Pennsylvania's liberal governor endures an awful year in 2007 and can expect more of the same in 2008.
Gov. Ed Rendell spent the end of 2007 vacationing in Jamaica. He needed the rest. Rendell had the worst year of any Pennsylvania politician, according to 52 percent of the readers who participated in my unscientific poll at my blog.
I asked readers to pick which of the following Pennsylvania politicians — House Democratic Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, indicted state Sen. Vincent Fumo, Gov. Rendell or ousted House Speaker John Perzel — had the worst year in 2007.
Here's how the voting tally ended up: Rendell, 52 percent; Fumo, 20 percent; DeWeese, 16 percent; and Perzel, 5 percent. My pick was Gov. Rendell all along.
Coming off a landslide re-election win over Lynn Swann in 2006 and helping Democrats take control of the state House for the first time in 12 years, Rendell expected big things in 2007. He offered an ambitious agenda to expand the role of government and raise taxes.
None of the governor's initiatives made it past the Legislature. Rendell sought $2.5 billion in new or expanded taxes to pay for his agenda. He got none of it. Rendell proposed an $850 million energy plan, a multi-billion dollar plan to provide health insurance to the uninsured and a proposal to lease the Turnpike to continue sinking money into the state’s failed mass transit systems. He struck out on all three.
A personal plea for more gun control was shot down by the Legislature late in the year and Rendell couldn't even get a smoking ban passed by the time 2007 ended.
Rendell squandered what political muscle he had going into 2007. My theory has always been that Rendell lied too often about property tax relief. While voters still liked Rendell and rewarded him with a second term, they stopped believing anything the governor had to say.
With 2008 an election year for the entire state House and half the state Senate, forget about any major portion of Rendell's agenda getting through the Legislature.
Lame duck are the two words you will hear most often when Ed Rendell's name comes up in 2008.
Besides the governor's inability to get anything through the Legislature, Rendell had a bad 2007 for several other reasons.
He was embroiled in the scandal involving tainted campaign contributions from Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu. Initially calling Hsu a "friend" and a man of "good character," Rendell returned nearly $40,000 in campaign contributions from Hsu, who was sentenced to three years in prison in California and faces fraud charges in New York. The governor needs to find better friends.
The February 2007 ice storm that stranded 1,000 motorists for 24 hours on Interstate 78 exposed incompetence and mismanagement by several state agencies under the Rendell administration. Audits of PHEAA and PennDOT also showed how poorly state agencies are run.
Ethical questions hounded Rendell throughout 2007.
Rendell's insurance commissioner, the woman who was supposed to look out for state consumers, took a lucrative job with the insurance industry in 2007. Two other Rendell cabinet members faced ethics investigations when it was revealed their agencies awarded millions of dollars in state contracts to firms that employed their spouses.
Last but not least, the Eagles, which Rendell predicted were playoff bound, finished 8-8 on the season. That’s better than Rendell in 2007, but still mediocre.
Here's a brief recap of why the other three Pennsylvania political leaders also had a bad year in 2007:
Democratic House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese was dogged by "Bonusgate," in which state employees spent time working on political campaigns while collecting paychecks from taxpayers. DeWeese could be the biggest fish snared by Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett.
Sen. Vince Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat, is facing a 139-count federal indictment for fraud and corruption, centered on $1 million in taxpayer money he allegedly used for personal gain. He had enough pull to get this trial moved back beyond the April 22 primary, but Fumo is facing a strong challenge from a reform candidate, Anne Dicker.
Rep. John Perzel, a Philadelphia Republican who works well with Rendell, was ousted as Speaker of the House in January mainly by his own Republican House members. Perzel is scheming to return as House Speaker in 2009 but Perzel will have to persuade House Republicans he deserves another chance. That won't be easy considering Republicans lost control of the House thanks largely to Perzel's arrogance.
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