John Baer: Cohen, Akin show some pols never change

Posted: August 23, 2012

EVER NOTICE how the shake-your-head kind of stories in politics tend to repeat themselves?

For example: I bump into state Rep. Mark Cohen in the Capitol.

I smile and ask, "How you enjoying being back in the news?"

He doesn't seem all that happy to see me.

"You started it, John," he says.

Indeed I did.

Back in 1990, I reported that the Philly Democratic state House member led all 253 lawmakers in expenses. He took more than $104,000 in a year and a half (including $11,000 for airline tickets to fly between Philly and Harrisburg) and was tops in bagging tax-free "per diems" - daily expenses requiring no receipts.

He took more than $44,000 in such expenses.

However piggish, it's all legal. And lawmakers get the money whether they spend it or not.

Some things never change.

Harrisburg TV station WHTM reports that Cohen remains the expense leader, topping all lawmakers during 2011 by collecting more than $39,000 for one year. Hey, at least he cut back a little. And he says he no longer flies.

But, now as then, he claims expenses for weekends and holidays. The TV station says that he collected for 275 days last year. The Legislature was in session 87 days.

And when the daily rate went from $157 to $158 in April 2011, Cohen did some back-filing to claim the extra dollar.

The 38-year incumbent's defense has always been that he works hard. "I'm still working hard," he tells me.

Yeah, I think - at collecting expenses.

WHTM also reported that Cohen last year failed to pay $452 in property taxes on a home he owns near the capital. The taxes were paid quickly after WHTM contacted his office.

He has no opponent in this year's election.

But Cohen is just one example of how odd stuff resurfaces.

Another is news out of Missouri that Republican congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin thinks women who are raped can't get pregnant.

"It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," Akin said during a St. Louis TV interview aired last Sunday. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

He later said that he "misspoke" and apologized.

Nothing new here.

As my colleague Will Bunch noted on his Attytood blog Monday, there was another GOP anti-abortion politician who made the same claim then backed away from it. I was there when former state Rep. Stephen Freind, who represented Delaware County from 1976 to 1993, occupied that hot seat.

During a 1988 radio interview, Freind said that women have "a certain secretion" brought on by rape that kills sperm and makes the odds of getting pregnant one in millions.

Medical experts called the assertion nonsense.

Freind, who also was an unsuccessful candidate in the 1992 GOP U.S. Senate primary against then-Sen. Arlen Specter, later said that he goofed by overstating the odds, but clung to the claim that rape pregnancies are "extremely rare."

I reported at the time that part of the support Freind offered for his claim was culled from a study of women in Nazi death camps and included in an article from a 1972 book Abortion and Social Justice.

The article says that Nazis tested the theory by sending women about to ovulate to the gas chambers only to bring them back after "their realistic mock-killing to see what effects this had on their ovulatory patterns."

Freind, now a labor lawyer for the Blue Bell-based national utility company Henkels & McCoy, tells me, "I got the wrong advice. I gave the wrong medical reason and tried to play doctor, and then came out and admitted it."

So, the GOP keeps finding ways to stir controversy over issues related to female health and reproduction.

Democrats keep finding ways to stir things up over issues related to spending tax dollars.

And pols in both parties continue to make us shake our heads.


Contact John Baer at baerj@phillynews.com. For his recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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