Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Perzel may take GOP down with him

When the only major conservative newspaper in Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the most liberal newspaper in the state, the Philadelphia Inquirer, run editorials the same day agreeing on something, it's worth taking a closer look.

Both newspapers focused their attention on the scandalous waste of taxpayer money by Philadelphia Republican John Perzel, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Perzel, a modern-day version of Gen. George Custer, led a bunch of fellow Republicans into the Little Big Horn last July 7 by ordering them to vote for the infamous pay raise. Perzel told the lemmings (aka Republicans) that the Indians (aka the voters) were friendly.

Perzel's miscalculation has led to the ouster of a Supreme Court justice and the defeat of at least 11 House Republicans in the May 16 primary. The two most powerful members of the state Senate, Republicans Robert Jubilirer and Chip Brightbill, also lost, but their ouster has as much to do with their own arrogance and incompetence as Perzel's antics.

Perzel's continuing hubris and unwillingness to permit any meaningful reforms in the worst state legislature in the country could lead to disastrous results for Republicans in November.

Perzel is the Tom Delay of Pennsylvania politics. He has become a lightning rod for critics of the way state government operates.

Perzel's top political ally in Harrisburg is none other than Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a fellow Philadelphian. Perzel, as well as Brightbill and Jubilirer, have worked closely with Rendell to push through massive tax hikes and huge spending increases in Harrisburg. Perzel and Rendell are birds of a feather who care more about Philadelphia patronage than doing anything good for Pennsylvania.

Here's part of what the Tribune-Review had to say about Perzel in a recent editorial:

"Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel — whose amoral justification rationalizing the scandalous misuse of his campaign contributions was offered with stupefying indifference — is a prohibitively costly civics lesson about state government.

The Trib discovered Mr. Perzel spent $9,000 in campaign dollars for trips to Super Bowls, $34,000 for trips to Las Vegas, almost $1,350 on liquor for a state Supreme Court committee meeting, $1,800 for staying at an Atlantic City luxury hotel casino, $41,109 for food in Philadelphia even though Perzel and staff members live there, including $1,900 in home deliveries for Chinese food and pizza on 52 occasions and on and on and on.

And $700,000 in reimbursements to legislative staffers — including $56,000 in salary in 2005 and $264,000 in reimbursements in two years for Perzel's chief of staff, who also is paid $160,000 by taxpayers."

Here's part of what the Inquirer said about Perzel in its editorial:

"John Perzel had a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease. So he took an expensive cure. On the taxpayer’s dime. Well, a lot more than a dime.

Last year, the speaker of the Pennsylvania House started paying a Harrisburg-area firm $5,000 a month — in taxpayer money — to advise him on public relations.

The advice boiled down to: Stop talking so much … The $60,000-a-year PR contract with Hershey-Philbin Associates came on top of another $60,000 the GOP caucus pays to a Philly-based consultant to handle local media relations for Perzel and two other lawmakers."

The two editorials were published the same week Perzel trumpeted his long-delayed lobbyist reform package. Pennsylvania is the only state in the United States where lobbyists don't have to say how much money they spend to influence politicians or which politicians get the lion's share of the money to vote a certain way. That's the way Perzel likes it.

If his fellow Republican House members don't rise up and take Perzel out before the November election, be prepared to see the Pennsylvania House of Representatives fall into Democratic control for the first time in a decade.

At least Tom Delay had the decency to resign from Congress rather than cause further damage to the Republican Party. Perzel, the personification of conceit, doesn't care about the party.

He cares only about John Perzel. He is willing to sacrifice as many GOP legislators as necessary in his vain attempt to hold on to power.

If more Republicans lose in November, they don't have to look further than the rudderless leadership of John Perzel.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa.