Low marks for lawmakers amid Bonusgate A poll puts their approval rating at 32%. Only 1 in 10 voters say Rep. Bill DeWeese should keep his leadership post. DeWeese, legislature falling out of favor

Posted: August 06, 2008

HARRISBURG — The state legislature is suffering from dismal public-approval ratings, and three out of four Pennsylvania voters believe it will not take steps to clean up corruption in the wake of the Bonusgate scandal.

Those are among the results of the latest Quinnipiac University poll, which also found that few voters - only one in 10 - believe that House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene) should keep his leadership post.

"Voters are fed up with the legislature," said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Connecticut university's polling institute. "It just seems to be one continuous crime story after another."

Last month, Attorney General Tom Corbett filed 289 criminal counts against a dozen Harrisburg insiders, alleging they conspired to use tax dollars to underwrite campaigns of House Democrats. Corbett has alleged, among other things, that legislative staffers were awarded government bonuses based on how hard they worked on political campaigns.

DeWeese was not charged. He has insisted that he had known nothing about the bonus system and that, since learning of it, he had worked hard to install higher ethical standards in the caucus.

Nonetheless, he has come under increasing pressure, including from within his own party, to step down as the top House Democrat because Bonusgate unfolded under his watch.

"I respect the opinions reflected in this poll. Clearly we need to do a better job of educating voters about the dozens of meaningful legislative and administrative reforms that we implemented this session," said DeWeese, who pointed to the state's newly expanded open-records law and more than two dozen changes to internal House operating rules.

Pennsylvanians clearly want more, however.

Seventy-six percent of those polled said they believe the legislature should hold a special session just to consider ways to rid Harrisburg of corruption.

The poll also found that the legislature, as a whole, has an approval rating of only 32 percent. That's just slightly higher than a low found by Quinnipiac in October 2005, after the pay-raise scandal of that year.

Voters, however, continue to give Gov. Rendell relatively high marks. He has a 54 percent approval rating, about the same as a year ago, indicating that he was relatively untouched by Bonusgate, the poll found.

The poll of 1,580 voters statewide was conducted over five days ending Sunday, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Contact staff writer Mario F. Cattabiani at 717-787-5990 or mcattabiani@phillynews.com.

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