John Baer: A stroll through Bizzarro World

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, of Erie, doesn't get much grief about his name, but could get some when it comes to his ideas and hopes.
State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, of Erie, doesn't get much grief about his name, but could get some when it comes to his ideas and hopes.
Posted: January 10, 2013

IF I HAD MY WAY, and I seldom do, the new speaker of the Pennsylvania House, solely on the basis of his name, would be Erie state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro.

It would be fitting and fun for "Speaker Bizzarro" to wield the gavel in a chamber I like to call "the place where good ideas go to die."

I chatted with Bizzarro this week. He's a 27-year-old Democrat who worked for the Erie County Convention Center before winning election in November.

When I ask how much grief he gets as a pol whose name's Bizzarro, he says, "Not a lot at all," noting that his name is well-known in Erie, where his extended family has deep roots, including in local businesses, a restaurant and a sports legend.

His grandfather, Lou Bizzarro, a professional boxer, went 14 rounds with Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran in 1976, before getting KO'd in a WBA world lightweight title fight.

(My questions soften a bit after hearing this. Why antagonize someone with those kinds of genes?)

Bizzarro - I pray I get to write his name often - represents the district farthest from the Capitol, a 5 1/2-to-six-hour drive, but he says that's "what I signed up for."

I'm thinking, pal, you have no idea what you signed up for.

He wants to focus on business development, jobs, transportation and education.

I want to tell him he's in the wrong place.

I want to tell him he should focus on naming bridges rather than fixing them, on proclamations rather than pro-development, on keeping his own job rather than creating new ones.

But I don't.

I suspect he'll learn this on his own - as will the 31 other new first-term House members taking their seats when the House convenes at 1 p.m. Monday to begin a new two-year session.

(Our Legislature, if I haven't mentioned it lately, is the largest full-time legislature in America, famous for being overpaid, over-perked and underproductive. Oh, and for packing its leaders off to prison and, in a recent case, offering a standing ovation prior to departure. I am not making this up.)

Among newbies this session is Philly Democratic Rep. Brian Sims, 34, a former staff counsel at the Philadelphia Bar Association and the first openly gay pol elected to our Legislature.

(GOP Rep. Mike Fleck, of rural Huntingdon County, came out last month after re-election to a fourth House term.)

Sims intends to concentrate on issues surrounding civil rights and nondiscrimination, and efforts to change the state tax code.

He notes that our 9.9 percent corporate net-income tax is the nation's second-highest (Iowa ranges from 6 percent to 12 percent) and advocates closing the "Delaware loophole," which allows companies incorporated in Delaware to avoid the tax while state-based firms pay the high rate to make up for that lost revenue.

Sims says he understands that such an effort "will take years and years."

I want to tell him such an effort's been under way for years. Some things never change.

Such as the fact that - while there are six new women lawmakers - the Legislature still maintains one of the nation's lowest percentages of female members: 17.8 percent, according to 2013 figures from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Only eight states are worse, all in the South or West.

So here we go again. Another session. Another opportunity for change. Would that new members immediately introduce bills to: cut the size of the Legislature; make it a part-time body; end automatic annual pay raises; reform campaign-finance laws; reform redistricting; enact penalties for missing budget deadlines; replace per diem payments with reimbursements for actual and proven expenses, and . . .

Wait. What am I thinking? Given our history, that would be bizarro.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: philly.com/BaerGrowls

Columns: philly.com/JohnBaer

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