It’s been a tough year for the Pennsylvania House of Lords. They struck it rich on July 7 with a middle-of-the-night pay raise for themselves only to see that money vanish four months later when us ingrates (aka taxpayers) demanded they give it back. As a consolation for our hard-working Harrisburg Hogs, I’ve decided to start a tradition of handing out some end-of-the-year awards. Here’s my list of recipients of the "Hammys," named in honor of our gluttonous state political leaders. And the losers are...
ED RENDELL: The governor took a page from John Kerry’s flip-flop book and came out with at least five different positions on the payjacking issues, depending on how much public anger the polls showed. Exposing himself as a craven political opportunist, Rendell is as culpable for the Great Pay Heist debacle as the legislature. Rendell could have put a stop to the entire sorry episode by refusing to sign the pay raise bill. But he didn’t. He turned his back on working Pennsylvanians and that state’s struggling elderly population. Voters should get the last say in 2006 when Rendell is up for reelection. Rendell has as much chance of returning to the governor’s mansion as the Eagles have of playing in the Super Bowl.
SPEAKER JOHN PERZEL: Republican Perzel goes from the Kingpin of Pennsylvania government to a court jester in four short months. I’ve seen him on TV presiding in the General Assembly and I’m waiting for Perzel to walk into the House chamber wearing a white suit and hat while chomping on a cigar, a la "Boss Hogg" from "The Dukes of Hazzard." Was it the fact that Boss Perzel fled the country the day after he pushed the House into voting the pay raise? Was it that he feigned ignorance of the public outcry when he returned? Was it when Perzel lied to a fourth-grader about arriving at a school in a limousine when the kids saw the limo parked in front of the school? Was it his refusal to allow the repeal bill for a vote until his own party threatened to stuff an apple in his mouth and serve him on a platter? Buy him a red nose and oversized shoes. Perzel should be performing with the circus.
RALPH "HERE COMES THE JUDGE" CAPPY: The previously unknown chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court won’t face voters until 2009, but you can stick a fork in Justice Cappy — the maestro who orchestrated the pay grab is done. Only in Cappy’s world can judges sue taxpayers to force them to raise the judges’ salaries, as a couple of Cappy’s minions did this week. The state Supreme Court needs an overhaul. Two more justices will be on the November 2006 ballot. Doesn’t matter what their names are. Just vote no to regal justices.
THE ROYAL FAMILY: Let’s say you’re one of 253 members of the Pennsylvania House of Lords, the largest state legislature in the country. You’re making about twice as much money as the average Pennsylvania worker. Your state consistently ranks at the bottom in almost every measure of economic vitality. You put in about 77 days a year in Harrisburg and receive incredible benefits. You have job security for life — 90 percent of legislative incumbents win reelection. You can retire at a young age with a full pension and health care benefits. Why mess with a good thing? Greed? Pride? Arrogance? All of the above? Not everyone voted for the pay raise, but far too many legislators have been corrupted by the Dark Side. Too many lawmakers stood silently as the band of merry men robbed from the poor (taxpayers) to give to the rich (themselves). A clean sweep of the cesspool that is Harrisburg is the only hope for Pennsylvania.
GOP LEADERSHIP: "Boss Hogg" Perzel, House Majority Leader Sam Smith, House Whip David Argall, Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill led their troops to ruin and may have found a way to hand majority control back to the Democrats in 2006. They promised their lackeys there would be no backlash from the pay raise vote. And Custer told the Fifth Cavalry the Indians were friendly. If the rank-and-file don’t revolt and start serving up the heads of legislative leaders on a platter, voters will finish the job in 2006.
BILL DEWEESE: The Democratic leader in the House found a bipartisan issue he could join with his GOP counterparts in supporting — fattening their own bank accounts. DeWeese cracked the whip on House Democrats so they’d vote for the pay raise. When 14 Democrats refused, DeWeese demoted them from committee chairman posts and promoted 14 yes-men in their place. So where does this leave DeWeese now that nobody is getting a pay raise? If he admits the pay raise was a mistake, how can DeWeese justify demoting 14 legislators who refused to vote the pay raise in the first place? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Bill.
MIKE VEON: The Last Man Standing. The Senate voted 50-0 to repeal the pay raise. The House voted 197-1 to repeal. Veon, the dapper House Democratic whip, stood his ground and voted against the repeal. I predict Veon will be the only person voting for Mike Veon when his name appears on the ballot next May.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: She’s a bit player on the Harrisburg scene, but who could forget the "Let Them Eat Cake!" attitude of Rep. Jacqueline R. Crahalla, 150th Dist., who was asked by a reporter in August if she would be willing to heed constituent pleas to repeal the pay raise. "I’m staying the course," said an incredulous Crahalla. "The nastier people get, the more stubborn I get." If you live in Crahalla’s voting district, you may want to clip this and take it to the voting booth in May as a reminder of what Mrs. Crahalla thinks of the people she was elected to serve. Other sponges who need to be permanently retired include Senate Democratic leader Robert J. Mellow and Senate Minority Whip Mike O’Pake.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at firstname.lastname@example.org