Don't just take my word for it. Two nonpartisan government watchdog groups released reports ranking all 253 members of the Pennsylvania Legislature on a variety of issues. The GrassrootsPA study reviewed voting records to determine which legislators served their constituents well or hurt their citizens by raising taxes or approving salary increases and other perks for themselves.
A study by DemocracyRisingPA evaluated how often legislators voted with party leaders, showing a lack of independence and the willingness to be influenced by career politicians once they get to Harrisburg.
The worst lawmakers in the state represent parts of Philadelphia, according to GrassrootsPA. The worst Democrat is Rep. Mark Cohen. The worst Republican is Rep. John Perzel. Fourteen other Philadelphia lawmakers finished in the bottom 20.
Several lawmakers from Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties fared poorly in both rankings. State Sen. Michael A. O'Pake and state Reps. David Argall, Tom Caltagirone and Dante Santoni Jr. Republican Argall and Caltagirone and Santoni, both Democrats, were among the 20 lowest-ranked legislators on the GrassrootsPA survey of all 203 House members.
O'Pake, a Democrat, was among the 10 lowest-ranked senators in the 50-member Senate. Sen. James Rhoades, a Republican whose district comes partly into Berks, also ranked low.
Two other Berks Republicans, Reps. Sam Rohrer and Douglas Reichley, scored well in the evaluation. The rest of the Berks County delegation was too new to qualify for the rankings.
The assessment reaches back to cover major policy initiatives enacted by the state since 1998, including stadium funding and legislative pension increase bills under the Ridge administration, according to PACleanSweep.
Also receiving attention are major initiatives advanced on Ed Rendell's watch including a 10 percent increase in the state's personal income tax rate in 2003, the slots bill and the infamous pay raise with its accompanying unvouchered expenses provisions, the organization says.
PaCleanSweep also looked at how lawmakers voted on property tax relief issues: Lawmakers' positions on three failed attempts to partially solve the continuing property tax problem over the past 10 years are taken into account, as is length of service beyond 10 years, to reflect the preference by 75 percent of Pennsylvanians for legislative term limits, according to the rankings.
In Chester County, state Rep. Art Hershey earned a low score, while Reps. Curt Schroder, Carole Rubley, Chris Ross and Tim Hennessey, scored well.
In Montgomery County, state Reps. Robert Godshall, Daylin Leach and Lawrence Curry scored low while Reps. Tom Quigley, Kate Harper, Mike Gerber and Josh Shapiro scored high.
State Sen. John Rafferty, whose district stretches across Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties, scored high. State Sen. Rob Wonderling also did well in the rankings.
The full report card can be viewed at the PaCleanSweep Web site, http://www.pacleansweep.com/
Freshman lawmakers have had only six months in office, but a pattern has emerged involving several of the so-called reformers from southeastern Pennsylvania.
The DemocracyRisingPA analysis of voting records during the first six months of 2007 showed Rep. David Kessler of Berks County voted 96 percent of the time with party leaders. Rep. Tim Seip, whose district comes into Berks, and Rep. Rick Taylor of Montgomery County voted 94 percent of the time with party leaders. Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith of Chester County voted 93 percent of the time with party bosses. Rep. Jay Moyer of Montgomery County voted 86 percent of the time with party bosses. Rep. Duane Milne of Chester County and Rep. Mike Vereb of Montgomery County voted 81 percent of the time with party leaders.
The full list of how closely lawmakers vote with party leadership is available at http://www.democracyrisingpa.com/
Each of the freshman lawmakers mentioned above also voted to pass the massive $27.5 billion budget proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell. The $1.2 billion increase in state spending is a far cry from the fiscal restraint the freshman lawmakers promised when they ran in 2006.
Voters began the process of cleaning up the mess in Harrisburg last year when one in five legislators were forced into retirement or voted out of office. The work isn’t finished. More self-serving politicians must be swept from office in 2008.
Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.
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