Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Perzel is a plague on Pennsylvania

Are members of the Pennsylvania Legislature subject to random drug testing? Is there some sort of mental health screening available in the General Assembly?

How else can you explain the absurdity of bestowing the title of "Speaker Emeritus" on ousted Speaker John M. Perzel, who lost his post Jan. 2 when 99 Democrats and 6 Republicans voted for Dennis M. O'Brien as the Speaker for the next two years.

The repudiation of Perzel sent the Philadelphia Republican on a week-long downward spiral from the most powerful leadership post in the House to rank-and-file member, one of 203 representatives in the most bloated, under-worked and overpaid legislature in the United States.

One week after Perzel's demotion, the Republican Caucus, which is now in the minority in the House thanks largely to Perzel, voted to make Perzel the "Speaker Emeritus" of the House. Or at least half the House. There's no indication that the 102 Democrats in the House -- or Speaker O'Brien -- recognize Perzel's honorary title.

Let's review what John Perzel has done in the past four years as Speaker of the House.

* Perzel pushed through the massive increase in the state income tax proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2003 through the House.

* Perzel ushered in the flawed casino slots bill proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell in July 2004.

* Perzel orchestrated the July 2005 pay raise along with Gov. Rendell and Ralph Cappy, chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

* Perzel helped Gov. Rendell increase state spending by billions of dollars over the past four years, setting the state up for financial disaster.

* Because of Perzel's miscalculation of the public backlash to the pay raise and his steadfast refusal to consider repealing the payjacking, 50 House members were voted out of office or forced to retire in 2006.

So what do the remaining Republicans do? They reward Perzel for his ignorance and arrogance. They refused to dump Perzel despite losing their 13-seat majority in the House. Republicans could have pushed Perzel overboard after the primary election or after the general election or at any point up to the Jan. 2 Speaker vote.

It finally took 99 Democrats to toss Perzel out of office on Jan. 2 when they found a moderate Republican they can live with in Dennis O'Brien. But how do you explain the fact that 94 Republicans voted to put Perzel back in the Speaker's office after all the damage he has done to the party and the House?

I'm beginning to question the mental stability of the 101 members of the Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Pollster and political analyst Lowman Henry, writing today in his Lincoln Blog, gets it: "The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting you have one. Some members of the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus are urgently in need of a 12-step program, with step one being how to deal with denial. While the position will carry with it no increase in pay, and only a few additional staff members, the very creation of it signals the continued unwillingness of certain House Republicans to face up to the fact that John Perzel has been an unmitigated disaster for their diminished caucus and for the Republican Party as a whole."

John Perzel is the reason the Republican Party lost the majority in the House. Perzel is the reason 55 lawmakers, mostly Republicans, are no longer serving in Harrisburg. Perzel is a walking, talking disaster area.

Perzel is a malignancy on the Pennsylvania Legislature. He will continue to infect lawmakers as long as they keep him in power. And the people of Pennsylvania are the losers. Again.

By creating the post of "Speaker Emeritus" and allowing Perzel to influence the business of the House, by turning their backs on reform and allowing lobbyists to continue running state government, Republicans guaranteed they will remain the minority party in the House in 2008 and beyond.

That's why the 101 House Republicans need to have their heads examined.

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