Another Pa. scandal; another round of questions

Posted: March 27, 2014

IN HIS ONLY post-prison interview, granted earlier this month after two years in the can, former Philly political big dog and onetime Republican state House Speaker John Perzel sorta said it all.

Jan Murphy of the Harrisburg Patriot-News asked Perzel about reforms following multiple scandals, including the one that snared him, dating back to the villainous 2005 pay grab.

Murphy reports Perzel responded sarcastically, as he often does, with a question of his own: "What reforms did they get done?"

Good question.

Now, after the pay raise, Bonusgate, Computergate, after pleas, convictions and prison terms for dozens of lawmakers and aides, including eight legislative leaders and a justice of the state Supreme Court, comes more scandal.

So do more questions, if not about reforms, then about leadership - as in where is it?

The latest stain on Pennsylvania involves (shocker!) more Philly lawmakers.

One state senator, LeAnna Washington, is charged with corruption. Four House members, Reps. Ron Waters, Vanessa Brown, Louise Bishop and Michelle Brownlee, reportedly were caught on tape taking money. Another Philly House member, Rep. J.P. Miranda, was charged in January with using a "ghost worker" to pay tax dollars to his sister. All are Democrats.

And all, like those of both parties who went before them, help paint Harrisburg as a lawless landfill where ethical behavior is seen as often as orcas in the Susquehanna.

It's to the point where Harrisburg is a trigger word for nausea.

And the ongoing response of those entrusted with the brand of our government?

Crickets.

Legislative leaders consistently forego efforts to polish the institution even as it's tarnished over and over again.

Forget about sanctions against evident wrongdoers.

After the Inquirer broke news of Philly Dems taking unreported cash, House Democratic leader Frank Dermody said those lawmakers "should correct that reporting mistake."

Yeah, and as one Capitol wag suggests, we should ask Lee Harvey Oswald to correct his mistake by registering his Carcano rifle.

This, I'd remind you, is the same Legislature in which House members offered a standing ovation after the farewell speech of former Democratic House Speaker Bill DeWeese in 2012 as he was on his way to prison.

Leadership in our Capitol sure can be forgiving.

There's always isolated bill-waving from those running neither chamber.

This week, four senators - Luzerne County Republican Lisa Baker, Lancaster County Republican Lloyd Smucker, Montco Democrat Daylin Leach and Philly Democrat Anthony Williams - proposed various bans against taking cash.

A spokesman for Senate GOP leader Dominic Pileggi says Pileggi supports such action.

But all that does is remind us that we live in a state where lawmakers can take cash of any amount so long as it's (wink, wink) not to influence votes and so long as it's (wink, wink) reported to the Ethics Commission - which, by the way, has no way to know what's unreported and no resources to find out.

New or tighter ethics laws can't ensure good behavior. But neither can leadership that historically shows more interest in self-preservation than in its institution, or its true public service or in citizen confidence in government.

The Legislature's not in session this week. I assume members need a rest following ethics training (a little late for some) last week - that you paid for.

Haven't heard much from House GOP leaders; and Gov. Corbett's in Rome, a great time to be out of the country.

Plus, I'm not sure the guv wants any part of a gifts discussion given his past, completely legal receipt of gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists, biz execs and law firms for sports tickets, travel and more.

But one thing maybe Corbett could do from across the sea: Order flags over the Capitol be flown at half-staff in honor of fallen leadership.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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