John Perzel and I spent an entire hour in a small room today and came out unscathed.
Perzel paid a visit to The Mercury to promote legislation to hire 10,000 new police officers in Pennsylvania. It was his first trip to Pottstown, where I spend most of my waking hours.
This was my first face-to-face encounter with the former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, although I've written so much about Perzel, it was like spending time with an old friend.
The Philadelphia Republican is not as imposing a figure in person as he appeared at the podium in the House chamber all those years. Must be the camera angles used by the Pennsylvania Cable Network or maybe it's the big gavel Perzel used to carry.
I've written 78 columns or blog posts about Perzel since 2005. (The only person I've written more about is Gov. Ed Rendell.)
I've been told by reliable people who were in Perzel's presence that he has used some choice words to describe me in the past.
For those who are new to this blog, The Mercury, the newspaper I work for, was one of the leaders of the movement to repeal the pay raise. In dozens of articles, editorials and columns throughout the summer and fall of 2005, we hammered away at the politicians who voted themselves pay raises. The newspapers collected 10,000 letters from individual readers calling for a repeal and delivered them to Legislative leaders in Harrisburg.
Professionally, the pay raise fiasco was the best thing that's happened to me. My columns about Perzel and the sorry state of Pennsylvania government have brought me three national or state awards, television appearances and guest spots on dozens of radio programs as well as invitations to speak to various organizations about reforming state government. For that, I'd like to thank John Perzel.
Although most of the discussion today was about the 10,000 cops initiative (which I'll write more about later), I couldn't let the opportunity of being in the same room with Perzel pass without asking him the million-dollar question.
Knowing what you know now -- the ouster of 55 incumbent lawmakers in 2006 and at least 28 incumbents in 2008, the loss of the Republican majority in the House and your demotion from Speaker in 2007 -- would you still have pushed for the pay raise?
Unflinching, Perzel said "Yes ... Absolutely."
Perzel said he had no choice but to back the pay raise vote because the governor, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Senate leadership had already agreed on the pay raise when it was presented to him. Who was he to stand in the way?
That's his story and he's sticking to it.
Perzel, who can be quite charming and has a wicked sense of humor (not to mention an encyclopedic knowledge of the state Legislature), is confident the GOP will regain the majority in the House after the November election.
He also believes he will return to his former post as Speaker of the House next January. We'll check back with him on that later.