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Thursday, December 22, 2005

A lump of coal for Pennsylvania legislators

Gift-giving is easy this year for the 253 members of the Pennsylvania House of Lords, who have spent 11 weeks in their gilded palace in Harrisburg and still haven’t come up with a workable plan for tax relief for the state’s taxpayers. The only thing our overpaid and under-worked legislators deserve this Christmas is a lump of coal.

Until this summer, the biggest response I received from readers was for a series of columns leading up to the November 2004 presidential election, culminating in my companion columns stating 30 reasons why George Bush deserved reelection and 30 reasons John Kerry should not be elected president.

Karl Rove may have gotten all the credit for Bush's victory, but let's not forget that George Bush carried 16 of the 24 municipalities where The Mercury has widespread readership. Rove delivered 51 percent of the vote to Bush nationally, but I delivered two-thirds of The Mercury's coverage area to the president. I’m still waiting for my Christmas card from the George and Laura.

Since July 7, when the House of Lords convened under cover of night to approve pay raises for themselves, the governor and state judges, I’ve received about 200 e-mails from readers thanking me for helping expose the greed and corruption that pervades Harrisburg. Every single person who wrote said they plan to carry their anger at their legislators into the 2006 elections. And I’m not even counting the 10,000 letters from readers that The Mercury delivered to the state capitol in September demanding that the Harrisburg Hogs give back the money.

The politicians aren’t going down without a fight.

Here’s a good example of the incestuous relationships our political class has established. The Democratic Party chairman in Berks County, William G. Evans, took offense to my recent critique of two of his cronies, career politicians named Mike O'Pake and Dante Santoni Jr.

The party boss believes the Republicans should be blamed for the pay raise fiasco. Never mind that legislative Democrats went along with the pay raise. Never mind that Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, signed the pay raise into law. Evans would have you believe that Democrats were innocent bystanders in the raid on the public treasury.

The problem with ideologues like Evans is that they will excuse the behavior of politicians as long as they’re in his party. Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault for the sad state of affairs in Pennsylvania. The people’s revolt crossed party lines. What this state needs is a fresh start. Political hacks like O’Pake and Santoni must go. Rendell must go. And the entire GOP leadership in the legislature must go.

Evans conveniently neglected to mention in a recent letter of indignation that he is also a candidate for the state legislature in 2006. There appears to be plenty of room to feed at the public trough. I would be curious to see if Messrs. O'Pake and Santoni will be contributing to Evan's campaign.

It's also worth nothing that Evans (unlike his GOP counterpart) has not uttered a single word of condemnation about the Great Pay Heist of 2005, blaming it on the GOP-controlled leadership in Harrisburg even though every Democratic state legislator from Berks voted for the pay raise and accepted the money as "unvouchered expenses." Evans appears on a weekly public access cable show in Berks County and so far has not been willing to admit that his Democratic buddies are equally at fault for the mess in Harrisburg.

So if you're a voter in the 129th District, don't be fooled again by electing another self-serving politician to represent you in 2006. As the great British philosopher Pete Townshend once said, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

And did you see the story about how much money the two state Supreme Court justices poured into their Nov. 8 retention vote when it became clear that voters would going to oust them to send a message to the legislators, who won't be on the ballot until 2006?

Justices Russell Nigro and Sandra Schultz Newman spent $800,000 between them to try to save their jobs. Newman, a Republican, managed to narrowly retain her job. Nigro, a Democrat, became the first state judge ousted by Pennsylvania voters.

Where did Nigro and Newman get $800,000? From the party bosses at the county and state level who control the Republican and Democratic parties in Pennsylvania. These warlords don't care about the average Pennsylvanian. They crave power and influence. That's why they supported the judges. They're the ones propping up nincompoops like John Perzel and Robert Jubilerer.

The key is now to continue the work started in 2005 but turning out as many incumbent state legislators as possible in the May primary and November general election.

We've got them on the run. We can take back this state. But we must remain united and focused on the ultimate objective: Restoring representative government in the birthplace of American democracy.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

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