Monday, October 23, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Rep. Dante Santoni is a phony

Most people don't know this, but I began my career as a political columnist with an article about my do-nothing state representative.

His name is Dante Santoni Jr. and the column, published in March 2004, asked the question, "What have you done for me lately, Dante?" I now have the answer to that question.

Thanks to Dante Santoni, I am now one of the most widely read political commentators in Pennsylvania. Three hundred columns after my initial "Dante" offering, my articles are not only published in The Mercury, but are linked to more than a dozen political Web sites and blogs.

I've been a guest on 17 radio shows and a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network three times in the past six months. I've received e-mails about my columns from readers in 18 different states and six foreign countries. I've also been invited to speak to community groups about state and national politics.

For all that exposure, I'd like to publicly thank Dante Santoni for getting me started. It turns out Dante has done something for me after all. But he still hasn't done anything for the residents of the 126th House District, which is why Santoni is in the political fight of his life as the Nov. 7 election approaches.

Santoni barely survived the May primary, receiving just 45 percent of the vote. Unfortunately, two challengers split the other 55 percent, giving Santoni the Democratic nomination. It doesn't change the fact that the majority of voters in his own party rejected Santoni at the polls.

As we get closer to Election Day, Santoni appears to be self-destructing. A mailing on behalf of Santoni accusing his Republican opponent, Hal Baker, of questionable conduct while Baker worked as personnel director and acting county administrator for Berks County is pure fiction.

Santoni, who voted for the July 2005 pay raise for himself, concocted a wild story that Baker gave himself a pay raise while working for county government. A Berks County commissioner who sat on the board at the time of Baker's promotion issued a public statement saying that Baker's salary was set by the commissioners and it was based on merit and the fact that Baker was taking on addition responsibilities.

When Baker challenged Santoni about the political smear job during a debate on local cable television, Santoni blew a gasket. Like his good friend, Ed Rendell, Santoni got caught telling another fib.

Keep in mind that my March 2004 column criticizing Santoni for never sponsoring a bill, chairing a committee or delivering any substantial funding for projects in his district was written a full 16 months before Santoni voted himself a pay raise and took the money as unvouchered expenses, a practice ruled illegal by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In other words, the last two years haven't been a picnic for Santoni. In 14 years as a state legislator, Santoni has voted repeatedly to increase taxes, has raised his own pay twice and doubled his taxpayer-funded pension.

For the $1 million taxpayers have paid Santoni in salary and perks over the past 14 years, their state lawmaker has sponsored a grand total of one bill to rename a section of a highway in honor of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.

While the sentiment honoring a fallen soldier is a nice gesture, that's not why voters in the 126th District are sending Santoni to Harrisburg.

Santoni has promised for 14 consecutive years to deliver property tax relief to the residents of Berks County. He has broken that promise 14 years in a row. How many more chances are voters willing to give him?

Santoni is the poster child for everything wrong with the culture of Harrisburg. He votes 100 percent of the time with the Democratic Party bosses. He is beholden to lobbyists and special interest groups. He hides from constituents until election season rolls around.

While he's popular with the political establishment because he's a Zombie Democrat (no mind of his own), Santoni has failed to show any concern for his constituents back home who are struggling to stay afloat.

Santoni supported Ed Rendell's massive hike in the state income tax in 2003. He supported Rendell's flawed gambling bill in 2004. He voted to raise his own pay in July 2005. Santoni voted for the $52-a-year tax on working Pennsylvanians. He has rubber-stamped $6 billion in new spending during Rendell’s first four years in office.

For his loyalty to Rendell and the Democratic Party bosses, Santoni has been showered with tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, which allows him to run television commercials, touting all sorts of "accomplishments." Unfortunately, none of it is true.

When Santoni calls himself a "reformer" on TV and says "Harrisburg is broke and I'm working to fix it," he's full of baloney. Santoni couldn't spell R-E-F-O-R-M if you spotted him four of the six letter.

Voters in the 126th House District have a clear choice. Hal Baker is a dedicated public servant who wants to bring genuine reform to Harrisburg. Baker has come out of retirement because the people of his district need to send a public servant to Harrisburg.

Santoni is a career politician who has failed his constituents. Santoni is a big part of the problem. Baker is part of the solution.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at