Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Predictions for the November elections

I've been thinking a lot about pundits lately. What exactly is a pundit anyway? How do you become a pundit? Is there a pundit club you can join? Are there membership dues? Is there a secret initiation?

I see a lot of people on TV who are described as pundits, but most of the time they don't know what they're talking about. A lot of college professors are often referred to as pundits, but I wonder about them. Some of these so-called intellectuals have been so isolated from the real world for so long, it's hard for them to tell night from day.

The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines a pundit as: "A person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner, usually through the mass media." That sounds like me. I work for a newspaper. I've been on more than a dozen radio programs this year. I've been on the Pennsylvania Cable Network twice in the past three months. I'm sure this qualifies me as a pundit.

The one thing the definition of pundit doesn't cover is whether pundits have to be right more often than they're wrong. A lot of pundits get things wrong.

The pundits never thought the outrage over the July 2005 legislative pay raise would last more than a few weeks. It's 13 months later and we’re still talking about the pay raise. At least I am. The pundits didn't think it was possible for a Pennsylvania judge to lose a retention vote, but tell that to former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro, who was tossed out by more than 800,000 voters in November 2005. The pundits said the legislature would never repeal the pay raise, but the politicians did just that.

A prominent Pennsylvania pundit kept saying right up to the May 2006 primary that only a handful of incumbent legislators would lose. Wrong again. Seventeen lawmakers lost in the primary, including the top two Republican leaders in the state Senate. Considering that the re-election rate for Pennsylvania legislators had been 98 percent, the defeat of 17 incumbents was a political seismic shock. And don’t forget that 30 other legislators "retired" instead of facing the voters.

Now the pundits are saying that Gov. Ed Rendell will coast to re-election this November. The pundits also say that Rick Santorum's days in the U.S. Senate are numbered. They also see Democrats winning control of the U.S. House and Senate.

As someone who's been right so far about the political winds of change in Pennsylvania, I'd like to offer my predictions for the coming elections.

Pennsylvania governor
Gov. Ed Rendell will lose to Lynn Swann. Forget the polls. The only poll that matters is on Election Day. Rendell has broken his promise to cut taxes, has saddled Pennsylvania with the worst gambling law in the country and Pennsylvania has become a more dangerous place to live because of Rendell's neglect of crime. Philadelphia will set a new homicide record this year. Reading, Allentown and Lancaster are places you don't want to be when the sun goes down. All those catchy tourism ads won't change the fact that the average Pennsylvanian is far worse off today than he was four years ago.

U.S. Senate
Sen. Rick Santorum will defeat Bob Casey Jr. The more you know about Casey, the less there is to like about this clueless ultra-liberal career bureaucrat. The U.S. Senate is no place for on-the-job training and Casey needs a lot more schooling. Casey's only foreign policy experience is visiting the Jersey Shore.

6th Congressional District
This is my home district, so I'm paying close attention to it. Rep. Jim Gerlach will beat back challenger Lois Murphy, who is even more liberal than Casey. Murphy wants to raise taxes, force socialized medicine on us and push her radical social agenda in Congress. We already have Hillary Clinton to do that. Murphy's shrill attacks and distortions of Gerlach's record has grown tiresome with voters in the 6th District.

Other Congressional races
Several other Republican congressmen, namely Curt Weldon, Mike Fitzpatrick, Charlie Dent and Joe Pitts, will return to Washington. I see one incumbent from the Pennsylvania delegation (Don Sherwood) losing, but I also think Democrat John Murtha, leader of the "cut-and-run" brigade on Iraq, will lose. Murtha is an embarrassment to Pennsylvania and the nation.

Control of Congress
Forget what the pundits keep saying. The House and the Senate will remain in Republican control, although the GOP will probably lose a few seats in each chamber. Despite President Bush's poor job approval numbers and his bungling of Iraq, Americans understand there's too much at stake to hand over Congress to the Democrats.

Monday, August 28, 2006

How long can the 'party of death' survive?

I've had a few unkind things to say about the Democratic Party through the years.

It's pretty clear to me that Democrats are wrong about every issue facing this country, especially in the last 30 years as the Democratic Party has veered far to the left. That's why Democrats tend to lose so many elections, including seven of the last 10 presidential contests.

I've also taken my share of shots at the rogues' gallery that passes for leadership in today's Democratic Party. Any political organization that counts Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi as its standard bearers might as well slap a "kick me" sign on its back.

But even I was taken aback by the title of a new book about the current state of the Democratic Party. How many rank-and-file Democrats realize they belong to the party of death?

The book, "The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life" shows the Democratic Party in a whole new light. The author of this provocative work is National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, a staunch conservative but not a commentator that would be confused by right-wing flame-throwers like Ann Coulter or Michael Savage.

Ponnuru's book is a thought-provoking assessment of the decline of America's once-dominant political party.

If you think about it, most Democrats, including nearly all of the party's leadership, support abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia and the destruction of stem cells for medical research. Each of those actions leads to the termination of human life at various stages.

While Ponnuru concedes there are Republicans who support abortion, it is the litmus test that Democrats use for every national and state political contest. Abortion defines the Democratic Party and helps explain why Democrats have lost support in many parts of this country, keeping their traditional hold in the Northeast and the West Coast, but losing the South and "middle America" to the GOP.

"The Party of Death started with abortion, but its sickle has gone from threatening the unborn, to the elderly, to the disabled; it has swept from the maternity ward to the cloning laboratory to the generalized disregard for 'inconvenient' human life," Ponnuru writes in the opening chapter of the book.

The book begins with a comprehensive review of Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion and spawned an abortion cottage industry. Ponnuru points out that many legal scholars consider Roe v Wade one of the most flawed decisions in the high court's history. But thanks to the pro-abortion industry and its media allies, the myth of Roe v Wade has been perpetuated for 30 years, leading to the mistaken belief by many Americans that abortion is a constitutional right.

While Democrats continue to use abortion as a scare tactic whenever there's a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the more pragmatic leaders in the Democratic Party have come to the realization that abortion is losing its luster with voters.

That explains why Bob Casey Jr., a mediocre career politician, is the Democratic challenger to Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Casey opposes abortion, much to the dismay of die-hard liberals. But the party bosses figure their only chance of unseating the Republican Santorum is to run somebody who won't automatically turn off half the voters with a pro-abortion platform.

Ponnuru's book also discusses Hillary Clinton's chances of becoming president in 2008, the Terri Schiavo case that exposed the hypocrisy of liberals on the euthanasia debate, why 19th century feminists opposed abortion and why the U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that offers no legal protection to the unborn at any stage of development.

It's a serious book about some of the most important issues of our times. It's not just the future of the Democratic Party at stake. It may be the future of this nation.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Stuck in a state of frustration, Part II

Maybe it's the heat, but I'm still fuming about the state of affairs in Pennsylvania. So I'm going to continue the rant I began a few days ago.

The Associated Press reports that a number of high-profile Pennsylvania politicians have received more than $760,000 in campaign contributions from law firms and lobbyists representing the 22 applicants for slot-machine parlor licenses in the state. (That figure is for Jan. 1 to June 5 of this year, the most recent reporting period.) I know we forced the state legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell give back the money they lavished on themselves with the infamous July 2005 pay raise, but how appropriate is it for politicians to be accepting so much money from casino interests? At the very top of the list of recipients is Republican state Sen. Robert Jubelirer, who received $62,500 in casino money. He is followed closely by Gov. Rendell, who pocketed $60,000 from the friends of the casinos. Coming in third is Republican Speaker of the House John Perzel, who got $46,000. These three men also were the driving force behind the legislative pay grab of 2005. Pennsylvania would be so much better off without this trio in charge. Jubelirer was knocked out in the primary. Do yourself a favor and help get rid of Rendell and Perzel. Don't shed a tear for any of them. With all the money the gambling industry has invested in Rendell, Perzel and Jubelirer, I'm sure each has a lucrative casino job waiting for them.
Four lesser-known politicos are also on the list of top recipients of casino money. Sen. Vince Fumo received $29,500. Fumo was in the news recently when it was revealed that he spent more than $1.2 million in taxpayer and campaign funds to pay lawyers to defend him against a corruption probe by the FBI. You see Fumo is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and he decided the best way to spend $1,031,700 or your tax dollars was on lawyers to help keep Fumo out of the clutches of the FBI. Your tax dollars at work. Isn't it nice when you can use other people's money to defend yourself against charges that you’ve betrayed the public trust? Only in Pennsylvania.
Rep. Sam Smith, the No. 2 Republican in the House, received $29,000 from the casinos. Rep. Mike Veon, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, received $26,500. Smith thinks he's going to fill Perzel's shows when Perzel is sent to the back of the room by his fellow Republicans, but Smith has been Perzel's errand boy way too long. There's going to be a new batch of legislators going to Harrisburg in January 2007 and their first duty is to fumigate the place. Veon, in addition to providing comedy relief as the sidekick of Rep. Bill DeWeese, the top Democrat in the House, also has the distinction of being the only member of the House to vote against the repeal of the 2005 pay grab. What do all these politicians have in common? They love money. Our money. They love to spend it. They love to waste it. They like to lavish it on themselves. They like to raise our taxes so they can have more of our money to spend. Every incumbent who accepted money from the casinos should return it. If they refuse, vote them out.
If you've been wondering how the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board could spend between $50 million and $100 million (nobody knows the exact amount) in less than a year, you might want to take a look at the board's payroll. That's what Michael Race, the Harrisburg bureau chief for the Times-Shamrock newspaper group in the Scranton area, did recently, compiling a detailed list of how much our newest "public servants" are earning. It's costing taxpayers $11.5 million a year to cover the salaries of the Gaming Board. In a story headline, "Gaming board ranking in fat paychecks," Race found that 25 appointed officials and top staffers at the Gaming Board each earn more than $100,000 a year. Nearly one-third of the agency's 170 employees pocket more than the $72,187-a-year base pay for state lawmakers, who felt voters' wrath after they briefly boosted their salaries last year, Race says. The average annual salary for a gaming board employee is $67,400 — about double Pennsylvania's per capita income of $33,257, according to state census data. Here's some more gems from Race's investigation: Anne LeCour Neeb, the board's executive director, makes $180,011. She is followed in the pay rankings by board chairman Thomas "Tad" Decker, who makes $150,006. The board's six other voting members earn $145,018 each. Your tax dollars in action, folks.

Even before the first casino license has been issued, we know who's already made out like one-arm bandits: Politicians and their cronies.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Stuck in a state of frustration

I've got a lot on my mind today so here goes.

Gov. Ed Rendell is spending millions in television ads to brag about how Pennsylvania's economy is booming under his leadership. Just the other day, Forbes magazine published a list of the "Best States for Business." Where did Ed Rendell's Pennsylvania rank? 41 out of 50. The Keystone State finished right behind Alabama, which is nothing to brag about. Forbes ranked the states based on such categories as economic climate, business costs, crime rates, taxes and quality of life. Pennsylvania finished in the bottom third in almost all the categories. So who has more credibility? A politician who will say anything to get re-elected or a prestigious national business publication? Ed Rendell is living in a state of delusion.
Another interesting revelation about how Rendell does business came out in the Allentown Morning Call. The newspaper reported that state officials want taxpayers to help pay for promoting slots parlors. The Governor's Tourism Partnership thinks that casinos will be a big draw for out-of-state visitors, but until those casinos start making money, taxpayers should chip in to help promote the gambling palaces. I don't know about you, but I don't want my tax dollars going to help poor Donald Trump or any of the multibillion-dollar corporations that want to open casinos in Pennsylvania. It's bad enough that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has spent somewhere between $50 million to $100 million of our money so far and has yet to award a single license, but why should the state's beleaguered taxpayers have to chip in for Rendell’s latest corporate welfare scheme?
And speaking of the hapless Gaming Board, did you see how quickly it reversed its policy of keeping secret the identities of potential casino owners? The Associated Press reported Monday that the agency had concluded that the 2-year-old state law that legalized slot machines barred it from releasing the information. Imagine that. The people of Pennsylvania don't have a right to know who has ownership stakes in the lucrative casinos. What does the Gaming Board have to hide? Is Rendell’s Aunt Gertrude one of the owners? Is the Gaming Board trying to protect the privacy of mobsters or convicted felons? Do state legislators and their relatives own a piece of the pie? Thanks to the public outrage over the secrecy, state gambling regulators announced Wednesday that they would reverse their policy and will, in fact, release documents showing the potential owners of Pennsylvania casinos. The information will be posted on the Gaming Board's Web site starting Monday. The culture of corruption involving the licensing of casinos in this state is astounding. To keep up with the latest shenanigans involving casinos, check out And while you're there, you may want to sign the group's petition to put a stop to the casino debacle.
Does anyone else think it's obscene to be paying a state worker nearly $500,000 a year? The chief executive of Pennsylvania's college student-loan agency, PHEAA, made $469,900 in 2005, about 7 percent more than the previous year, according to The Patriot-News of Harrisburg. Richard Willey was paid $290,000 in salary and earned a bonus of nearly $179,900, according to the newspaper. That makes Mr. Willey the highest-paid employee in state government, earning about three times as much as the governor. Imagine how many deserving students could attend college if the $500,000 was used for loans or grants instead of fattening the wallet of one individual. And it doesn't just stop with Mr. Willey. PHEEA's six vice presidents also received bonuses ranging from $110,700 to $113,100 for a total compensation of about $330,000 per person, the newspaper reported. Bonuses for those top executives total $852,835 — enough to give the maximum individual grant of $4,500 to 189 college students, according to the newspaper. PHEEA is notorious for sending its workers on expensive junkets and lavishing them with all sorts of gifts. And guess who gets stuck with the bill?
When it comes to government, Ed Rendell and I differ in a crucial area. I believe government should not be making a profit from its citizens. A budget surplus means government is collecting too much in taxes. That money should be returned to the people. What happened to the concept of public service? If Mr. Willey thinks he should be paid like a corporate executive, let him take his skills to the private sector. If he wants to be in public service and help send more Pennsylvania students to college, he should return the bonus money to increase the pool of available grants and loans. I'm sick of politicians and their millionaire pals living lifestyles of the rich and famous on the backs of taxpayers. Election Day is Nov. 7. If you want real change, Rendell and most of the state Legislature must be voted out of office on that day.
I'll be back on the radio Monday at 4 p.m. on WPAZ 1370 AM. Listeners are invited to call in to the Nick Lawrence Show with questions or comments about current issues. The one-hour program can also be heard live over the Internet at Just click on the "live audio" button at the top of the station's Web site and follow instructions.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lessons from trip to Jersey: Self-serving politicians are everywhere

I spent a few days at the Jersey Shore.

New Jersey gets a bad rap on many things, but I noticed during my visit that Jersey does some things better than Pennsylvania.

New Jersey roads are better maintained than the ones in Pennsylvania, where the pothole should be designated the state seal.

True, some of the roads in N.J., especially the ones leading to Shore destinations, are congested, but I noticed it was mostly Pennsylvania drivers clogging up the Garden State's highways.

I liked the law in N.J. that requires motorists to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. What a novel concept. In Pennsylvania, motorists tend to speed up when they see somebody attempting to cross the street. Pennsylvania drivers also seem to be under the wrong impression that stopping at red lights has become optional.

I was curious to see if there would be any complaints about the recent increase in the New Jersey state sales tax. I can report to you that not a single person I came across on the crowded boardwalk and streets of Ocean City, N.J., minded the 7 percent sales tax recently enacted in the state.

The 1-cent increase was negotiated by Democratic N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine and the state Legislature as a way to make up a budget shortfall and provide property tax relief.

I know this is going to be hard to believe, but New Jersey property owners pay more in taxes than their counterparts in Pennsylvania, although N.J. residents make more money than workers in Pennsylvania, so maybe it's a wash.

While Ed Rendell has failed in four years to provide the property tax cuts he promised, Corzine found a way to do it in less than six months in office.

Several newspapers I picked up in N.J. reported that the state Legislature is already meeting to discuss ways to provide additional tax relief to property owners.

In contrast, the Pennsylvania legislature is on its annual two-month summer vacation, having failed to come up with meaningful property tax reform for the 30th consecutive year.

Before you get the idea that I like Jon Corzine, I need to remind you that Corzine, like Rendell, lied to voters.

Corzine promised to cut taxes if he was elected governor, but he raised the sales tax in his first year. Turn back the clock and you had a similar scenario in Pennsylvania, where Rendell promised in 2002 to lower property taxes for every Pennsylvania taxpayer. It's 2006 and I'm still waiting for my property taxes to go down. Those are the very same property taxes that rose 22 percent while Rendell has been in the governor’s mansion.

In 2003, Rendell pushed for a $1 billion increase in the Pennsylvania income tax. In 2004, Rendell pushed through casino gambling for Pennsylvania, which is a sneaky form of taxation. In 2005, Rendell pushed through the $52 EMS tax, which forces workers to pay $1 a week for the privilege of holding a job in Pennsylvania.

I couldn't help but laugh at Rendell’s latest television ads that tout how he balanced the budget for four years in a row and cut taxes.

How dumb does Rendell think Pennsylvania voters are? The state constitution mandates a balanced budget. It has nothing to do with Rendell, who has borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to finance his pet projects on top of the massive tax hikes he fought for. Long after Rendell leaves office, Pennsylvania taxpayers will be paying for his spending binges.

As for cutting taxes, Rendell is blowing smoke. He's borrowing money from the state lottery to send rebate checks to low-income senior citizens. The other 80 percent of taxpayers get nothing. You call that tax relief? And the only tax breaks for businesses came at the insistence of Republican legislators. Rendell reluctantly agreed to the business tax cuts in return for Republican votes to pass his $26 billion budget.

I guess the moral of the story is that you can travel 150 miles from home, but you still can't get away from self-serving politicians.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, August 14, 2006

Howard Dean and the Far Left still don't get it

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean was in San Francisco for a campaign rally the other day when he made the following remarks, which demonstrate again why he was rejected as the party's presidential nominee two years ago.

Asked by reporters to respond to the news of the arrest of two dozen terror plotters in England and Pakistan, Dean said the event was staged by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to prop up their political standing.

"The president and his team out there — Karl Rove and all his folks — they're trying to scare people again. You hear what they said about Ned Lamont's win: 'Oh, well, that's a good thing for al-Qaida.' That's what Dick Cheney said. I'll tell you what the best recruiting tool for al-Qaida has been, and you know who that is."

This is the kind of hysterical nonsense that we've heard so many times before from the man who heads the Democratic Party.

Instead of applauding the news that a terrorist plot to blow up as many as 10 passenger jets bound for the United States was foiled by authorities, Howard Dean makes political hay of the threat.

And you wonder why voters won't take Democrats seriously when it comes to national security. Exhibit 1 is Howard Dean, the man who screamed his way into political infamy in 2004 and has continue to embarrass his own party over the past two years.

Howard Dean, like so many left-wing radicals, just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand that the United States is involved in a global war against Islamic fascists bent on killing every man, woman and child in the country. That includes Democrats.

Dean wants you to think that the war on terror is a Bush administration campaign to "scare us again" and keep Republicans in control.

Well, Dr. Dean, I am scared.

The possibility of 10 airplanes loaded with fuel and passengers exploding over American cities or crashing into buildings in New York, Washington or Philadelphia scare me.

The prospect of 40,000-strong army of terrorists known as Hezbollah on Israel's northern border scares me. Hezbollah is funded by Iran, trained by Iran and equipped with Iranian missiles.

Iran with nuclear weapons scares me, especially when its obvious Iran is waging a proxy war against the United States to drive us out of Iraq and Afghanistan so it can control the Middle East and continue to breed terrorists scares me.

The possibility that Iran could cut off our oil supply and destroy our economy scares me.

Unlike Howard Dean, I remember where I was five years ago when 3,000 American died on Sept. 11, 2001. How quickly Dean forgets, especially if he thinks it can help his party politically.

The mid-term Congressional elections of 2006 — just like the 2004 presidential election — and the 2008 elections come down to one issue: National security.

Which party can best protect the United States from the threat of Islamic fascists?

It's not the party of Howard Dean, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Ned Lamont, Ted Kennedy, John Murtha, Cindy Sheehan, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

The U.S. House of Representatives may go back to the Democrats this November, but that's typical of what happens in the last two years of the second term of a presidency. American voters are fickle and have a short-attention span. They get bored with presidents. Bush fatigue has set in.

Regardless of what happens in the House, the Senate will remain in GOP control and Bush has another two years to go in his term. Voters may want to send a message to Bush that he bungled the Iraq War by voting in a bunch of anti-war Democrats to the House, but deep down, Americans feel safer having Bush as president.

It's also important to note that British authorities arrested the 24 terrorists thanks in large part to expanded surveillance and police powers granted to law enforcement in that country. These are the same law enforcement techniques that have come under fire in this country by Howard Dean and many others in the Democratic Party, the ACLU and the left-wing press, led by the New York Times.

According to the New York Times, a senior American official confirmed that the British disruption of the plot to down airliners began with the follow-up investigation after last summer's suicide attacks on the London subways, which killed 52 people.

"MI-5 (the British version of the CIA) tracked everyone involved in the London attacks," the official told the Times. "Their past movements, phone calls and e-mails, everything. It was comprehensive in much the same way that the FBI conducted the post-9/11 investigation."

It was that investigation that led the British authorities to the suspects in the current plot and allowed them to insert an undercover officer, which is unlikely to happen in the U.S. because Dean and the Democrats work to undermine the government's attempts to deter terrorists.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Howard Dean needs a reminder of the threat facing the American people.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ed Rendell has a gambling problem

Gov. Ed Rendell is riding high in the polls and sitting on a giant pile of cash as he prepares to seek another four-year term.

He has the state's biggest media outlets (the fawning Philadelphia newspapers and TV stations) in his back pocket. He has the power of incumbency, which allows him to travel all over Pennsylvania at taxpayers' expense for thinly disguised campaign appearances, including handing out millions of tax dollars in areas Rendell needs to buy votes.

But don't bet the farm that Rendell will coast to re-election this November. Rendell has an Achilles' heel.

Rendell promised to cut everyone's taxes when he first ran for governor in 2002. He has failed to deliver on the promise. The best he could do is a rebate plan, where he borrows money from the state lottery to send a few hundred dollars back to low-income seniors. The rest of us — 80 percent of Pennsylvania taxpayers — won't get a dime under Rendell's plan.

Another glaring blunder in Rendell's first term was the middle-of-the-night passage of a casino gambling bill pushed through the Republican legislature. Nearly every Democratic legislator voted for Rendell's gambling plan and enough Republican legislators joined in to form a gambling majority.

Two years later, we are finally beginning to realize how terrible this gambling bill truly is. And politicians are beginning to understand that the anti-gambling constituency is not going away. Many Pennsylvania voters will go to the polls this November with one thing mind: Punish Rendell and the legislators who brought gambling to Pennsylvania.

Republican state Senators, chastised by the drubbing their leadership took in the May primary, have asked the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to delay licensing slots parlors until the Legislature can go back and fix the many loopholes in the gambling law.

A citizens' group called CasinoFreePa is organizing a petition drive to have the entire gambling bill repealed. Even Lynn Swann, the GOP candidate for governor, has figured out that gambling could be his ticket to unseat Rendell. Swann recently called on Rendell to specifically list gambling reforms that the governor favors so the Legislature can act on them.

"Passing a piece of legislation for reform knowing that the governor is not going to sign it means what?" Swann told the Associated Press. "It doesn't mean anything."

So it appears that the first licenses will be awarded in September before the Legislature has an opportunity to fix the holes in the gambling law.

All the nightmare scenarios that gambling opponents warned us about are coming true. We have lobbyists and legislators owning casinos that will be regulated by the state. We have a Gaming Control Board that can't live within its means. The board has already spent all of the money the Legislature has set aside for it and has had to borrow money from other state agencies.

Insiders predict Rendell, if re-elected this November, will go back to the Legislature early in 2007 and propose expanding the slots parlors to full casinos, just like neighboring New Jersey. If the Gaming Board can't get its act together to regulate a dozen slots parlors, what makes you think it can handle full-blown casinos?

Swann also took a shot at Rendell for vetoing a bill two years ago that would have eliminated a provision allowing lawmakers to have stakes in companies licensed under the state's slot machine law. The same bill would have forced Gaming Control Board meetings to be open to the public and it would have imposed right-to-know laws on the board's business. It also would have required State Police background checks of board employees. But Rendell vetoed the bill. Given a choice of looking out for taxpayers or the gambling interests, Rendell always goes where the money is.

Pennsylvania's rush to enact gambling has opened a Pandora's Box of financial mismanagement, shady deals and cronyism. One look at Rendell's campaign contributions from the gaming industry should raise questions about what the governor's motives were in pushing so hard to bring casinos to Pennsylvania.

Outwardly, Rendell promised tax relief from casino revenues, but the numbers don't add up. Several billion dollars will have to be wagered and lost by Pennsylvania residents before one dollar is returned in property tax relief. And there's a strong possibility that no tax relief will come to fruition until after 2010 when Rendell leaves office (should he win a second term).

Eight years is a long time to wait. Rendell promised tax relief in 2002. And something else could have been done in the eight years Pennsylvania residents will probably have to wait for their luck to change.

We know who's already won. Rendell has millions of dollars in his campaign war chest from the gaming industry. Lawmakers can own as much as 1 percent of a gambling company. Political cronies sit on the Gaming Board or have been hired to work for the board. Nearly $50 million in taxpayer money has been spent so far by the board and not a single license has been issued.

We know who the losers are so far: Pennsylvania taxpayers who took Rendell's sucker bet.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Friday, August 04, 2006

I want to be a casino boss, too

Let's see a show of hands. Everyone who is not part-owner of a casino or casino-related business in Pennsylvania, raise your hand.

Is it just me or does every politician, every lobbyist, every son or daughter of a politician or a lobbyist own a share of the casinos coming to Pennsylvania? How did that happen?

Why didn't anybody ask me if I wanted to be part-owner of a casino?

Act 71 of 2004, which authorized 14 slots venues with a total of 61,000 slot machines, remains one of the worst bills ever passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell, the prime mover (along with his good friend John Perzel) behind bringing gambling to the Keystone State.

I always like to remind people that the casino bill was passed by 88 Democrats in the House (of the total 94 Democrats), with only 25 Republicans (of a total 109) voting in favor of the bill. So yes, it was Rendell and his Democratic lemmings who brought gambling to Pennsylvania.

How bad is the gambling bill, which as approved in the middle of the night without public hearings or public input?

It's bad enough that members of the state Legislature snuck a provision into the law that allows them to own a 1 percent share in casinos.

It's bad enough that all sorts of political cronies have been appointed to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board or have been hired for one of the cushy jobs available at the gaming board.

It's bad enough that a big-time lobbyist used the names of his "minor children" as casino owners to circumvent the law preventing him from being a direct owner.

Now we hear that former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mark S. Singel, a political consultant and lobbyist, is being forced to sever his ties with a company seeking a license to distribute slot machines in Pennsylvania.

Does everybody in Harrisburg have his hand in the cookie jar?

Sixteen companies have been licensed as slots distributors so far and there’s another six firms under review. One of them, Revenco Gaming, had Single on its payroll, but hasn't been able to get approval from the Gaming Board.

Singel wrote the Gaming Board saying that he would no longer serve as a member and director of Revenco, based in Westmoreland County.

"I came to the conclusion that if in fact I ... was drawing too much of the attention and causing a problem for this new potential business, that I should step aside," Singel told the Associated Press Friday. "It's just troublesome to me that somebody who spends a good portion of their life devoted to public service somehow is considered unsuitable or questionable."

Let's just say that Revenco probably hired Singel because of his political background (lieutenant governor from 1987 to 1995 under Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr.) rather than his expertise with slot machines.

It's not the first time politics has gotten in the way of commerce in Pennsylvania's convoluted run to cash in on casinos. The Associated Press noted that one of the licensed distributors — New Century Entertainment, whose partners included former Allegheny County chief executive Jim Roddey — announced Tuesday that it was giving up its license, alleging that it had been shut out of doing business by "politics" and unnamed manufacturers.

I wrote a column shortly after the Legislature approved Rendell’s casino plan in July 2004 saying it was one of the biggest mistakes in Pennsylvania history. The consequences would not be realized until years later, but casinos would be the ruin of Pennsylvania.

That column, "Tony Soprano has friends in Pennsylvania," also hinted at organized crime's influence on casinos. In hindsight, I may have overestimated the mob’s influence on gambling. It's not the Mafia that worries me now. It's the politicians. The state's political elite are going to get rich from casinos. The rest of us will end up paying a steep price.

The state Legislature should take the advice of CasinoFreePa, a statewide coalition of groups and individuals opposing casino gambling in Pennsylvania, which has the following comment posted on its Web site: "The worse the law, the sooner it should be repealed."

Another screaming headline on is: "No one asked us!"

Barring a repeal of gambling by the Legislature (highly unlikely because so many politicians stand to make a fortune), the only other option Pennsylvania residents have is to vote out Ed Rendell and the Democrats who supported gambling in the November election.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Diamond's swan song: Ballot bid falls short

Russ Diamond dreamed the improbable dream.

The dream ended Tuesday when he woke up to the realization that he will not be governor of Pennsylvania. Not that he had much of a chance in the first place. But Diamond's remarkable one-year run in the spotlight has left a lasting mark on Pennsylvania politics.

Politics is a contact sport. The defending champions and the perennial opposition don't like competition. Tuesday was the last day for minor-party and independent candidates to submit nominating petitions to have their names placed on the Nov. 7 ballot. Diamond gathered more than 37,000 signatures, but fell far short of the 67,000 names he needed.

Money is the engine that drives politics. That's why Ed Rendell has been so successful. He has the ability to raise large amounts of money, mostly from corporate fat cats, labor unions and the casino industry. Lynn Swann also has the ability to raise money, but to a much lesser extent than Rendell, who is sitting on a $20 million campaign war chest as he prepares to buy his way to a second term as Pennsylvania governor.

Diamond didn't have any money. He went right to the people. He had to ask, cajole and beg 37,000 registered voters to sign his nominating petitions. And Diamond had no political favors to entice supporters. He couldn't promise them any cushy state jobs or sweetheart contracts.

Rendell and Swann have scores of paid workers who can gather signatures on their behalf. And they didn't need that many names to begin with. State law requires minor-party and independent candidates to collect 2 percent of the total ballots cast for the highest vote-getter in the last statewide election. That would be state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., who received a record 3.4 million votes in 2004, which was a presidential election year.

Major party candidates like Rendell and Swann need only 2,000 names to get on the ballot. Of course it's not fair, but when the two monopoly political parties write the rules, who said it has to be fair? Elections in Pennsylvania are a private party and it's invitation only.

If you're an independent voter or a member of the Green Party, Socialist Party, Constitution Party or Libertarian Party, you might as well leave Pennsylvania. You don't matter to the political party bosses who handpick the candidates.

Before July 7, 2005, when the Pennsylvania legislature gave itself and the governor a middle-of-the-night pay raise, Diamond was a small business owner in Lebanon County whose only previous political involvement was a losing campaign for Congress on the Libertarian ticket.

Diamond was so agitated with the flagrant disregard of the Pennsylvania constitution by the politicians who took an oath to uphold it that he set up a Web site called PACleanSweep. The rest is history.

The goal was to keep the pay raise issue alive and recruit candidates to run against incumbent state legislators. At one point, more than 100 candidates had joined the PACleanSweep movement. More than 50 ran against incumbents in the May 2006 primary and at least seven won their races. Nearly 50 PACleanSweep candidates will be on the ballot this November, although PACleanSweep itself may not be around by the time the election rolls around.

Internal bickering between Diamond and others on the nonprofit group's 10-member board led to lawsuits and an effort to disband the organization. Diamond either left the group or was forced out (depends on whom you talk to) when he announced this spring that he was going to mount an independent run for governor.

Although he has filed court papers to dissolve PACleanSweep, Diamond told the Associated Press he intends to remain politically active. "Time will tell what's able to rise from the ashes" of PACleanSweep, Diamond said.

Diamond could still have an impact on the Pennsylvania governor's race. There are at least 37,000 Pennsylvania residents who are not happy with the choice between Rendell and Swann and would have preferred a third option. There are many other disenchanted voters who support Diamond's efforts to clean up the mess in Harrisburg created by both major parties.

A Diamond endorsement of Swann could help the GOP challenger gain some ground on the heavily favored Rendell. While Swann and Diamond may differ on some issues, Diamond's reform platform is a lot closer to what Swann has been saying than Rendell's "business as usual" re-election theme.

Pennsylvania voters want change. They've seen what four years of Rendell has brought: higher taxes, corporate welfare and runaway state spending.

Swann's campaign people should be on the phone today to Diamond to work out a way to find a meaningful role on the Swann team for the political maverick who has captured the voters' imagination without money or established party machinery.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at