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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Tony Phyrillas
Bio: Tony Phyrillas
Date:  February 16, 2006
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Topic category:  Other/General

Can a leopard change its spots?

Can persons who have used their elected office to grow rich and powerful be trusted when they say they will lead the effort to reform? Can a career politician change his or her basic nature?

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil."

— Jeremiah 13:23

Most of us are familiar with the proverb about how a leopard cannot change its spots. Its origins are from the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Jeremiah was a prophet who lived in a time of immorality, idolatry and raging hypocrisy. He confronted priests who sold out to the highest bidder. He lived in a land where rulers plundered the people. I know what you’re thinking. Reminds you of Harrisburg circa 2006.

Can members of the Pennsylvania Legislature be forgiven by voters for their many sins against citizens? Can persons who have used their elected office to grow rich and powerful be trusted when they say they will lead the effort to reform Pennsylvania politics? Can a career politician change his or her basic nature?

Can a leopard change its spots? Let's examine at the evidence:

Many legislative leaders who pushed for the outrageous 16-percent to 54-percent pay raise last year still blame the news media for stirring up the people of Pennsylvania. In their minds, Pennsylvania residents are sheep. Dumb sheep, at that. They never question the wisdom of their elected leaders, some of whom have presided over Harrisburg longer than many biblical kings.

Can a leopard change its spots?

If editorial writers, columnists and talk radio hosts had minded their own business, the legislators would be enjoying their ill-gotten gain to this day. They've gotten away with it so many times before. But thanks to newspapers and radio, legislators were forced to give the money back. Many incumbents — at least 100 by my last county — face challengers this year. Many career politicians are promisng to change. Did they repent? More than 70 legislators who voted to repeal the pay raise in November kept the money they collected during the four months the raise was law. Those who paid back the money didn't return it to the state treasury. It went into the slush funds that legislative leaders control. Many are paying back the money on an installment plan, essentially getting an interest-free loan on the backs of state taxpayers.

Can a leopard change its spots?

Some of the legislators who took the money early as unvouchered expenses spent the money. Joe Conti, a Republican state senator from Buck County, said he spent the $5,000 to replace a water heater. He offered to rip up the water heater and turn it over to the state, but won't give the money back. How does someone who makes $80,000 a year not have money to replace a water heater? Conti is retiring rather than face the voters. Others who spent the money on vacations or home repairs are repaying the money on installment plans. In some cases, they'll be paying it back over 30 months. In other words, they got an interest-free loan from taxpayers and will pay it back when they feel like it.

Can a leopard change its spots?

Tim Solobay, a state legislator from western Pennsylvania, left a voice mail with the editor of his local newspaper saying that legislators are planning an "all-out assault" on the media once the election is over. "The majority of the legislative feeling about the media right now is if there’s something they can do to screw them, you can imagine it may occur," Solobay said in the message. There’s been talk in Harrisburg of expanding the state sales tax to cover advertising. There’s a First Amendment issue here because advertising is a form of speech, but advertising is also the lifeblood of newspapers and radio. A tax on advertising would put many media outlets out of business, which I’m sure is what legislators would want.

There's also been talk in Harrisburg of setting up a state Web site to allow local and county governments to post legal notices without having to place them in local newspapers, where most residents get information about their borough council, township committee or school board. These public notices generate revenue for newspapers. Not everyone has access to the Internet, but all you need to buy a newspaper is 50 cents or you can go down to the public library to read the local newspaper. Why make it harder for citizens to keep tabs on government? Is this another attempt by legislators to kill the messenger?

Can a leopard change its spots?

Gov. Ed Rendell and the Legislature say that they’ve been working on property tax reform for 30 years. Good legislation takes time, they argue. But if Sovereign Bank wants a bill passed to shield it from disgruntled shareholders, apparently there's an express lane for legislation. Within a week, a bill was drafted and pushed through both houses of the Legislature. Rendell signed it, but said he had reservations about the special-interest legislation. It's amazing how Rendell, a man of such high principle, can sign so much bad legislation over and over.

After the Sovereign bill became law, it was revealed that the majority of Senators who supposedly voted for passage of the bill were not even in Harrisburg when the vote took place. More than 30 of the 50 senators were in Reading to attend the funeral for the mother of state Sen. Mike O’Pake. Somehow the senators managed to be in two places — 57 miles apart — at the same time. That’s the magic of Harrisburg.

Can a leopard change its spots? What do you think?

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Biography - Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (, his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas

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