Reformers oust favorites for Speaker of the House in the Pennsylvania Legislature
"Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down! Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"
— William Shakespeare(Henry IV, Part II)
The reign of John M. Perzel ended Tuesday when the Pennsylvania House of Representatives elected Philadelphia Republican Dennis M. O'Brien as Speaker of the House, the post Perzel has held since April 2003.
The vote to give O'Brien the powerful job of Speaker was 105-97, culminating a week of political intrigue that included a lifelong Democratic legislator publicly announcing he would vote for Perzel, effectively denying the Speaker post to Democratic House Leader Bill DeWeese.
Six Republicans broke ranks with their leadership on Tuesday, ending Perzel's iron grip on power. They are Reps. Kerry Benninghoff (R., Center), Jim Cox (R., Berks), Brad Roae (R., Crawford), Sam Rohrer (R., Berks), Curt Schroder (R., Chester) and David Steil (R., Bucks).
They outnumbered the three Democrats -- Reps. Thomas Caltagirone (D., Berks), Angel Cruz (D., Phila.) and Rosita Youngblood (D., Phila.) -- who voted for Perzel.
The fallout from Tuesday's explosive leadership vote will take days, maybe weeks, to settle. It could signal a fresh start for the beleaguered Legislature, which has been under siege since July 7, 2005, when lawmakers voted themselves pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent in a middle-of-the-night vote that led to a political backlash that cost at least 55 legislators and a Supreme Court justice their jobs.
Perzel was blamed for the pay raise and losing Republican control of the House. Before the Nov. 7 election, the GOP enjoyed a 109-seat majority in the chamber. Democrats now control the House by a 102-101 margin, but DeWeese was unable to hold the Democratic caucus together.
The House welcomed 50 new legislators Tuesday and many of them ran on a platform to clean up Harrisburg. The rejection of Perzel and DeWeese could signal the end of the "business-as-usual" mentality promoted by these political dinosaurs.
Perzel and DeWeese brought all sorts of baggage to the leadership vote. Perzel's arrogance and habit of saying stupid things cost him support in his own party. DeWeese demoted 15 Democratic committee chairmen in 2005 after they refused to back the pay raise.
O'Brien, who has served in Harrisburg for 30 years, has kept a low profile and apparently was a compromise candidate both parties could support. After realizing he did not have the votes to win the Speaker post, DeWeese himself nominated O'Brien for Speaker. DeWeese hailed O'Brien as "a fine-hearted idealistic Republican" who is well-suited to lead "a clean slate" in House leadership, which Republicans have controlled for 12 years, according to The Associated Press.
Unlike Perzel and DeWeese, who have blocked reform for much of the past decade, O'Brien immediately promised to preside over a more open House.
"You have my pledge. I will move reform issues forward and I will try to be as fair as I possibly can," O'Brien was quoted by the Associated Press.
What a difference a year makes. The smackdown of Perzel and DeWeese follows on the heels of last year's ouster by the voters of the Senate's top two GOP leaders. The only politician involved in orchestrating the infamous payjacking who survived the voters' wrath was Gov. Ed 'Teflon' Rendell, who will be sworn in to a second term on Jan. 16.
For more discussion about Pennsylvania politics, catch me this Saturday at 9:05 p.m. on the Lowman Henry Show on WHYL AM 960 in Carlisle, Pa. The program can also be heard on the Internet at www.whylradio.com and will be available on www.lincolninstitute.org the following week.
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 (www.pottsmerc.com), 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. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas