Pa. pols are deep into their own 'March Madness'

Posted: March 25, 2014

WITH APOLOGIES to the NCAA, here in Pennsylvania we got our own "March Madness."

It's the political kind.

It's mostly defined as doing the same things over and over expecting different results.

For example, we have five Democratic Philly lawmakers allegedly guilty of wrongdoing so common it's part of our Legislature's brand.

We should start reading lawmakers their rights along with their oaths of office.

Sen. LeAnna Washington faces charges she misused her authority, staff and tax dollars for political gain.

How original.

And, if true, how galactically stupid given dozens of her legislative colleagues and/or their aides were snared, pleaded guilty or were convicted in recent years of doing the exact same thing.

Then we have Reps. Ron Waters, Vanessa Brown, Louise Bishop and Michelle Brownlee reportedly tape-recorded taking money from an undercover informant (even in their legislative offices!), money they then failed to report as required by law.

Nice.

But, hey, there's nothing in Pennsylvania preventing lawmakers from taking gifts (of any value!) and nobody to check whether those gifts are reported.

This take-and-pocket practice could be customary, just another perk for our public servants.

I mean maybe there's a reason our lawmakers wrote and live by one of the least-restrictive, least-punitive gift laws in the nation - and do nothing to change it.

I should note, former Philly Traffic Court Chief Judge Thomasine Tynes, already snagged in a ticket-fixing scandal (ah, Philadelphia), also was caught in the taping sting, allegedly taking a $2,000 charm bracelet.

I wonder whether one of the charms was a little silver traffic ticket.

And let's not forget ethics violations just lodged against three ex-Liquor Control Board honchos.

Former LCB boss P.J. Stapleton, former chief exec Joe Conti and former marketing director James Short all got slapped and fined by the Ethics Commission.

For what? For taking stereotypical middle-age white-guy gifts of golf, booze and expensive dinners.

How many times have we seen this story?

And why does the LCB, a monopoly, need a marketing director?

Madness, I tell you, is everywhere.

In its midst the state's top law enforcer seems to be suffering political meltdown.

Even if Attorney General Kathleen Kane was right to kill a sting case that caught some Philly Dems on grounds it's tainted and can't be prosecuted, her related actions raise eyebrows.

Last week, she had a Philly fundraiser with law-enforcement folk and is quoted in the Inquirer saying she was happy to be with "real people" who work hard and "care about the truth," unlike the news media.

Then she shows up at the Inky editorial board with omniprominent defense lawyer Dick Sprague and, on his advice, takes no questions.

So an elected official who became a media darling during her 2012 campaign and again when she refused to defend Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban now trashes media and hires a lawyer who sues media, sometimes with success.

Opinions of and possible legal action against journalists are certainly Kane's right.

But no one with political sense can believe that the state's top attorney lawyering-up after one week of rough press is a good idea.

No one can believe it enhances her cultivated image as a tough prosecutor come to Harrisburg to change the "good ol' boy network."

Kane became the state's first woman and first Democrat elected attorney general using the slogan she's "a prosecutor, not a politician."

After last week, she risks inviting questions of whether she's either.

None of these examples of evident madness is settled. Not the Washington case, not the sting case, not the LCB case (it's referred to the Dauphin County district attorney for possible criminal charges) and not Kane's standing or judgment.

They might all look different if and when they are settled. But taken together they right now look like some wicked "March Madness."


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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