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A Baer of a book

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 9:04 p.m.

HARRISBURG

Anyone familiar with John Baer's column in the Philadelphia Daily News knows it is witty, insightful and often splays politicians like a meat cleaver. His book, “On the Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-five Years of Keystone Reporting” (The History Press), is no different. It spans the era from former Gov. Dick Thornburgh to Gov. Tom Corbett.

My favorite sections are on former Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell, the late Republican-Democrat U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, and “CBK” — Catherine Baker Knoll, the former lieutenant governor and treasurer.

Rendell came to Harrisburg in 2003 with a reputation for having a gargantuan appetite and frat-boy manners at social gatherings where food was served. Baer refers to the Trib article that Rendell spent $78,918 on food at the governor's mansion during his first 11 months in office. We listed the total food purchases, including 500 pounds of cold cuts and cheese.

“Hey, you gotta have hoagies,” Baer wrote. But the author was struck by Rendell's explanations after the story ran when he decided it had been a mistake not to talk to us: Most of the expenses were for guests, mansion staff and state troopers, he said.

The point Rendell stressed was that his wife Midge ate only a muffin and coffee for breakfast and probably accounted for $2 a day. “All of this, the stunning scene of the governor of a major state explaining $2 breakfasts, draws attention to the way Ed eats,” Baer wrote.

The governor's food passion prompted activist Gene Stilp to have bumper stickers printed around Groundhog Day — “Please Governor Rendell, Don't Eat the Groundhog.”

After the Daily News reported Rendell in his trooper-driven vehicle was clocked at over 100 mph on the turnpike, Baer wrote the turnpike should be renamed the “EddieBahn.”

In a car with Rendell, Baer remembers Rendell telling his campaign driver “faster, faster” or “go, go, go.” It's clear who was pushing the speedometer.

Baer heard that Knoll also was stopped for speeding. He also wanted to confirm her dog's name was really “Boomer Baker Knoll.” He waited for her outside the Senate gallery. He reports that “she wasn't happy to see me. I'd recently written she was a little loopy.” She confirmed that her black Lincoln Town Car driven by a trooper was stopped on the turnpike. She said she wasn't speeding — “just going too fast for conditions.” And yes, that was her dog's name.

Fascinated by Specter's longevity and work ethic — he had survived previous bouts with cancer and open-heart surgery — Baer theorized that after upping National Institutes of Health funding there was a payback — “a secret anti-aging experiment with side effects causing robotic fund-raising capacity and unnatural energy levels.”

Baer confronted Specter with the theory. “That's right,” Arlen drawled. “I'm a zombie.”

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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