Some of Pennsylvania's imperial lawmakers who were tossed out of office by voters this year took a few parting shots at their constituents and the news media as they cleaned out their desks and prepared to leave the royal surroundings of the state Capitol and return to the real world.
This is what happens when a class of political elite is allowed to propagate unchecked in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. These career politicians expect to stay in office for decades, and the longer they hold on to the trappings of power, the less interested they become in representing the folks back home.
Regardless of your party affiliation, one of the bright spots of 2006 was the fact that dozens of career politicians at the state and national level were fired by the voters of Pennsylvania.
The sour grapes began shortly after the May 2006 primary elections, when 17 incumbent Pennsylvania legislators were booted from office. Another 31 chose to "retire" rather than face the voters.
Dennis Leh, a 20-year veteran of the Harrisburg scene, had this to say when he lost to a no-name opponent who spent about $1,200 of his own money for signs and a few newspaper ads but did little else in the way of campaigning:
Challenger Billy Reed didn't beat me, Leh said. "The papers did. We deserved some of it, but the papers just crucified us." That remark was followed by a letter to the editor by Leh's wife questioning the intellect of the voters who ousted her hubby.
The Harrisburg housecleaning continued in November when several more entrenched career politicians, most notably Mike Veon (the No. 2 Democrat in the state House) were fired.
As the Legislature ended its session this week, some of the bums who were kicked out of office had a few choice words for the people they were elected to serve and for the reporters who cover Harrisburg.
According to veteran statehouse reporter Alison Hawkes, Chester County Republican Rep. Robert J. Flick lashed out at the media for intense coverage of the pay raise and at voters for taking the bait.
To the news media who "suckle at the bosom of disgruntled lawmakers — get a life, get a real job," Flick said last week, according to the Hawkes' article, "Lawmakers bitter over defeat."
Flick's comment was met with some applause on the House, Hawkes reported.
Rep. Roy Baldwin, a Lancaster County Republican who lost in the primary, said the pay raise "taught me how the media can take control of an issue and blow it out of proportion" to sell more newspapers. "In my opinion, the media is influencing the direction of this House much more than it should."
Again applause, according to Hawkes.
Yeah, Roy, I can see how that media can blow a 54-percent pay raise approved at 2 a.m. out of proportion.
The comments were unusual in that farewell speeches are normally used to praise fellow members and staff, speak of accomplishments, tell inside jokes and offer departing wisdom, Hawkes wrote.
Hawkes also spoke to Tim Potts, coordinator for Democracy Rising PA, who said the angry comments, particularly against the media, show lawmakers are unable to recognize that their wounds are self-inflicted.
"The media can't report on the pay raise if they didn't do the pay raise. The media can't report on secrecy if they are not secretive," Potts said. "The only thing delusional about what's in the media is the attitude of the members themselves."
Another veteran Harrisburg observer, Michael Race, also wrote about the departing legislators in an article headlined, "Political sour grapes," for the Times-Shamrock Newspapers.
While most have been reflective, a few have opted to toss bombs on their way out the door, Race reported.
Rep. Stephen Maitland, R-Adams, whose constituents ousted him in the May primary, unleashed a bitter rant last week, essentially telling the voters of his district they were closed-minded fools for ending his political career.
"I don’t regret my pay-raise vote one bit," Maitland said. "I just wish the voters had listened with open minds about it. In a very short period of time, I’ll be making two to three times what a state representative makes," Maitland added, a reference to his budding career as a lawyer. "You passed up a bargain."
Race also highlighted Rep. Robert Flick's bizarre comments about the media who "suckle at the breast of disgruntled lawmakers."
"Get a life," Flick told members of the journalism community. "Get a real job. You couldn’t accomplish half of what the good men and women in this chamber do for the public and for the commonwealth."
It's hard to feel sorry for any of the legislators who were tossed out on their keisters by the voters. They're set for life. They've made tons of money by feeding from the public trough for decades. They took a lot more in cash and gifts from lobbyists that we'll never know about. They will get taxpayer-paid pensions (many in the $50,000 to $100,000 a year range) and free medical care for themselves and their families for the rest of their lives.
Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org