Friday, April 28, 2006

In any language, Legislators fleece taxpayers again

What little faith taxpayers had left in state lawmakers has been shaken again by new revelations of greed in Harrisburg.

The Associated Press reports that a dozen Pennsylvania legislators collected more in "per diems" last year than lawmakers earned in salary in 28 other states. "Per diem" is a latin word that means "by the day."

Some Pennsylvania lawmakers have collected more than $46,000 in per diems — payments for meals and lodging while on official duty — over the last two years, according to a review of expense records.

The payments, among the most generous of all states at $141 per day, are in addition to the $72,187 base salary that Pennsylvania lawmakers enjoy. Legislative leaders earn more than $100,000 a year.

Is there any other job where a person gets paid just to show up for work?

The 253 members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly are the second highest paid in the nation, but when you factor in all the perks they've given themselves through the years, Pennsylvania has the most expensive legislature in the country.

Legislators defend per diems as an appropriate reimbursement method widely used by corporate America, accordig to the Associated Press report. But Tim Potts, the founder of Democracy Rising PA, a Harrisburg watchdog group, called per diems "income generators."

"It's one of the first things legislators learn in freshman orientation: Maximize income, minimize expenses, leave rich," Potts said.

Rules for per diems in Pennsylvania are scant and loose, according to the Associated Press. Legislators can get them when voting at the Capitol, when attending committee meetings, and even just for showing up to work in Harrisburg when the legislature is not in session.

Rep. Mark Cohen, the Philadelphia Democrat who billed taxpayers $28,200 for his private library, took more than $46,000 in per diems over the past two years. The Associated Press reported that Cohen owns a home two blocks from the Capitol, so his claims that the per diem covers his hotel expenses when he's in Harrisburg is dubious, at best.

"I'm a very hard worker. I do a lot of paperwork in the office. I take the job extremely seriously," said Cohen, who is the third-ranking Democrat in the House.

Each year, Pennsylvania taxpayers cover about $2.7 million in per diems, according to the Associated Press. That's on top of generous car allowances, full pensions and premium health insurance legislators receive — all paid for by taxpayers.

Two area legislators were among those cashing in on the per diem sham. Rep. Raymond Bunt Jr., a Montgomery County Republican, collected $45,815 in per diem payments over the past two years, according to House records reviewed by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Bunt, who also voted for the July 2005 pay raise, is not seeking re-election after 23 years in the legislature.

Rep. Tim Hennessey, a Chester County Republican, collected $44,210 from taxpayers over a two-year period, according to The Inquirer.

Inexplicably, Hennessey is not facing an opponent in the May 16 primary election. Only the emergence of a successful write-in candidate or a minor party challenger could offer voters an alternative to Hennessey, who has represented the 26th House District in northern Chester County for the past 13 years. Hennessey was also among the July 2005 pay-jackers.

The per diem revelation is just the latest example of the betrayal of the public trust by self-serving politicians.

Pennsylvania voters must show up in record numbers on May 16 to send a clear message that they are tired of being fleeced by career politicians.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pennsylvania lags behind on ballot access

Russ Diamond wants to give Pennsylvania voters a choice this November.

The founder of the PACleanSweep movement is running as an independent candidate for governor to give voters an alternative to Ed Rendell, a Democrat who has failed to deliver on his four-year-old promise of property tax relief for homeowners, and Republican Lynn Swann, who has never held public office.

The pundits give Diamond little chance of beating his better-known and well-financed opponents, but his biggest hurdle is getting on the ballot.

Pennsylvania, the birthplace of American democracy, is not very democratic when it comes to its elections.

While Rendell and Swann needed just 2,000 signatures to have their names placed on their respective primary ballots, an independent like Diamond must collect 67,070 names of registered voters to get his name on the ballot for the November general election. That's thirty-three times the number of signatures Republicans and Democrats need to get their candidates on the statewide ballot in 2006.

The Democrats and Republicans consider elections an invitation-only affair and unless you follow the party line, you’re out in the cold.

Diamond has until Aug. 1 to gather all those names. Members of Pennsylvania’s smaller political groups, including the Green, Constitution and Libertarian parties, face the same hurdle.

The Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition wants to change the state's closed-door policy when it comes to allowing choice in the voting booth. Pennsylvania has the most burdensome laws for independent and minor party candidates who want to appear on the ballot — much more difficult than in most other states, the Coalition argues. The result is less competition, less political dialogue, and fewer choices to vote for in November, the Coalition says.

Regardless of what you think of Diamond, who ran previously for Congress and the state legislature as a Libertarian, there's a basic concept of fairness that should be at play in our political system.

It's tough enough for minor party candidates or independents to get their message across when our political system today is run by corporate donations and partisan political action committees.

The current system flies in the face of the concept that our Founding Fathers fought for more than 200 years ago. It discourages voting by shutting out all voices except those narrowly defined by the Democratic and Republican parties.

It's too late for Russ Diamond. He has three months to collect 67,000 signatures, although Diamond himself has said he needs at least 100,000 signatures to withstand legal challenges from the Rendell and Swann camps, neither of which wants Diamond in the race (despite their public pronouncements to the contrary).

The Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition has drafted a Voters' Choice Act and is seeking sponsorship of it in the General Assembly. Incumbent politicians are not exactly falling over each other to do so.

Add ballot access to the long list of unfinished work in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania law needs to be changed by the legislature to lower the outrageous signature requirements that prevent real choice for state voters. Short of that, voters must change the legislators if they want to restore democracy to Pennsylvania.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Diamond comes out of the rough

PACleanSweep founder wants to be Pennsylvania's next governor

The blue jeans and black T-shirt are gone. Russ Diamond is wearing a suit and tie these days.

A thorn in the side of the political establishment for nearly a year, Diamond wants to be taken seriously. He wants to be Pennsylvania's next governor.

The maverick who turned Pennsylvania politics on its head using a Web site he started for $180.47 has decided the best way to fix Harrisburg is from the inside. And you can't get more inside than the governor's mansion.

The challenge ahead is daunting. The stakes are bigger now, but so is the prize.

If by some miracle Diamond becomes the Keystone State's next governor, Karl Rove may have to take a page out of Diamond's political playbook.

A year ago, Diamond lived in relative obscurity in a tiny town in Lebanon County. He ran a small business that manufactures CDs and DVDs. His political experience consisted of two failed attempts for office on the Libertarian Party ticket.

Today, he is arguably the best known political name in Pennsylvania this side of Ed Rendell or Lynn Swann. Yes that was Russ Diamond profiled in The New York Times two weeks ago.

Thanks largely to Diamond's efforts, the eyes of the nation are focused on Pennsylvania, where a fledgling anti-incumbency movement has been gathering steam for 10 months. Whether it gives birth to a full-scale revolution will be determined May 16 when all 203 members of the state House and 25 of the 50 state senators face the voters.

If Diamond gets his way, incumbents will be swept out of office in record numbers that day.

And most of the challengers on the ballot have Diamond to thank for getting them this far. He has screened more than 100 candidates who are running under the PaCleanSweep banner. Diamond has criss-crossed the state to attend candidate nights and pep rallies for candidates, many of whom are running for the first time.

If he can pull off the clean sweep on May 16, Pennsylvania would be just the beginning. Nearly everyone in Pennsylvania has heard of PaCleanSweep. How about a USACleanSweep?

Diamond wants to spread his message of reform and accountability to the entire nation. He's already talked to activists in a dozen other states who want to start grassroots movements to overthrow the established political order.

"If it works here in Pennsylvania, we may help turn this nation around," Diamond told a group gathered in Berks County to support PaCleanSweep candidates Irv Livingood and Bill Reed. "With a little luck and prayer, we can change the world."

Get Diamond started about the state of Pennsylvania government and it's hard to get him to stop. He knows how to work a crowd. He speaks without notes, but knows his facts and can quote the state Constitution verbatim.

He sees his run for governor as a natural extension of the work he began with PaCleanSweep.

"I want to give the people of Pennsylvania a choice," Diamond said. "Someone other than the two people the establishment has picked to run. I'm the anti-establishment candidate for governor."

Trim and tanned with styled hair that never moves, the 42-year-old Diamond is passionate about sticking it to the political order, but he never comes across as angry or shrill. He's serious about reforming government, but he uses a wide smile and self-deprecating humor to charm his audience.

Diamond doesn't have the money, the education or the connections of Pennsylvania's political elite, but he comes across as a natural born leader and someone you trust will do the right thing.

He has boundless energy even though he drives hundreds of miles a day to attend political rallies for PaCleanSweep candidates. After discussing his platform for nearly three hours at a fire company social hall, he invites a straggler to join him for coffee. It's 10 p.m. and Diamond wants to keep going.

People who have read about him want to meet Diamond in person. In two recent stops in Berks County, Diamond attracted 150 people to a bingo hall and a fire company. He doesn't have anything to offer people other than a vision of ethical and responsive government.

Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians, frustrated by the lack of accomplishments in Harrisburg, forget their political differences and buy into Diamond's "can-do" attitude.

This isn't a man who runs a Fortune 500 company or somebody who has an extensive record of public service. But people believe Diamond when he says the only reason he wants to go to Harrisburg is to work for the people — not to line his own pocket.

"It's us versus them. The people who pay the taxes versus the people who suck up the taxes," Diamond told the enthusiastic crowd in Berks. "For the people who walk up to the government with their hand out, I say, 'put your hand back in your pocket.'"

That kind of populist rhetoric strikes a chord with retirees struggling on a fixed income or working people who are paying $3.00 for a gallon of gas to get to their jobs.

The stars began aligning for Diamond on July 7, 2005. At 2 a.m., the state Legislature voted to give itself, the governor and the state's judges pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent. The lawmakers then adjourned for their annual two-month vacation.

Those two months allowed Diamond to mobilize a citizens' revolt. He fired at will all summer at the hapless legislators who were told by their party leaders that voters have short memories and the pay raise vote would be forgotten in a matter of weeks.

Voters didn't forget. On Nov. 8, a sitting state Supreme Court justice was voted out of office and a second justice narrowly won her retention vote. A week later, a scared legislature repealed the pay raise. That wasn't enough for Diamond, who launched a "Hall of Shame" section on the PaCleanSweep Web site to list the lawmakers who took the pay raise early and refused to give the money back after the repeal.

That public humiliation led to 30 legislators deciding not to seek re-election this year. It also encouraged more than 100 challengers to run against incumbents under the PaCleanSweep banner.

PACleanSweep has experienced some internal struggles in recent weeks, with Diamond and the rest of the group's board wrestling for control. Diamond, who resigned Thursday as the group's chairman, said his No. 1 priority until May 16 is to get as many PACleanSweep candidates elected as possible.

After May 16, his personal mission begins. Diamond needs to collect a minimum of 67,070 signatures just to get his name on the Nov. 7 ballot. He has until Aug. 1 to turn in his nominating petitions. His goal is to gather at least 100,000 signatures so he could survive a legal challenge that would invariably come from the Rendell or Swann camps.

Finding 100,000 people to sign a petition won't be easy, especially when you don't have the money or party apparatus behind you that the mainstream candidates enjoy.

If anyone can do it, it's Diamond.

The centerpiece of his campaign for governor is an "employment contract" with the people of Pennsylvania, Diamond said. In it, he will describe exactly what he will do for the voters.

He vows not to turn into a career politician once he gets to Harrisburg. Diamond promises to serve one term as governor and walk away from the Capitol.

"We can fix a lot in four years. I'm not worried about doing things to get myself re-elected. I'm going to go up there and work for the people of Pennsylvania."

While he will unveil his full platform after the primary election, some of his plans are listed on his Web site,

Diamond said his priorities as governor would be to call for a constitutional convention to make it harder for politicians to get away with middle-of-the-night votes, repeal Act 71 (which brought casino gambling to Pennsylvania), reduce property taxes and make Pennsylvania more business friendly by tax breaks for small businesses and eliminating government regulations.

Diamond said he would allow Pennsylvania voters to decide if they want slot parlors in the state through a referendum vote.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, PA

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Three men walk into a bar …

A Democrat, a Republican and a Libertarian walk into a bar. No, this isn't a joke. It happened. The three men spent hours discussing ways to fix Pennsylvania's broken government and by the end of the night, all three agreed on almost all of the issues. Imagine that.

The Democrat is Irv Livingood, who is challenging 14-year incumbent Rep. Dante Santoni Jr. in the 126th District. The Republican is Bill Reed, who is taking on 20-year incumbent Rep. Dennis Leh in the 130th District. The former Libertarian is Russ Diamond, founder of PaCleanSweep and independent candidate for governor of Pennsylvania.

The bar is the social quarters of the Alsace Manor Fire Company in Berks County. The occasion was a campaign rally for Livingood, who is the chief mechanic for a township north of Reading and a first-time political candidate. Reed, who owns an auto body shop, has run twice before for Berks County commissioner, but lost both times. Diamond ran for Congress and the state Legislature in 2004 as a Libertarian. Both campaigns were unsuccessful, as was a run for school board in his hometown of Annville, Lebanon County.

Diamond's fortunes changed on July 7, 2005, when the Pennsylvania Legislature voted at 2 a.m. to give its members, the governor and the state's judges pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent. That vote would launch Operation Clean Sweep and send incumbents running for their political lives.

The reform movement led by Diamond and a handful of other activists forced the repeal of the pay raise, the defeat of a state Supreme Court justice at the polls last November and a record number of challengers to incumbent legislators for the May 16 primary.

Ten months into his crusade to clean up state government, Diamond has settled on a daunting new challenge. He wants to replace Ed Rendell as governor of Pennsylvania. Diamond's first hurdle — and it's a big one — is to collect a minimum of 67,000 signatures from registered voters just to get his name on the ballot.

Rendell and his GOP challenger, Lynn Swann, needed 2,000 signatures to get on the ballot. When the two major parties write the rules, they don't exactly want competition, so people like Diamond or members of minor parties have to spend months scouring for signatures just to get in the game.

Diamond collected a few dozen names at his stop in Berks County and persuaded many of those in attendance to collect more signatures on his behalf.

One of the people who agreed to gather signatures for Diamond was Vicki Rhodier.

"I am a believer of this Russ Diamond," Rhodier said. "I am totally impressed with him. His viewpoints are mine."

Where else would you find a Republican willing to circulate a petition to get an independent candidate on the ballot? That's the beauty of PaCleanSweep, the nonpartisan, grassroots organization that has united Pennsylvanians of all political persuasions.

Another person at the event, William Sakellaropoulos, described himself as a Libertarian who is disgusted with the mess Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg have left. He didn't know much about Diamond, but after hearing him speak and asking several questions, he's found somebody he can support for governor.

"This man makes a lot of sense," Sakellaropoulos said. "This is the kind of leadership we need in this state."

Sakellaropoulos left the meeting with a "Livingood for State Legislature" lawn sign in one hand and a petition for Russ Diamond in the other hand.

A self-admitted "cheapskate," Diamond is trying to win the governor's seat without money, the fuel of all modern political campaigns.

While Ed Rendell sits on a $16 million campaign war chest and Lynn Swann tries to bolster his $1.5 million bank account, Diamond is mounting a grassroots campaign with a Web site,, where supporters can donate money via credit card, and small group of volunteers.

Livingood and Reed also show the disparity between well-financed incumbents and everyday people who are trying to take back their government from special interests.

While someone like Santoni has to pay people to attend his campaign events (free beer anyone?), it's strictly cash bar at the Alsace Manor Fire Company.

Livingood, who broke the bank by spending several hundred dollars from his campaign account to advertise the event, passed around a basket asking for donations from the people in the room. Every dollar counts when you're not handed thousands of dollars by party leaders to win re-election or get the benefit of taxpayer-paid mailings and TV spots from Harrisburg.

Reed won't even ask for money. He said he won't accept a penny from residents in the 130th District. His entire campaign budget, meager as it is, comes from his own pocket.

Livingood and Reed are counting on the anti-incumbent anger in the state and going door-to-door to personally reach voters.

Diamond said he will spend a lot of time over the next four weeks running around the state stumping for PACleanSweep candidates, fulfilling his promise to help them get through the primary. The official "Diamond for Governor Tour" will start after the primary election.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Still undecided about your state legislator? Take this test...

If there's anyone out there who is still considering re-electing their incumbent Pennsylvania legislator on May 16, I have a request.

Consider turning in your voter registration card. You obviously are not rational enough to cast a vote.

Unless you are related to a Pennsylvania Legislator or have some direct financial gain by keeping the person in office, you must join the people's revolution to retake control of this state from 253 self-serving politicians.

I know some of you are trying to rationalize your decision to stick with the poison you know. Maybe the newcomer will be worse, you say. That kind of reasoning proves you've been in a coma for the past year.

I have a test for you to take. Below, I've listed 10 reasons why I will never vote for my state legislator. Substitute the name of your local representative or senator for my local political hack — Dante Santoni Jr.

If you find that your local legislator did even half of the 10 infractions below, vote for somebody else or do this state a favor and stay away from the polls on May 16.

10 Reasons I Can Never Vote for Dante Santoni Jr.

1) Rep. Dante Santoni twice voted to give himself an unconstitutional pay raise, most recently to $89,155 from $69,647 for a job that requires him to be in Harrisburg 77 days a year.

2) Rep. Santoni took the pay raise early in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

3) Rep. Santoni defended the July 2005 pay raise for months until he and his fellow career politicians were shamed into repealing the pay raise and giving back the money after the news media alerted taxpayers to what happened.

4) Rep. Santoni voted against the Commonwealth Caucus plan that would have eliminated property taxes for homeowners.

5) Rep. Santoni voted to double his own pension, allowing him to collect money from taxpayers for the rest of his life.

6) Rep. Santoni voted in favor of Ed Rendell's massive $1 billion income tax increase in 2003.

7) Rep. Santoni voted for the crushing $400 million increase on the gasoline tax.

8) Rep. Santoni has sponsored zero (0) bills during his 14 years as a lawmaker.

9) Rep. Santoni has never chaired a committee during his 14 years as a lawmaker.

10) Rep. Santoni earned a dismal F+ grade in The Commonwealth Foundation Liberty Index for 2005-06. Santoni earned an F+ in the 2003-04 report card grading economic policies.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Last chance for benchwarmers and sore losers

There's a new movie out called "The Benchwarmers." It did pretty good at the box office last week. The film will be a distant memory a month from now when Pennsylvania voters go to the polls in the May 16 primary.

Unfortunately, many Pennsylvanian voters have chosen to be benchwarmers instead of getting into the game. Thousands of Pennsylvanians who belong to minor parties (Libertarian, Green, Constitution, Socialist) and others who have registered as independents will sit out the primary, arguably the most important election in the state's history.

All the talk since last July's outrageous legislative pay grab about voting out the bums won't matter if voters don't follow through with threats to oust the incumbents.

The best way to toss out incumbent legislators — in many cases, the only way — is to vote for challengers in the primary election. Incumbents have spent decades gerrymandering districts to the point where both major parties have "safe" districts, where Democrats may outnumber Republicans 2-1 or vice-versa. It's nearly impossible to vote out the incumbent unless somebody from his or her own party challenges them in the primary.

More than 60 primary challengers gunning for incumbents have survived the petition-gathering and court-challenge phase of the process. Now they need your vote to get rid of the career politicians in Harrisburg.

But third-party voters (the ones who claim they are pushing for reform) stubbornly refuse to change their voter registration to one of the two major parties, which is the only way to vote in a primary. You may be disgusted by what the Republicans and Democrats have done to this state. But until you join reform-minded Republicans and Democrats to remove the career politicians, your voice will never be heard.

March down to your county courthouse Monday and change your party affiliation for one day — May 16 — so you can join the people's revolution to take back Pennsylvania from the 254 self-serving career politicians (Ed Rendell and the 253 legislators).

While "benchwarmers" is a nice term I use for third-party candidates who will bury their heads in the sand on May 16, Russ Diamond is a little more blunt.

Diamond, the founder of PaCleanSweep and newly announced independent candidate for governor, issued a statement this week to Pennsylvania's "sore losers."

Pennsylvania's "sore loser" law mandates that any individual who runs as an independent or minor party candidate may not participate in the primary election as a voter or a candidate, according to Diamond.

"This is the last chance for those who are truly dedicated to changing government in Pennsylvania," Diamond said. "Once the deadline passes, registered Republicans and Democrats can’t run as an independent or with a minor party affiliation. There are a lot of races across the Commonwealth where the incumbent currently has no challenger whatsoever. No one should breeze through an election cycle without a challenge. That’s why we have the sorry state of affairs that brought us the pay raise and other horrible legislation."

An ongoing informal poll on the PACleanSweep Web site reveals that more than 95 percent of respondents indicate they would be willing to vote for a credible independent or minor party candidate if there is no other competition for their incumbent in November, Diamond said.

Independent and minor party candidates have until Aug. 1 to file petitions in order to get their names on November's general election ballot. Unlike the requirements for major party candidates, any registered voter may sign a petition for an independent or minor party bid.

Diamond urges those interested in changing their registration to do so by visiting their local Board of Elections by April 17.

"While we have great expectations for our Republican and Democratic candidates and we’re confident they'll fair well in the primary, credible independent and minor party candidates present an opportunity for a second wave of electoral pressure on a legislature which is overdue for massive institutional change," Diamond said.

Let's review. If you live in a legislative district where the incumbent is a Democrat, you must be a registered Democrat to vote for a challenger. Otherwise, the incumbent gets a free pass to the Nov. 7 general election.

If you're not planning to run as a third-party candidate, then your best recourse is to change your voter registration for one day so you can have a say in who governs Pennsylvania. You can change your registration back the next day.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sen. Chip Brightbill cures the common cold

David J. "Chip" Brightbill has been the top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate since 2000. More importantly, he has been Ed Rendell’s co-conspirator since 2003 in pushing through massive tax hikes, huge increases in state spending, the worst casino gambling legislation in the country and the infamous 2005 legislative pay raise.

Brightbill is running for re-election in the 48th Senatorial District, which includes portions of Berks, Chester, Dauphin and Lancaster counties and all of Lebanon County. It’s a very conservative district. Voters in the 48th District don’t like high taxes, bloated government, gambling and sneaky pay raises politicians vote themselves at 2 a.m. without public debate.

Brightbill is doing his best imitation of a conservative, but most voters in the 48th have figured him out. That’s why he’s getting desperate against a strong primary challenger in Mike Folmer.

In recent newspaper advertisements, Brightbill has taken credit for the following accomplishments:

• Cleaned up 117 toxic waste dumps
• Built a new stretch of Route 222 linking Berks and Lancaster counties
• Brought Cabela’s, the outdoors superstore, to Berks County
• Found a cure for the common cold
• Built the Sovereign Center in downtown Reading
• Negotiated a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinian Authority
• Repaved and upgraded Park Road in western Berks County
• Renovated the Children’s Home of Reading
• Provided grants to Berks County libraries
• Rebuilt hurricane-devastated New Orleans

OK, I made up three of the 10 "accomplishments" that Brightbill is taking credit for. I’ll let you decide which three. The other seven are things Brightbill says he helped accomplish during his 23 years in the state Senate.

How dumb are the voters in the 48th District? Somewhere between Paris Hilton and Jethro from "The Beverly Hillbillies," if you’re Chip Brightbill. Why else would a man who has spent two decades in the state Senate stretch and twist the truth to such a degree? It’s like saying you deserve a Super Bowl ring because you were sitting in the stands during the game.

Yes, Brightbill was in Pennsylvania when these things occurred, but to say he’s responsible for these accomplishments is ludicrous.

It’s no wonder that Brightbill has incurred the wrath of most of the state’s conservatives. Club for Growth President Pat Toomey has endorsed Brightbill’s opponent. Just this week, the political action arm of the Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania launched radio ads designed to "expose Liberal Bob & Liberal Chip’s Tax-Hiking Pay-Jacking Big Government Records."

Liberal Chip is Brightbill. Liberal Bob is Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, a political big shot from western Pennsylvania who shot himself in the foot by making one too many deals with Ed Rendell.

"Tax-hiking pay-jacking big government liberal Sens. Bob Jubelirer and Chip Brightbill are ready to spend millions of dollars to mislead voters about their horrendous records on fiscal issues," YCOP political action President Chris Lilik said in a press release announcing the group’s efforts to defeat Brightbill and Jubelirer in the May 16 primary.

"Bob Jubelirer and Chip Brightbill have brought a great deal of shame and embarrassment to the Republican Party by architecting a massive unconstitutional pay raise, shamelessly attacking and bullying conservatives seeking pay raise repeal, and then arrogantly claiming they lead the fight to repeal the pay raise," Lilik said. "Voting for the four largest tax increases in Pennsylvania history, hiking their pensions more than 50 percent, and then ramming through an even bigger budget than even Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell wanted should be glaring red flags for every Republican."

Brightbill is also in hot water over gambling. While he’s been telling the folks back home that he opposes gambling, Brightbill took $21,000 in campaign contributions from donors with gambling ties. He said over the weekend that he’s going to return the money. Did he have a change of heart because his opponent could have a field day with Brightbill’s hypocrisy, or did Brightbill figure it was OK to take money from gambling interests as long as nobody found him out?

Brightbill comes across as a country bumpkin in his speech and mannerisms, but he’s no dummy. He’s a lawyer. He’s parlayed his two decades in Harrisburg into the powerful Senate majority leader post. Nothing is voted on without Brightbill’s consent. Instead of fighting Rendell’s tax-and-spend policies, Brightbill has jumped into bed with Rendell too many times.

Brightbill and Jubelirer are the big fish in the May 16 primary election. If Republican voters in their respective districts toss them out of office, it will go a long way to restoring some semblance of integrity to the Pennsylvania legislature.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hats off to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for leading the charge for reform

"I often characterize the state Legislature as an overly large and largely useless, semi-corrupt collection of corpulent characters who don't really do much."

Anybody who starts off a column that way already has my attention. That's the way Eric Heyl, a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, begins a recent dispatch on how Pennsylvania legislators waste a lot of time, in addition to tons of money.

Heyl is part of what I consider to be the best staff of columnists and editorial writers in the state. To be honest, I had never heard of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review before the pay raise fiasco exploded last summer. Since then, I make it a point to visit the newspaper's Web site daily to catch up on the latest shenanigans in Harrisburg and read some of the most perceptive columnists around.

Some of Heyl's other gems include, "Hmmm ... lawmaker feeling not so toasty," "Lobbyist regulation an exercise in absurdity" and "Kept cash from grab aids causes most noble."

The Tribune-Review should be applauded for taking the lead in exposing the corruption and mismanagement in state government.

Other newspapers — including The Mercury — have done a good job of covering the state legislature since the infamous July 7, 2005, pay raise vote. The Mercury was recently recognized with a first-place award by the Associated Press Managing Editors in the public service category for the paper's efforts to gather 10,000 signatures demanding the repeal of the pay raise.

While a handful of columnists and statehouse reporters have kept the pay raise issue alive in the past nine months, nobody has done more than the Tribune-Review to expose the need for massive changes in state government.

The Tribune-Review has published scathing editorials, naming names of self-serving scoundrels who have made a mockery of the concept of public service. Colin McNickle is the Trib's editorial page editor and also writes a weekly column.

Some of McNickle's most entertaining columns include, "A Machiavellian compliment," about House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese's habit of butchering historical metaphors, and "Public-purpose' mountebanks," which begins with this classic line: "How stupid does the Rendell administration think Pennsylvania taxpayers are? Very, based on its recent public pronouncements."

Another outstanding columnist for the Tribune-Review is Brad Bumstead, who also covers Harrisburg for the paper. Bumstead's column, "Voters: Save yourselves" is must-reading for every taxpayer in Pennsylvania. Bumstead concludes that if voters do not carry out their threats to oust incumbents — especially legislative leaders — on May 16, living in Pennsylvania after that date will be insufferable.

It's like a failed coup against a tyrant. If the freedom fighters don'’t get rid of the dictator, a terrible fate awaits them.

"Here's the scenario: All legislative leaders win in the May 16 primary," Bumstead writes. "Then what happens? Will we see a reign of terror against taxpayers and journalists? Maybe not against taxpayers. But it will set back efforts to reform the General Assembly for, perhaps, a decade. It would open a dark chapter in Pennsylvania history."

Bumstead also predicts that the Legislature will vote itself another massive pay hike in the next year or two because they’ll come to the conclusion that they have nothing to fear from voters.

Other recent gems by Bumstead include "The GOP's tax-shifting pickle," Pay-jacking spurs baby-step reform" and "Is it the mother of all Capitol scandals?"

Another Trib columnist that I enjoy reading is Dimitri Vassilaros. Who knew there were two Greek-American columnists writing for newspapers in Pennsylvania? I don't have a problem as long as Dimitri stays in western Pennsylvania. Vassilaros doesn't write a lot about the state legislature, but when he does, he goes for the jugular.

A recent favorite column by Vassilaros was "Brightbill's tarnish" in which he skewers embattled Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill.

"Mr. Brightbill, a senator since 1983, is one of the ringleaders in the General Assembly's July pay-raise-bill scheme that was passed in the middle of the night with no debate or public input. Brightbill is so unpopular among his fellow Republicans in his district that only 23 percent say he deserves to be re-elected," Vassilaros writes.

Vassilaros also took Silent Bob Casey to the woodshed in a column titled "The real Bob Casey," in which Vassilaros wonders why it took Casey, who is running for U.S. Senate, eight months to condemn the pay raise.

Two other Trib columnists I enjoy reading are Ralph Reiland and Salena Zito, but neither writes often enough about state issues.

The icing on the cake when it comes to the Trib's editorial page is cartoonist Randy Bish, who is not only the best editorial cartoonist in Pennsylvania, but one of best in the country. I have an entire wall of my office plastered with Bish cartoons about the pay raise and other legislative transgressions.

You can read all the columnists mentioned here (and see color versions of Bish's cartoons) at

Friday, April 07, 2006

Politicians fiddle while Pennsylvania burns

The phrase "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" refers to negligent and irresponsible behavior in the midst of a crisis, according to the "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings."

What have the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell been up to while Pennsylvania burns? Here’s a few examples of how Pennsylvania’s political aristocracy has been spending its time — and your money.

Bookworm of the month

Philadelphia state Rep. Mark Cohen purchased $28,000 worth of books for his personal library and billed taxpayers for the expense. Over the last two years, the state has reimbursed Cohen $28,200 on bookstore spending sprees, according to a review of expense records by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Cohen spent $1,118 in September alone, making nine trips to bookstores, the newspaper reported. This has allowed the self-described "voracious reader" to expand his personal library by more than 800 titles. That's more than one book a day, the newspaper reported.

Cohen defended the practice of forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for his private library, saying that the books make him a better legislator. "I try very hard to be informed on current events. I'm holding myself to standards of excellence," Cohen told the newspaper. "I'm interested in knowing whatever I can about national issues. National issues affect Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania is part of the nation."

Tim Potts, cofounder of Democracy Rising PA, a Harrisburg-based public integrity group, called Cohen's book collection a blatant abuse of public dollars. "These are personal expenses. What if he was a voracious swimmer? Would taxpayers buy him a swimming pool?" Potts was quoted in the Inquirer. "If he was buying books for the sake of the commonwealth, then the books should be in the State Library."

The Inquirer also reported that Cohen has run up $3,050 in bills for magazines and newspapers over the past two years — all paid by taxpayers.

Oily portraits?

In a story headlined, "Portraits in spending," The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre reported that two high-ranking Legislators commissioned oil paintings of themselves to hang in the hallowed halls of the gilded palace known as the state Capitol. The cost to taxpayers: $10,000 for each portrait.

This would be the second pricey portrait for Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, R-Blair, because his mug already hangs in the state Capitol for his short stint as lieutenant governor, the newspaper reported.

Sen. Robert J. Mellow, D-Lackawanna, and his family gathered recently on the Senate floor to unveil a $10,000 portrait commemorating his short tenure 10 years ago as senate president pro tempore. Mellow hired a family friend to paint his portrait. A spokesman for Mellow defended the cost of the portrait. "It's a tradition to have these portraits done. And all of these costs are relatively small when compared to the overall state budget."

Matthew J. Brouillette, president of The Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based conservative think tank, begs to differ: "I sincerely doubt as Pennsylvanians sit down to do their taxes in the coming weeks and months, that they'd be willing to spend another dime on this kind of excessive and wasteful spending by our legislators," Brouillette told the Times Leader.

Rich man, poor man

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has amassed nearly $16 million in campaign contributions as of the end of March. His GOP rival, Lynn Swann, has raised $2 million and spent $500,000 already, leaving him with a campaign war chest of $1.5 million, a fraction of the loot Rendell is sitting on. Whatever happened to the notion that Republicans are the party of the rich?

Do you think Ed Rendell is getting money from working Pennsylvanians? On the contrary, much of Rendell's campaign war chest comes from fat-cat corporations, trial lawyers and casino lobbyists across the country, from Houston to Chicago to New York City.

Next time Rendell shows up at a factory to make a speech, someone should ask him where his next $50,000 campaign donation is coming from and what that person is getting for his investment?

Rendell should wear a "for sale" sign on his lapel, as in "the governor's office is for sale to the highest bidder."

Circle this date

Monday, April 17, is the deadline to file your income tax returns (you get an extra two days this year because April 15 falls on a Saturday), but it's also an important date if you want to take back your state from the self-serving politicians.

April 17 is the last day for Pennsylvanians to register to vote in the May 16 primary election. It's also the last day you can change your party affiliation so you can vote against the incumbent in your district.

There's 254 of them (the legislators and Rendell) and 12 million of us. We can win this, but only registered voters will have a say in Pennsylvania's future.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pat Toomey, rising conservative star

Pat Toomey is everything you'd want in a politician. Smart, likable, honest. A man of principle.

When he ran for Congress, he promised the voters he would adhere to a self-imposed term limit. He wouldn't end up a career politician, growing fat and arrogant at taxpayers' expense while succumbing to the temptations of power and greed that have infected Washington, D.C.

Toomey gave up his House seat at the height of his popularity. To the delight of supporters, he sought a bigger challenge, taking on longtime Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. Few gave Toomey a chance against the well-financed and entrenched Specter. An underdog all the way, Toomey nearly upset Specter in 2004, making a persuasive case that Specter was a RINO — Republican In Name Only.

Toomey lost the Senate race, but his campaign of ideas turned him into a conservative icon in Pennsylvania Republican circles. It also brought Toomey national prominence and led to his current job as executive director of the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee.

For many Pennsylvania Republicans who are disgusted with the current leadership, Toomey is the party's future.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Pat Toomey in person. I'm a pretty good judge of people, especially politicians. I've spent enough time around politicians to know when I have to watch my wallet when we're in the same room. Toomey came across as a decent person who truly wants to make the world — or at least his corner of it — a better place to live.

Toomey was the keynote speaker at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference this past weekend in Harrisburg. The two-day event, attended by more than 500 conservative activists, featured a Who's Who of the reform movement in Pennsylvania: Chris Lilik of the Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania, Timothy Potts of Democracy Rising PA, Russ Diamond of PaCleanSweep and Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Dozens of invited guests, including GOP gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann, spoke at the conference, but Toomey stole the show.

In less than 30 minutes at the podium, Toomey re-invigorated the conservative movement, rallied the troops for the 2006 elections and gave key endorsements to challengers seeking to oust party leaders.

Toomey endorsed the challengers running against state Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubilerer, two Republican leaders who have abandoned GOP principles a long time ago.

There’s too much power in too few hands in the Pennsylvania legislature, which has led to the myriad of problems Pennsylvania is facing today, Toomey argued.

"Some have been there too long," Toomey said, referring to legislators who held on to seats for decades. "They raised taxes. They’ve increased spending."

This is a Republican telling fellow Republicans they must oust their own party leadership if Pennsylvania has any chance for a future.

Toomey threw his support behind Republican Mike Folmer, running in the 48th Senate District, and Republican John Eichelberger, running in the 30th Senate District.

"There comes a time when taking on the establishment is the right thing to do," Toomey said. "Electing these two men not only sends a signal, but it begins the change. It is the change."

Toomey also mentioned two other conservative legislative candidates, Matt Shaner and Mark Harris, by name.

Brightbill spent thousands of dollars over the weekend to run attack ads in several newspapers against his opponent. The best Brightbill can do to smear Folmer was to point out that Folmer has missed meetings on the Lebanon City Council.

This coming from a man drawing $106,000 a year salary for a part-time job who routinely makes deals with Ed Rendell on casino gambling, massive increases in state spending and the infamous July 2005 pay raise. Brightbill is so far out of touch with the people he represents, he might as well be living on the moon.

Toomey made it very clear whom he is supporting for Pennsylvania governor. He endorsed Lynn Swann as a sensible alternative to Ed Rendell, a tax-and-spend liberal who has failed to keep his most basic campaign promise — property tax reduction. "He needs to be fired," Toomey said of Rendell.

Toomey also urged conservatives to support Rick Santorum for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Santorum is clearly the best choice and Toomey isn't letting hard feelings enter into the endorsement. Many credit Santorum's endorsement of Specter with helping Arlen return to the Senate in 2004. Santorum’s views on the issues are much closer to Toomey's.

Toomey wants what's best for Pennsylvania, even if it means endorsing the man who may have cost him a shot at the U.S. Senate two years ago. At a time when many Americans have lost faith in their leaders, Toomey is a shining beacon in the political wilderness.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Nutty professors are teaching at many Pennsylvania schools

Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado professor who said the victims of 9/11 got what they deserve, is just the tip of the iceberg.

The halls and classrooms of America's major institutions of higher learning are swarming with radicals, leftists, communists, racists and every other kind of extremist you can name. Technically, they're not hiding inside the Ivory Towers. They're out in the open. They're running university departments and chairing hiring committees. They're probably teaching your son or daughter.

And that is the heart of the problem. It's one thing to expose young people to diverse political philosophies. It's an entirely different matter to indoctrinate impressionable minds with leftist rants about how terrible the United States government is and how corrupt America institutions have become.

David Horowitz, the one-time radical activist, offers a comprehensive guide to the stranglehold the left has on academia in his new book, "The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America" from Regnery Publishing.

Fanatical professors are everywhere, spewing their Marxist agenda to a captive audience — the young people who will eventually lead this nation. Protected by tenure, the professors force students to listen to their racist, anti-American harangue daily.

Academic freedom exists only for the radical left on today's college campus, Horowitz argues. When the president of Harvard University attempted to reform the elitist system that protects radicals, he was systematically bounced by the faculty, which circled the wagon to protect its most fringe elements. And Ward Churchill is still teaching at the University of Colorado despite his questionable credentials and his unhinged behavior.

Horowitz cannot take the podium at most universities without a burly bodyguard by his side to prevent brainwashed students from rushing the stage. Horowitz singles out 101 radical professors in the book, but he could easily have chronicled 1,001 professors. They're everywhere.

If you think most of the radicals are teaching at left-leaning institutions like the University of California at Berkley, or Columbia University, guess again. Here are 9 nutty professors from Pennsylvania that Horowitz profiles in the book.

· Regina Austin, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who, according to the book, believes black people should condone criminal activities among their own community.

· Mary Frances Berry, a professor of American social thought and history at the University of Pennsylvania, who the book says praises the virtues of the Soviet Union and believes that the threat blacks faced during the 1960s in the United States is comparable to the genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

· Michael Berube, a professor of English at Penn State University who, according to Horowitz, fancies himself as a "progressive educator" whose hatred of hatred of organized religion permeates his teaching literature.

· Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of humanities at the University of Pennsylvania who the book says believes the 9/11 attacks were payback for "America's past imperialistic practices." Dyson also refers to slain gangster rapper Tupac Shakur as a black Jesus figure.

· Rick Eckstein, a professor of sociology at Villanova University who the book says praises Lenin's brand of communism and denigrates the United States on a regular basis.

· Melissa Gilbert, a professor of geography and urban studies at Temple University, who promotes something she calls "feminist geography" and believes that welfare reform is a human rights violations, according to the book.

· Lewis Gordon, a professor of philosophy at Temple University active in something called the Radical Philosophy Association, which blames the U.S. for all the world's problems, according to Horowitz. Gordon routinely calls the U.S. a racist nation and wants to turn his students into activists for his radical left causes, the book says.

· Warren Haffar, a professor of political science at Arcadia University who Horowitz says believes Osama bin Laden had legitimate grievances against the United States so the murder of 3,000 Americans on 9/11 is acceptable. Haffar also believes there is no difference between America's Founding Fathers and the leadership of Al Qaeda.

· Suzanne Toton, a professor of theology at Villanova University who blames the United States for the world's poor, according to the book. Toton pushes "liberation theology" in her courses, which is Marxism in disguise.

These professors are collecting salaries from taxpayer-supported schools or unsuspecting parents who write tuition checks thinking their students are getting an education. Instead, they're indoctrinated by intellectually corrupt leftists who wouldn’t be accepted in another segment of society.

For more on Horowitz's book and his "Academic Bill of Rights" designed to protect students from lunatic leftist professors, visit