Wednesday, January 31, 2007

New speaker has a sorry voting record

Dennis O'Brien rose overnight from obscurity to one of the most powerful politicians in Pennsylvania. But what do we really know about the new speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives?

He's a Republican from Philadelphia just like his predecessor, John M. Perzel. He likes kids. O'Brien had his son in tow when he took the oath of speaker on Jan. 2. He smiles more than Perzel, who rivaled Dick Cheney and Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons" for the most prominent scowl of any public figure.

We also know that O'Brien has held more press conferences (at least 2) in his first month in office than Perzel did in four years as speaker.

But there is something troubling about O'Brien. It's his voting record.

I've often used the phrase "the more you know, the less there is to like" to describe some of Pennsylvania's leading politicians, including Democrat Ed Rendell and Republican John Perzel.

I've been doing a little digging into O'Brien's voting record. It's not a pretty picture.

I was not one of the many political observers who jumped on the O'Brien bandwagon when the Philadelphia Republican made a deal with Rendell and the Democratic House majority to oust Perzel.

I'm no fan of Perzel, but O'Brien may not be much of an improvement.

We already knew O'Brien voted yes for the Legislative pay raise in July 2005. That is a Scarlet Letter for all Pennsylvania politicians, including Gov. Rendell, who signed the pay raise into law.

O'Brien has also voted the wrong way on just about every major bill to come before the House in the past couple of years:
  • Start with Act 1, the ridiculous tax shuffle Rendell and the Legislature cooked up last spring to get the heat off them as they approached the 2006 general election. O'Brien voted yes for Act. 1.
  • O'Brien voted no when the Commonwealth Caucus plan to eliminate property taxes in favor of a sales tax came before the House on June 13, 2006. Another bad move.
  • O'Brien supported Rendell’s casino slot plan in 2004 and voted no when the House attempted to repeal the flawed gambling plan on March 14, 2006.
  • O'Brien voted in favor of an unnecessary tax on 911 services adopted by the House on June 21, 2006. That tax passed by a 100 to 95 margin, so every vote was needed. In typical fashion, O'Brien voted with the Democrats to push the tax through.
  • O'Brien was also on the wrong side when the House passed the Fair Share Tort Reform bill in March 2006 to deal with Pennsylvania's growing malpractice crisis. Most Republicans (including John Perzel) voted yes, but O'Brien joined with most of the Democrats to vote against tort reform.
  • O'Brien has also been a longtime supporter of excessive spending under Gov. Rendell. O'Brien voted yes on Rendell’s $26 billion budget for the 2006-07 fiscal year. O'Brien also voted yes to Rendell's 2005-06 budget.
And if his lousy voting record isn't enough, O'Brien also ranked No. 195 on the most recent Liberty Index Report Card published by the Commonwealth Foundation.

The Liberty Index examines the voting records of all 253 legislators (and the governor) on a variety of laws and ranks them based on how much liberty they take away from Pennsylvania residents, including economic freedom.

O'Brien earned an F+ grade, which is the same grade Perzel earned, but Perzel actually fared better, coming in at No. 148 in the rankings. Rendell got an F- on his report card and came in at a pathetic No. 236.

On the plus side, O'Brien did form the Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform and has given the 24-member, bipartisan group a lot of leeway to come up with suggestions to improve the way the House conducts itself.

Let's just say that O'Brien has a long way to go to convince me that he's a true reformer and not a puppet for the status quo party led by Ed Rendell and the new Democratic majority in the House.

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