"I fundamentally disagree with F. Scott Fitzgerald that there are no second acts," DeWeese, 61, said Thursday in an interview.
So far, so good. Last fall, in an election all about dumping incumbent Democrats, DeWeese won an 18th term representing his southwestern Pennsylvania district. He overcame a blitz of negative ads (some depicting handcuffs and jail cells to remind voters of his legal straits) to edge out his Republican opponent by 800 votes.
DeWeese wields none of the power of the old days - the days when he'd yank a committee post from a rank-and-file member who didn't vote his way; when he'd think nothing of dropping $6,000 in state funds on monthly travel; when lobbyists were always ready to dine with him.
And the man who as attorney general prosecuted DeWeese now occupies the governor's office.
But DeWeese hasn't lost his rhetorical fire. Nor is he afraid to let Gov. Corbett know he's still around.
He made a point of showing up at the December news conference where Corbett announced his transition team.
With the governor-elect running late, DeWeese briefly appropriated the limelight. Reporters mobbed him to ask what he was doing at his accuser's event.
He explained later that he had many old friends on Corbett's team and would have shown up at any new governor's event.
"He has a certain bravado," says G. Terry Madonna, political analyst at Franklin and Marshall College. "He's not taking a stage exit."
On Dec. 15, 2009, DeWeese was charged with four counts of theft and one each of conspiracy and conflict of interest. He was accused of having a state employee do campaign work on state time.
Citing the aide's testimony and that of another former staffer, the grand jury said the aide's "primary function was to be DeWeese's campaign fund-raiser."
DeWeese had been tested before. As minority leader in 2005 he helped push through the wee-hours legislative pay raise that set off enough public outcry to send dozens of incumbents packing in the 2006 election.
But now he and others faced criminal charges. "The evidence here is clear that they were using public resources for political purposes," Corbett, who was attorney general at the time, said. "That's illegal."
In the interview last week, DeWeese fumed at the idea that he had done anything wrong. By happenstance, exactly four years had elapsed since the first news reports detailing House Democrats' use of state bonuses to reward aides' political work.
"I'm beginning the fifth year of this nightmare," he said.
The Bonusgate probe has resulted in charges against 25 people. DeWeese, who was not accused in the awarding of bonuses, insists the biggest crime anyone committed was forgetting to turn in forms requesting leaves of absence from state jobs.
He waved a handful of the forms to make his point.
He's angry at what he considers a rank unfairness: he cooperated with prosecutors' efforts and yet was charged. He's angry that his trial keeps getting delayed - though a spokesman for the prosecutors says the date is being held up by defense motions.
His attorney, William Costopoulos, predicts exoneration, saying, "This is not Bonusgate. This is not computergate. This is pettygate."
A gallery of heroes
DeWeese wears his life on his sleeve - literally. One day he bolts around the Capitol in a Teamsters jacket, an homage to supporters in his blue-collar, coal-mining district. The next day he's in a Marine Corps jacket.
He served in the Corps for three years in the early 1970s. At Quantico, he says, he learned tactics from Oliver North. He won a commendation for running an area for Vietnamese refugees at Camp Pendleton.
For a time he pumped gas and washed cars at his father's Dodge dealership. Then he ran for the House. He's been there since 1976.
DeWeese, who is single, tools around his sprawling district in a Chevy Silverado truck, working the union halls and civic clubs. On fall Friday nights, he's at a football game.
He has made his district the state's prison capital, with two jails built and a third on the way. He attributes his district's lower-than-average unemployment to those prisons.
"If showing up, glad-handing, and bringing home the bacon is criteria for taking care of constituents," Madonna said, "then he gets an A-plus."
In DeWeese's Harrisburg apartment overlooking the rail yards, photos of his heroes line the walls. It is a gallery of men's men - Dwight D. Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, John F. Kennedy. He pulls a reporter into his bathroom to point out the framed photo that greets him after his morning shower.
It's a Marine recruitment poster, showing an enlistee scrambling over an obstacle in boot camp. "We still make 'em like we used to," it says.
Gone are the perks of his days as speaker and later as Democratic leader - the driver and the chartered jet, the staff of 30, the dinners with lobbyists. He observes that invitations to exclusive events at the Pennsylvania Society's annual New York City bash once filled a wheelbarrow but now could fit in a Splenda packet.
Thanks to seniority, he still gets a parking spot near the Capitol's main door. To park, he drives past cars with Corbett-for-governor stickers.
Critics credit his gifts as a political acrobat and his encyclopedic knowledge of the legislative branch. They also see him as a symbol of bad old days.
Eric Epstein, founder of the activist group Rock the Capital, said, "The House Democrats deserve an opportunity to remake themselves without Bill DeWeese skulking in the background."
Loyalists, such as State Rep. Mike O'Brien (D., Phila.), who crossed the state to help him campaign in the fall, say DeWeese's reelection proved the man's mettle.
The other side "took a baseball bat to him," O'Brien said. "That he won speaks to what a deep relationship he has with his constituents." Even his opponent attended the victory party.
For his part, DeWeese says he has no plans to retire or collect a pension - ever. He envisions exiting government as Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia did at 92: in a casket.
To that end, DeWeese says, he will concentrate on scripting his second act. "Life is short. I'm focused on living."
He points to others who survived adversity or (in his view) wrongful prosecution - the Clintons and the Whitewater controversy; the sex-assault allegations against Super Bowl-bound quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
He said he can still help Democrats in a House now ruled by Republicans. He quoted Apollo Creed in Rocky III: "The only way to get it back is to go back to the beginning."
"There's a Philadelphia metaphor for you," cracked DeWeese. "I'm going back to the beginning, as a rank-and-file member. I'll provide the artillery and air support for their infantry."
Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or email@example.com.