino, who was supposed to be building a new federal case against DeNaples when the former felon used him as a reference for his casino license. Marino then quit his public post and joined DeNaples' legal team.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

 |  4 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

Monday, July 07, 2008
Posted 8:43 PM by

The biggest story never told?

If a Pennsylvania novelist is correct, the state House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese (left) and former House Minority Whip Mike Veon - the two architects of the state's slots law - have both been indicted.Pssst. Hey Slotsylvania, I'm back. No, that isn't the big news. Just thought I'd give myself a plug for a second.

The biggest news story ignored by the state media over the July 4th holiday weekend was the reported indictments of state House Majority Leader H. William "Bill" DeWeese and Mike Veon, a former House Minority Whip and Democratic rat-fucker turned casino and tobacco lobbyist after voters threw him out of office.

So far, blogger and writer Bill Keisling is the only one to have part of the story, noting, "Prosecutors are expected to make public the charges against Majority Leader DeWeese and others within the next week or so."

Guess, they didn't want to interfere with all those good news cycles over the holiday weekend about Pennsylvania leaders actually passing a budget on time for a change. Or step on the tear-stained shoes of departing state Sen. Vince Fumo, who left the public stage last week amid health concerns and a federal indictment of his own to fight.

Of course, that could just be my "the incompetent media is a conspiracy" theory. Nobody else has printed a glimmer about the potential grand jury indictments since last month, according to a Google news search.

But I'm willing to give Keisling the benefit of the doubt on this - and apologize later if need be. The novelist and owner of previously broke the news that Gov. Ed Rendell had secretly hired his former law firm, Ballard Spahr, to handle the closed-door bidding and now-dead long-term leasing of the Turnpike.

According to Keisling, a grand jury investigation into legislative bonuses has blossomed into a wide-ranging inquiry throughout state government.

DeWeese and Veon, the only two nitwits to vote against repealing the 2005 legislative pay raise (before DeWeese caved and left Veon hanging), are probably being named because of allegations they paid taxpayer-funded bonuses to their legislative staffers for performing political work.

If true, the two main architects behind slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania - and the chief forces pushing for full casino gambling - are now both politically tainted. And suddenly, the governor finds himself and his staff answering a lot of tough questions about corruption.

DeWeese has said he acted aboveboard in all matters and expects to be cleared. He has portrayed himself, in public statements and through subordinates, as a hands-off leader who left the details to Veon, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

I should be ecstatic. For years now, I've been calling for someone - preferably the Feds - to do this very same thing. However, I'll stop just short of singing Handel's "Hallelujah!" chorus.

That's because state Attorney General Tom Corbett, the guy who may be driving this freewheeling grand jury with an eye on the governor's chair (You reading me Pat Meehan?), has already painted himself with the same corrupt brush with which Rendell has become a master.

Rendell, a Democrat, and Corbett, a Republican, both accepted large political contributions from Dunmore billionaire and former federal felon Louis DeNaples in the run-up to the awarding of his slots license.

A Dauphin County grand jury indicted DeNaples last year for lying to the state Gaming Control Board about his alleged ties to organized crime figures. The local prosecutor was given Corbett's blessing, even though the state's chief law enforcement officer has a seven-attorney corruption taskforce in part because of legalized slots gambling.

State campaign finance records are shoddy even though they're computerized public records. But my research found Gov. Ed Rendell received at least $115,000 from DeNaples in campaign donations between 2000 and 2004, and Corbett, the state's top prosecutor, accepted at least $35,000.

Spokesmen for both officials have said they won't give the money back unless DeNaples is convicted. Other recipients of DeNaples' contributions included top state lawmakers, party groups and judges.

Labels: , , , , , ,

 |  1 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

Saturday, March 22, 2008
Posted 6:19 PM by

DeNaples fights back; key lawmaker in trouble in Slotsylvania

Louis DeNaplesNow it's indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples' turn to fight back.

On Thursday, the Dunmore billionaire gave a copy of his own FBI file to the state Gaming Control Board. He initially refused to do that during the background check for his license, even though he requested it through the Federal Freedom of Information Act.

Kevin Feeley, DeNaples' spokesman, blamed the discrepancy on the FBI's failure to release the entire file to DeNaples in a timely manner. Since then, the FBI has supplied the entire file to DeNaples' attorneys, Feeley said. In response to a recent request from the gaming board, the lawyers gave it to the agency.

DeNaples' lawyer, Richard A. Sprague of Philadelphia, told the Inquirer the perjury case against his client rests on lies told by reputed Northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Billy D'Elia.

Sprague said D'Elia lied when he told the grand jury that the D'Elia-DeNaples family relationship ran so deep that DeNaples gave his father's rosary beads to D'Elia after the elder DeNaples passed away. The rosary beads were black, not green, and are buried with the elder DeNaples, Sprague told the newspaper's editorial board.

Sprague also attacked D'Elia's testimony cited in the grand jury's Jan. 30 presentment that D'Elia's predecessor, the late Russell Bufalino, gave DeNaples the ring he was wearing after DeNaples complimented it while the pair were at the C&C Club in the early 1970s.

It never happened, said Sprague, who had asked to meet with the Inquirer's editorial board to complain about the way the newspaper's editorials had characterized DeNaples, who maintains his innocence. He has been barred from his own casino - and its profits - pending the outcome of the criminal case.

State police filed the four perjury charges against DeNaples, 67, accusing him of lying to Gaming Control Board agents about the extent of his relationships with D'Elia, Bufalino and two men at the center of a federal probe into corruption involving Philadelphia City Hall.

And before you go thinking DeNaples' was framed, remember he pleaded no contest to a federal felony in a 1978 fraud case, gave more than $1.1 million to the state's top elected officials in the years before he received his license, and FBI wiretaps are being used as evidence against him.

None of that also explains whether DeNaples attended the 1999 wedding of D'Elia's daughter, as D'Elia has also claimed. Stands to reason that if there was no friendly connection between the two of them, DeNaples might just have sent a gift and well wishes.

Better hope the feds, state police and/or Dauphin County prosecutors are going through the wedding album right now looking for DeNaples in group shots.

Nor does it explain why Tad Decker, the former chairman of the gaming board, refused to call D'Elia as a witness before the board unanimously voted to grant him a license on Dec. 20, 2006.

Decker told the Allentown Morning Call that someone - he refused to say who - told him that D'Elia would merely have evoked his fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination if called. It wasn't D'Elia's lawyer, who said his client is eager to testify on this matter.

Decker and other Gaming Control Board members knew or should have known that the state police were investigating DeNaples for perjury before they issued him a license, according to testimony state police commander Jeffrey Miller gave the Legislature during budget hearings last month.

Since then, you can understand why Republicans in the Legislature are salivating for an official probe into DeNaples' licensing by a bipartisan committee with subpoena power. They also want reform for the state's four-year-old slots law.

One of the biggest impediments to slots reform, though, has been state Rep. Harold James (D-Philadelphia), majority chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee. He has refused to move any slots-related legislation out of his committee for more than a year.

But the wheels in Slotsylvania go round and round - and James may now be hardpressed to win re-election this year.

State Rep. Harold James.According to the Inquirer: The state Supreme Court issued a three-sentence order Thursday overturning a ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Doris A. Smith-Ribner and ordered her to consider a challenge against James's nominating petitions, seeking to have him thrown off the April 22 primary ballot.

The original deadline for submitting signatures was Feb. 12, and the deadline for challenging them was seven days later.

But a raging snowstorm in central Pennsylvania kept some candidates from reaching the state election bureau in time, and Gov. Rendell extended the filing deadline from 5 p.m. on Feb. 12 to noon on Feb. 14. Challenges were due seven days later.

James's opponent, Kenyatta Johnson, challenged James's petitions on grounds that he improperly listed himself as the person circulating his petitions, when in fact they were circulated by other people.

Johnson filed the challenge in mid-afternoon on Feb. 21. James's attorney, John Sabatina, contended that the challenge should have been filed before noon. Ribner-Smith agreed and dismissed the challenge, without hearing any of Johnson's evidence on the alleged petition problems.

The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling yesterday that the challenge had been "timely filed" and remanding the James case for a hearing next Wednesday.

There is no known direct connection between DeNaples and state Rep. James.

However, one of James' biggest political contributors over the years was former state Rep. Mike Veon, who gave him a total of $5,000. Although Veon is now a lobbyist in Harrisburg for gambling and other interests, as a lawmaker he received at least $60,000 in contributions from DeNaples.

Veon also was head of the House Democratic Campaign Committee and used that position to push for gambling expansion along with now-House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese, who reportedly received $5,000 in contributions from DeNaples.

James' committee is sitting on a bill DeWeese wrote, H.B. 2121, which would turn all of the state's 14 slots parlors - seven of which are already operating - into full fledged casinos.


For more about Louis DeNaples and to read my complete take on this long-predicted Slotsylvania snafu, click here.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Posted 10:09 PM by

Lobbyists spent $53.5M on N.J. lawmakers in '07

Lobbyists gave just $31,666 in specific gifts to New Jersey lawmakers last year, compared to an estimated $2 million in undeclared gifts to their Pennsylvania counterparts.Lobbyists spent $53.5 million last year trying to sway New Jersey lawmakers, down $1.8 million from 2006, a new state report says.

I'd love to give you comparable numbers for Pennsylvania, but they don't exist. More on that in a bit.

Out of all that money, the lobbyists only passed $31,666 in direct benefits to New Jersey lawmakers, down from $45,500 in 2006 and from $79,509 in 1997, according to the records. Under state law, benefit passing includes meals, entertainment, gifts, travel and lodging.

The biggest recipient of that surprisingly small largesse was Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, chairman of the Assembly committee overseeing telecommunications and utilities. He accepted $1,126 in gifts last year from lobbyists. All but $280 came from industries he oversees, according to the Associated Press.

Still, Ev Liebman, of the watchdog group New Jersey Citizen Action, told the AP, "It's very troubling when we have a system that allows special interests and their money to dominate the legislative process and to get the kind of access to legislators, particularly powerful legislators, that's simply not available to rate payers, those of us who pay the bills."

Across the Delaware River, Pennsylvania no longer breaks down its total lobbying numbers for the public to inspect thanks to a two-year-old lobbyist disclosure law, which appears to have done more to obfuscate lobbying expenditures than it did to expose them.

Pennsylvania does now have an online database of quarterly expense reports filed by lobbyists, but the regulations on how the lobbyists should fill out the state-mandated forms still are not finalized.

I do know, thanks to an Associated Press analysis of the state data, that lobbyists spent $37 million in Pennsylvania during the first six months of 2007, of which nearly $1 million went to state officials for meals, plane tickets, hotel rooms and other gifts.

Now, multiply that by two and compare it to the $31,666 spent by lobbyists in New Jersey.

What's the difference between the two states? New Jersey's law requires that every gift to a legislator from a lobbyist must be spelled out along with the exact amount of money spent.

Pennsylvania's law does not.

Am I wrong to think the Legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell's administration are selling us out, and to say that we now have the best government lobbying money can secretly buy?

For example, Pennsylvania offered the movie industry this year a 25 percent tax credit on TV shows and films that spend at least 60 percent of their total budget in the Commonwealth. The program's cost is capped at $75 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

How did Hollywood qualify for the break? Lobbyists Leslie Merrill McCombs, a former Fox TV reporter in Pittsburgh, and Mike Veon, a once-powerful Democratic state representative from Beaver County, lobbied for it on behalf of Lionsgate, a leading independent film and TV production company based in Santa Monica, Calif.

That isn't what angered state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, though.

It's the fact that McCombs didn't publicly declare that she was working on behalf of Lionsgate in her quarterly reports until after the tax break was granted. McCombs called it a "technical and brief noncompliance" that was later corrected.

"Clearly, we cannot permit lobbyists to hide what is spent on influencing the Governor and members of the General Assembly," Piccola (R-Dauphin) said in a Sept. 5 written statement. "Accountability is the key to reestablishing the public's trust in government. People who influence the law should not be above it."

Piccola's committee hired private investigators for $120 an hour to probe whether loopholes in the state's lobbying and ethics laws were exploited and to see if Veon violated a state prohibition against former lawmakwers lobbying their colleagues within a year of leaving office.

Veon was voted out of office in November 2006 after being the lone lawmaker in the state to vote against repealing the 2005 legislative pay raise. He filed to lobby on behalf of Lionsgate six months later, but state records say he didn't spend a dime.

In an e-mail to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Veon said, "I am confident that any review of the facts and the record will find that at no time ... have I lobbied anyone in the House of Representatives."

Meanwhile, McCombs lashed out at Piccola for suggesting she had an inappropriate relationship with Gov. Rendell. The governor has said he is friends with McCombs, her husband and son and has attended Pittsburgh-area sporting events with the family.

All of this was meant as but an illustration. The $75 million tax break is mere chump change by comparison to what's at stake by expanding the state's fledgling slot machine gamling industry so that it includes table games.

I did a cursory examination of the database last month and found that gambling interests spent at least $2.6 million last year to lobby lawmakers and Rendell's administration.

I say at least, because I suspect more money - possibly a lot more - is hidden from public view by virtue of gambling interests hiring one lobbyist, who in turn hired another.

Two final thoughts: Why didn't Piccola refer the movie tax break case to state Attorney General Tom Corbett, whose office has a seven-attorney public corruption unit? After all, Corbett is also leading a committee that's spent the last year drafting the disclosure regulations the lobbyists will follow?

In an unrelated ethics matter, though, Corbett said this week he would not return at least $35,000 worth of campaign contributions from now-indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples. Despite a grand jury investigation last year, DeNaples spent $67,375 last year lobbying for "casino gambling."

Given all that, is there any wonder why there's a lack of leadership on reforming the state slots law in the Legislature?

Labels: , , , , , ,

 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

Saturday, February 23, 2008
Posted 9:35 PM by

Connect the Mike Veon dots in Slotsylvania

Lobbyist and former Democratic state representative Mike Veon.Two years after voters threw Mike Veon out of office in anger for the 2005 legislative pay raise, which he was the lone representative to vote against repealing, Veon is just one of 834 registered lobbyists roaming the halls in Harrisburg.

Or is he?

There are now three lobbyists seeking influence for every lawmaker in the Capitol, but Veon is still reaping at least one benefit from holding his former office.

Both Gov. Ed Rendell and the House Democratic Campaign Committee, a group of partisan ratfuckers that Veon used to lead, have come to his aid - bailing out the remaining $45,000 of campaign debt outstanding from his unsuccessful re-election bid in 2006.

The committee wiped out most of the debt, spending $40,683 - money that was donated to the committee to get fellow Democrats elected, not help a former colleague now in the private sector.

To top it off, Veon handed out $80,000 in bonuses to a dozen staff members at his district office using state tax money, touching off an investigation that led to the Bonusgate scandal which is still rocking the 'burg.

State Rep. Todd Eachus (D-Luzerne County), who now chairs the committee, defended his unilateral decision to bail out Veon, telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he would have done the same thing for any Democrat who lost.

Yet, two of Veon's former Democratic colleagues, both of whom hail from Beaver County the same as Veon did, have campaign debts the committee hasn't offered to pay off. Rep. Sean Ramaley owes $7,000 from his first campaign for the state House in 2004 and Rep. Vincent Biancucci owes $12,000 from his 2002 and 2004 races, state records show.

Ramaley is withholding judgment at this point, other than saying he would prefer the committee stick to its mission. Biancucci actually defended the move to the Post-Gazette. "This debt was not paid off with any funds coming from the commonwealth," he said.

Why so much deference for Veon then two years after he was ousted?

Is this payback for all he did - for himself and others - during his 22 years in the House?

Does Veon know where all the skeletons are buried and this is hush money? After all, he received $60,000 in campaign contributions from now-indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

Or is it something simpler.

Veon not only wanted slots gambling when he was a top Democrat in the state House, he wanted riverboat gambling too and pushed hard to get it. Now that he's a lobbyist, is he still working toward the goal of gambling expansion?

His registration papers with the state don't list what he's lobbying for and he's shown no expenses so far. However, the records do say among Veon's many clients is Malady & Wooten, LLP, which represents "gaming" interests among its clients.

The double-blind of having Veon represent them, means Veon doesn't have to publicly say if he's now lobbying for gambling interests under the state's lobbyist disclosure law. That's how weak the law is.


For more about lobbyist and former House Democratic whip Mike Veon, click here.

Labels: ,

 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, February 22, 2008
Posted 11:55 PM by

Follow-up Friday: Everything's connected in Slotsylvania


Look who's floundering now.First, they blew $7.5 million on executive bonuses, $2.2 million on promotional swag, $800,000 on lavish trips for themselves, and $108,000 renting out HersheyPark for a day, claiming they deserved the perks for doing such a good job.

Then, they fought three media outlets who sought to prove their out-of-control spending, paying lawyers $409,413 to battle the legitimate requests for public records all the way up to the state Supreme Court.

Now, the lawmaker-dominated board which runs the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority (PHEAA) - the largest provider of college loans and grants to students in the state - is crying poverty and plans to lobby federal officials for help with a "looming crisis in funding for student loans."

On the plus side, at least its chairman, state Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware County), said last week his agency won't appeal a Commonwealth Court decision saying it must now reimburse the media's $48,000 in legal fees. "We're going to pay the bill and move on," Adolph said.

If it can afford to.

PHEAA's board held an "emergency" summit Thursday which blamed the nation's subprime mortgage mess, and its resulting credit crunch, for the "failed auctions" of student debt it has experienced recently in the bond market for the first time in its history.

The authority's bond market woes are "substantially increasing its cost of borrowing and putting its ability to fund additional student loans at risk," Adolph said in a press release Thursday.

The agency doled out 162,502 awards in 2006-07, with students receiving an average of $3,135. The agency has declined to estimate next year's awards because of the credit problems.

"As many Americans face foreclosure on their homes, millions of college students may now face foreclosure on their plans for a higher education," Adolph said. "We must act quickly and we must act now - before our students are caught in a painful student aid funding crunch that could put their college plans financially out of reach."

He said the summit came up with a plan to ask the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the U.S. Secretary of Education, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and the President of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh for help.

I kid you not.

Like they even have time to notice right now with the rest of the U.S. economy spiraling down the toilet.

The plea for help came from the same arrogant agency that claimed it could do no wrong just last year, and whose own board member, state Sen. Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia), had the audacity last month to accuse Auditor General Jack Wagner of playing politics with the state's first-ever audit of PHEAA.

Much like the authority he helps run, Fumo is now flat on his back or ample gut after undergoing lumbar fusion surgery on Tuesday. He did not attend the summit.


Sure, he's under federal indictment for allegedly extorting $17 million from PECO for a non-profit agency in his district and then trying to cover it up.

And it's more than a little mysterious that the city lost its property tax file on his $6 million Fairmount Place mansion sometime over the last two decades, letting him pay just $6,611 a year in property taxes instead of $165,000 annually.

But if the Vince of Darkness does stand for re-election on April 22, he may not have much to fear from self-termed "reform" candidate Lawrence M. Farnese Jr..

Farnese, a Philly attorney, submitted voter petitions with 1,800 signatures last week to run for office, however, hundreds of them were in the same handwriting - obviously forgeries, according to today's Philadelphia Daily News.

This from the same guy who promised a small group of supporters this week, "When I get to Harrisburg, transparent and accountable government is going to be one of the main priorities that I work on, right from Day One."

Not a great start. But hey, at least none of the forgeries came from dead people. That's an improvement right there.

Still, another Democratic rival John J. Dougherty, business manager of the Local 98 electricians union, sponsored a lawsuit this week challenging Farnese's petitions in Commonwealth Court. No word yet on whether Fumo and another Democratic candidate, community activist Anne Dicker will join the suit.

A total of 228 legislative seats - all 203 House seats and half of the 50 seats in the Senate - are up for grabs this year. And Farnese, a newcomer, isn't the only one in hot water over petitions.

There also were petition challenges to at least five incumbent state lawmakers: Rep. Frank Andrews Shimkus (D-Lackawanna County), Rep. Mauree A. Gingrich (R-Lebanon), Rep. Harold James (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Thomas W. Blackwell IV (D-Philadelphia) and Rep. Tony Payton Jr. (D-Philadelphia), according to the Associated Press.

James was accused of improperly signing petitions. He claimed he circulated them personally, but voters have said someone else had been circulating the petitions.

As majority chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, James has also been holding up legislation that could reform the state's seven slots parlors before the next seven open their doors.


As I wrote on Wednesday, one of James' biggest contributors over the years was former state Rep. Mike Veon, an outspoken advocate of gambling expansion in the state who wanted riverboast gambling legalized when he was in office.

In addition to being architects of the slots bill, Veon and House Floor Leader H. William DeWeese were the only two representatives to vote against repealing the 2005 legislative pay raise.

Veon, a former Democratic whip, got cracked when he lost his re-election bid in the fall of 2006, despite spending $2 million, and is now one of the 843 registered lobbyists roaming the halls in Harrisburg.

To help retire the rest of Veon's campaign debt, the House Democratic Campaign Committee gave him a total of $40,683 in November and December, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"I don't think it's appropriate for the campaign committee to be doing that," state Rep. Dan Frankel, (D-Pittsburgh), who is co-chairman of its fund-raising committee, told the newspaper. "The function of the campaign committee is to help elect Democrats; that's our mission, and I'm not sure this action helps advance that."

But state Rep. Todd Eachus (D-Luzerne County) said, "This is a decision I made and I stand by it. I would do the same thing for Dan Frankel if he lost tomorrow."

Lame-duck Gov. Ed Rendell has also given Veon $5,000 from his remaining $2.25 million in campaign funds.

Here's where things get fun.

Fast Eddie has been facing mounting criticism - including at least one call for his impeachment - for failing to get property tax reform passed in the Legislature. His inability to do so, just like the governors before him, has led me to call for mandated property tax reassessments statewide in order to prevent more tax cases like Fumo's and to correct long-ignored inequities.

Rendell's office this week quietly floated the idea of providing statewide property tax cuts averaging $185 per homeowner this summer out of the state's 55 percent rake from slots gambling, even though no such plan has been approved by the Legislature.

The move drew immediate derision from some lawmakers, including state Rep. Nick Kotik (D-Coraopolis), who said, "I don't think 185 bucks will make anyone happy. But it's the old story that something is better than nothing."

Expect calls to further expand gambling at the slots parlors to table games - thereby providing more tax relief - to begin this spring. And there's already a bill, H.B. 2121 penned by DeWeese, sitting in James' oversight committee to do just that.

"We started with slot machines and now we should complete the job because there is no practical difference between putting $10 in a slot machine and putting $10 on a blackjack or poker table," DeWeese said way back in 2005.

Once that happens, Slotsylvania may become known as Pai-Gow-Pennsy.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Posted 11:59 PM by

Rendell signs tax bill to justify slot machines

But Senate Democrats may have put the kibosh on a Republican plan to stop the payout to political friends who want to be slot machine middlemen.

Politically connected slots middlemen in Pennsylvania may still get their piece of the slots pie thanks to an amendment state Senate Democrats added to a bill to abolish the practice that passed Tuesday.Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell signed the tax "reform" bill he wanted into law today, which I'm officially redubbing the Wage Earners' Tax since it actually increases taxes on anybody working here.

As I've said previously, the new law is really an election year ploy so some legislators and Rendell can say they gave $1 billion in tax relief to Pennsylvanians while justifying jamming slot machine gambling down our throats.

In truth, the $200 tax break the average homeowner may eventually receive from the state's share of slots quarters has likely already been offset by huge increases passed this summer by their local school districts.

And as I've said, the state has nearly a $1 billion surplus this year, so why did our lawmakers feel it was necessary to give local school districts the power to tax us even more?

Once that becomes clear, be prepared for the Legislature to pass a law legalizing table games, ostensibly so they can provide even more "help" to homeowners.

At least some political friends of the lawmakers may not end up benefiting from the slots law. Maybe.

The state Senate voted 29-21 tonight to abolish a requirement that slot-machine manufacturers use in-state middlemen to sell their equipment to Pennsylvania casinos.

No other state in the nation with gambling requires it. They just let their casinos buy directly from machines manufacturers.

The measure also would end the deadlock of the politically handpicked Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on how best to divvy up the spoils.

That's assuming this bill sees the light of day in the House. A Democraticly-penned amendment increased the state's tax on slots parlor operators - from 52 percent to 56 percent - in order to pay for gambling-related law enforcement costs.

That alone might just be enough to kill the bill, S.B. 1230, as some slots hopefuls were already balking at the idea of giving the state more than half of the house's quarters and silver dollars.

At 52 percent, Pennsylvania's tax rate on slots parlors was already "more than six times higher" than those in Atlantic City or Nevada.

Meanwhile, no one has gotten around to actually killing the portion of the slots law that lets legislators own up to 1 percent of any slots parlor.

But don't worry, House Democratic Whip Michael Veon wants an amendment to the law.

Unfortunately, his amendment would just make sure the Gaming Control Board gives his district a casino - even if none of its proposed racetracks is granted a harness racing license.

As for the control board, a group of Philadelphians plan to picket it and the Capital tomorrow. That includes Neighbors Allied for the Best Riverfront ( and ( State Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks County, plans to address the group. He's the only legislator to introduce a bill to repeal the slots law.

Jethro Heiko, a member of NABR, hopes to address the control board members during a public comment portion of their meeting.

Should be slots of fun.


 |  2 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, May 18, 2006
Posted 10:05 PM by

It's all how you spin it

Political pundits are probing the primary results looking for a deeper meaning to Pennsylvania's voter revolt, rather than simply accepting it at face value.

How bizarre is it that the party in control of the Legislature - Republicans - were the ones who seized reform as their issue, not the Democrats?

The spinmeisters are already hard at work trying to portray Tuesday's voter revolt against incumbent Pennsylvania legislators to their own benefit.

But for my money, most of the pundits are missing the obvious: Pennsylvanians - especially Republicans, who hold the majority in the state House and Senate - were simply pissed at the powers that be for working to better themselves, not the Commonwealth.

At least 14 incumbents were unseated, including three Democrats, due at least in part to sustained anger over the Legislature's repealed pay raise last year.

Twelve of the 14 incumbents ousted voted for the pay hike, as did six others in races that remain too close to call until recounts are done Friday.

Although it appears Republicans will maintain control, the upsets that befell Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David J. Brightbill will leave a power vacuum.

Sen. Jake Corman, Senate Republican policy chairman Joe Scarnati and Senate GOP whip Jeffrey E. Piccola are all seen as potential successors to the top GOP positions, according to the Associated Press.

"Clearly the election was a mandate for government reform," Corman said. "If we want to stay in the majority, no matter who we put forward they've got to be about doing business differently than we have in the past."

Piccola told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "The Republican Party must earn again the reputation as the party of good government. A legitimate government needs a legitimate and strong lobbying reporting law. Other crucial reforms of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches must follow."

However, the AP is also spinning a scenario where a rift between conservatives demanding reform and surviving Republican incumbents could leave Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow - a Democrat - in line to become president pro tempore.

I can't see that happening. More than that, I don't see any gains for the Democrats here, other than maybe a few backbench seats.

How bizarre is it that the party in control of the Legislature - the Republicans - were the ones who seized reform as their issue, not the Democrats?

That's traditionally a minority party's role, even more so when you consider Democrats are the ones who used to consider themselves progressive.

Then factor this in: House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese and Minority Whip Mike Veon both survived the primary. Both were heavily involved in designing the pay raise. Both voted for it. Both took the raise early in "unvouchered expenses" and both fought and voted against the repeal, with Veon the only lawmaker left dissenting in the end.

Yet, DeWeese's chief of staff, Mike Manzo, told the AP Thursday that Democratic hopes for the fall election were blostered by the loss of GOP centrists like Jubelirer and Brightbill, who often found common ground with minority leaders.

"The more they squeeze these people out, the more trouble (the Republican) party is going to be in," Manzo said. "We're thinking big. We're thinking majority."

"We're thinking big. We're thinking majority."

- Mike Manzo
Chief of staff for
H. William DeWeese

State Rep. T.J. Rooney, chairman of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, spun it this way to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "When Republican voters oust their own at this rate, it's more than just anti-incumbency. It's a paltry record of accomplishments coupled by resentment for not getting things done when they had the power to do so."

I think Manzo and Rooney are dead wrong and made a mistake by not embracing the reform movement. They're symbolic of the problems in Harrisburg that voters hope to cure, not the solution.

I also think Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat running for a second term, is in for major problems.

Rendell, who signed the pay raise into law, defended it last month by saying, "If I didn't sign it, I might have been governor for the next five years but I would have gotten nothing done, literally, because I need the cooperation of the Legislature. I've had remarkable success in getting seven major initiatives enacted into law. ... So you have to kiss a little butt."

Republican gubernatorial challenger Lynn Swann, whose campaign previously was floundering, has already seized on the issue, saying "He offered the pay raise... . He signed it."

What's ironic is that even if Rendell wins reelection, which is still likely, he may now face a state Senate that's far less willing to work with him - partly because he approved the raises its last leaders wanted.

Meanwhile, some pundits are actually trying to apply what happened here to federal races. As evidence, they point to the fact that Swann received 22,000 more Republican votes than U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in the primary.

To me that's a whole other kettle of fish. Santorum is far more conservative than most Republicans in Pennsylvania. He also faces ethics questions concerning the mortgage on his home as well as his connections to lobbyists in Washington.

Yet, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., who will challenge Santorum in November, said he thinks Pennsylvania voters were expressing dissatisfaction Tuesday with political leaders from Harrisburg to D.C.

"We've got Washington politicians saying, 'What are you worried about? Let's stay the course, stay with the president and all will be well,'" Casey said. "I think they got a message last night that said, 'No, it's not well, and we've got to take a different course.'"

But Dan Ronayne, spokesman for National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, "I think it probably means some trouble for Casey. Pennsylvanians demonstrated their anger at political opportunism. He's the person who signed the checks."

What else was the state treasurer supposed to do?

Unlike President George Bush, who has been ignoring new federal laws he disagrees with by simply filing signing statements, Casey could not refuse to sign paychecks just because he disagreed with the law that established the raise.

Instead, in a court brief filed in response to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the raise, Casey said, "...the General Assembly repeatedly violated Article III of the Pennsylvania Constitution" in the way it passed the pay raise.

"Clearly the election was a mandate for government reform."

- Jake Corman
State Senator
The state Supreme Court, which allegedly worked in collusion with legislative leaders to get the raise passed because it also meant pay hikes for judges, disagreed with Casey and let it stand.

What happened Tuesday was merely the voters of Pennsylvania telling the high court and the high and mighty they were wrong.

Labels: , ,

 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Posted 9:59 AM by

Good, bad and ugly of Pa. primary '06

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader David 'Chip' Brightbill (left) and Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelirer became the first Pennsylvania legislative leaders ousted since 1964.THE GOOD: Obviously, the election day losses of Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill were good things.

Their ouster marked the first time since 1964 a state legislative leader has been thrown out by voters. It sent the clear message Tuesday that business as usual in Harrisburg will not be tolerated.

No more last-minute-before-adjournment pay raises, or anything else for that matter.

No more hiding important bills in other legislation and forcing them to a floor vote without debate late at night.

No more ignoring the state Constitution to get what legislative leaders want.

No more backroom deals with Supreme Court justices to trade high court approval for something the men in black want.

No more.

Of course, that's after Jubelirer and Brightbill vacate the Capitol in January. Until then, everybody better keep a sharp eye on those two, who could do some real damage on their way out the door.

And speaking of keeping a watchful eye, Philadelphians did almost the unthinkable by giving the city's Ethics Board, its banished-to-the-backyard watchdog, some actual teeth.

By a 4-1 margin, city voters agreed to amend the City Charter to make the board financially independent, to give authority to launch investigations, convene hearings, and issue steep fines to any elected official in Philly.

That's not saying the board might not eventually be corrupted, or at the very least, coopted by politics. It just may take a while.

THE BAD: While Republican voters in Pennsylvania largely held up their end of reform, Democrats mostly turned a blind eye Tuesday to the shennanigans of their party's legislative leaders.

Why did Democratic Party voters fail to unseat House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese (left) and Minority Whip Mike Veon?How else can you explain favorable results for House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese and Minority Whip Mike Veon, albeit by far slimmer margins against relatively unknown challengers than either veteran lawmaker is used to?

Both DeWeese and Veon were heavily involved in designing the pay raise, both voted for it, took the raise early in "unvouchered expenses" and each fought and voted against the repeal.

DeWeese later chickened out on the second vote, leaving Veon hanging in the wind.

Veon, who champions gambling expansion to include table games and riverboat gambling, has also set up his own non-profit company which accepts state grant money.

Republicans did make one mistake, though.

Sixty-one incumbents in the 253-member legislature faced primary challenges Tuesday, the most since 1980. Unfortunately, one of them was not House Speaker John Perzel, who skated unchallenged.

Perzel made the time last year to call rank-and-file House members into his office to issue not-so-veiled threats about cutting off state grants to their areas in order to coerce the lawmakers to vote for the pay raise, State Rep. Matthew Good told the Erie Times-News last week.

Recalling his first and only private meeting with Perzel, Good said, "It wasn't necessarily a threat, in a sense, but, definitely, 'Hey, we're going to help those who made this vote a little bit more than the others. Grants and certain things you've got for sewer projects and water lines, you're going to have to think about if your constituents want to live without those things.'"

Yet two weeks ago, when a floor vote on tax reform was about to be called in the House, Perzel was in Florida collecting thousands of dollars from his part-time job as a board member of a prison management firm.

He also has barred any attempts at lobbyist reform, insisting he can do it better. Instead, Perzel's unnamed "research staff" is now writing a weak lobbyist disclosure bill behind closed doors.

House Speaker John Perzel went unchallenged in the primary but spent $200,000 anyway, largely to play kingmaker in other races.Freed of the need to campaign, Perzel still spent nearly $200,000 this election cycle - $85,000 went to the House Republican Campaign Committee, $9,036 went to pay for his annual speakers ball on Jan. 4 (from which he raised $5,250 in cash gifts) and the rest as contributions to other candidates. His campaign committee still has more than $240,000.

Here's hoping that despite their large cash advantages and the power of inscumbency, all three get sent packing in the November general election.

THE UGLY: We have seen the future of tax reform in the state and it is this: When given a choice on whether to raise their own property taxes to support their school district's budget, Pennsylvanians will likely vote against it - overwhelmingly.

Voters in the Bristol Township School District became the first in the state to reject a portion of a property tax increase by referendum.That's what folks in the Bristol Township School District did, turning down a small portion - the only part they had a say in - of a much larger tax increase the district proposed, by a 7-1 margin.

Only 111 of the 501 school districts in the state opted in to Act 72, the Homeowner Tax Relief Act. It was the last failed attempt at statewide tax reform in 2004 which passed at the same time as slot machines were legalized.

And of those 111 districts, Bristol's was the only school district to press its luck with an angry electorate by hiking taxes beyond the maximum allowed by law, forcing a referendum.

Taxes will still rise by about $152 for someone owning a home assessed at $16,000, the district's average, to about $2,712. But they won't jump by the $200 that the school district was asking for.

The whole thing was so complex that state officials had to crunch the numbers before they could be printed on the ballot.

Philly will likely join other large cities by installing surveillance cameras all over the pass after a nonbinding resolution passed overwhelmingly Tuesday.Finally, Philadelphia, the cradle of our nation's liberty, overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding referendum 4-1 in favor of installing video surveillance cameras throughout the city.

Oh well, at least it might give the ethics board some videotape to look at.

I hope the city eventually recoops its investment in the cameras and its lawyers fees for fighting the ACLU by selling a best of Philly bloopers tape of its residents.

Labels: ,

 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, May 11, 2006
Posted 10:58 PM by

Legislative pay raise pissed off Pa.

Tuesday is election day in Pennsylvania. To better prepare you for pushing the electronic buttons in a new-fangled voting booth, I've decided to look at an issue each day that you might want to factor into your decisions.

Last year's now repealed legislative pay raise in Pennsylvania is still the subject of voter anger, a federal and two state lawsuits and consternation for incumbent legislators.TODAY'S ISSUE: THE PAY RAISE. Some say it may be the major issue driving voters to the polls this year and could even effect Gov. Ed Rendell's bid for reelection.

Without any public debate, Pennsylvania legislators passed House Bill 1521 in the early morning hours of July 7, 2005. That bill raised their pay by at least 16 percent from $69,647 to a base salary of $81,050 - more than any other state except California. Here's a complete list of who voted for it.

Under the bill, committee chairmen were to receive a 29 percent boost to $89,155, while the top two leaders would make $145,553. The measure also increased pay to all state judges from 11 percent to 15 percent and hiked the salaries of all of the state's top executive branch officials, including the governor, lieutenant governant and cabinet secretaries.

Rendell signed the bill into law the next day, saying, "This legislation, particularly the concept of linking state salaries to a percentage of those paid equivalent federal officials, emanated from an idea put forth by our fine Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy. It was a very good suggestion."

Anticipating some voter opposition, many lawmakers said they deserved the raise, claiming it was their first since 1996. However, they actually received cost-of-living increases that pushed their salaries from $55,800 in 1996 to $72,187 this year.

It took four months of voter outrage and the historical ouster of state Supreme Court justice Russell Nigro, but the Pennsylvania Legislature repealed the pay raise on Nov. 16.

All but one lawmaker, state Rep. Michael Veon, D-Beaver County, voted for the repeal.

Yet, despite a state Constitutional provision prohibiting it, legislative leaders let lawmakers take the pay raise in advance in the form of "unvouchered expenses" and never required them to pay the money back after the repeal.

At least 14 state senators and 99 representatives took the money. House Speaker John Perzel refused to name them. Months passed. Some paid the money back. Some did not.

No one ever got a complete list of who didn't return the cash, but Pa. Clean Sweep, one of many grassroots political groups to form in opposition to the pay raise, managed to piece together a list it calls the "The Hall of Shame."

Perzel and Veon are still on it, as are House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, who initially voted against the repeal then caved in on the second vote, and House Majority Leader Sam Smith.

Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer is not. Although he originally championed the pay raise, his change of heart about the unvouchered expenses led, at least in part, to the full repeal. He paid his money back and wrote a written apology to his constituents. Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill is also listed as paying the money back.

The pay raise has been the subject of two lawsuits. One filed by taxpayer and lieutenant gubenatorial candidate Gene Stilp went to the state Supreme Court and was denied.

That didn't end the controversy, however.

The other lawsuit, filed by good government group Common Cause, was filed in federal court after two state judges filed their own lawsuits and demanded their raises be restored. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear their cases even though Common Cause is seeking an injuction, claiming a conflict of interest and alleging Cappy traded the justices' approval on other matters pending before the Legislature in exchange for the pay raise.

Meanwhile, incumbent lawmakers now find themselves facing primary opponents, some for the first time in decades.

One of them is state Rep. Kenneth Ruffing, D-Allegheny County, whose name still appears on PACleanSweep's Hall of Shame list.

Ruffin told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this week that he did not return his $4,000 in illegal extra pay back to the state. Instead, the four-term representative from West Mifflin, who faces two challengers in Tuesday's primary, claimed he donated the money to an autism charity.

Ruffing said he made the donation because one of his sons is autistic. He promised to provide documentation on the donation after the primary, but declined to say why he couldn't do so before other than to say, "They want to remain anonymous."

State Rep. Ken Ruffing claims he turned over the $4,000 in extra pay he received in unvouchered expenses last year to an autism group, which he refuses to name or provide documentation.Tim Potts, co-founder of grassroots political group Democracy Rising PA, said Ruffing's claim defies belief. "It's nuts to say, 'Here's my defense. I can't prove it.' "

C.L. "Jay" Jabbour, a former Allegheny County and West Mifflin councilman who opposes Ruffing in the primary, said, "No one from the Autism Society, or other autism-related charities and organizations we contacted, ever heard of Ken Ruffing."

Labels: , ,

 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

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.

Labels: , , , , , ,

 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites