Time for some well-deserved Pa. send-offs?

Posted: April 03, 2014

Every indicted legislator deserves his or her day in court, and in Pennsylvania there have been so many of them. How many other states can boast of not one but two former House speakers now intimately familiar with the correctional system? We should all be so proud.

Thanks to taxpayers' splendid generosity, elected officials have obscene chunks of paid time off - including the entire summer - to prepare for those days in court while we work to support one of the nation's largest, costliest, and yet frequently ineffective legislatures.

I bring this up because next month, Pennsylvania is having a primary. You may be distracted by basketball and baseball and the possibility that spring might actually happen, but a primary can be a glorious thing, especially when it is contested.

Democrat LeAnna "I am the #*$%ing senator" Washington happens to be one legislator who allegedly viewed her legislative and campaign staffs as one and the same. The fact that Washington seemingly failed to notice busloads of her colleagues getting convicted for doing the same may be reason enough to give her the boot.

But there's more. During the last two years, Washington missed nearly a third of voting sessions, including critical bills on voter ID and Medicaid expansion. She spoke out on both issues - against the former, for the latter - but then couldn't find the #*$%ing time to vote.

But arrogance is not so much a crime in Harrisburg as a prerequisite of perpetual incumbency.

The two-decade Harrisburg veteran seems to have violated the cardinal rule to be nice to people who earn less, especially those in your employ. Treat them poorly and they have a curious way of becoming critical witnesses for prosecutors.

For a senator who made domestic abuse a central issue, Washington seems to have been particularly abusive to her staff. She allegedly excoriated a former aide with the T-shirt-ready mantra: "I am the #*$%ing senator, I do what the #*$% I want, and ain't nobody going to change me."

I take Washington's arrogance and truancy personally, as she happens to be my #*$%ing senator, representing (well, two-thirds of the time) a nice swath of Northwest Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

Of course, experience isn't necessary to perfect such alleged flouting of the law. State Rep. J.P. Miranda is a North Philadelphia Democratic freshman, but may well be a Fumoesque prodigy when it comes to creative staffing. He allegedly placed a ghost employee on his payroll, a mechanic, so he could funnel money to his sister, who had been denied a paid position due to state antinepotism rules.

Fortunately in the overwhelmingly Democratic districts, Miranda faces five challengers in the primary while Washington has two opponents: Brian Gralnick of Elkins Park and Cheltenham Township Commissioner Arthur Haywood. They're both progressives who agree on many issues while differing in style and experience.

Gralnick, 34, is spirited, with a Penn degree in social policy and experience working for the state Department of Aging, United Way, Jewish Federation, and other nonprofits. He had me at "we deserve a lot better than LeAnna Washington." This is his first time running for office, though he has greater experience than his opponent working on state issues and in Harrisburg. Gralnick's central issues are fair funding for public education, providing for older Pennsylvanians, and helping the underserved.

Haywood, 57, is more low-key. A graduate of Morehouse College, the London School of Economics, and Michigan Law School, he is a former Community Legal Services attorney who works as a solo practitioner representing nonprofits. His main issues are fair funding for public education, raising the minimum wage, and gun control. "Who we send to Harrisburg is directly related to what we get from Harrisburg," he said. "The more people we send with leadership, the more we can receive back."

Every indicted legislator deserves his or her day in court. On May 20, voters have a splendid opportunity to make sure Washington and Miranda have all the time in the world to prepare for that day.


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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