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Painting Capitol corruption

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Brad Bumsted | Tribune-Review
Portrait of John Perzel hanging in the Capitol in Harrisburg

HARRISBURG

State Sen. Scott Wagner, the Republican winner of a March special election as a write-in candidate, has a simple request: Get rid of the portraits of convicted felons hanging in the hallways of the Senate and House.

Wagner, of York County, has sponsored a resolution to remove the painting of one Senate leader convicted of using public resources for campaigns — former Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Mellow, D-Lackawanna County.

Wagner really can't do much more than try to influence the House, which has three felons in the hallway that leads past offices for the speaker, majority leader and GOP Caucus room.

But it's a valiant effort, regardless. Someone in authority at last is speaking out about the distasteful paintings of ex-leaders who went to prison. Three former speakers did time on corruption charges.

What does it matter?, one might say. Taxpayers shelled out money for the portraits years ago. Some cost $7,000 each. The money's long gone.

It might be argued that these men, such as former House Speakers John Perzel, Bill DeWeese and Herb Fineman, deserve to be there because of numerous other accomplishments.

“While I recognize that many of these individuals have played critical roles in our commonwealth's history and it is impractical to leave them out of that history, I believe to revere them with portraits is a line we should not cross,” Wagner wrote to colleagues in seeking co-sponsors for his resolution.

Wagner points out that ex-leaders typically lose their pensions when convicted of certain felonies, so why should they be honored?

As corruption cases moved through the Legislature from 2007 to 2012, there was occasional buzz about the portraits. How could the pictures remain hanging after three of the four were recently convicted felons? Fineman was convicted of obstruction of justice in 1977.

Perzel, of Philadelphia, became the second speaker convicted while in office. Prosecutors accused him of theft and conflict of interest for approving the use of $10 million in state tax money for House GOP campaigns, including his own. It was money Republican leadership used to pay for computer data, equipment and software to give the GOP an edge in campaigns. DeWeese, of Waynesburg, would briefly become Perzel's cellmate at Camp Hill State Correctional Institution, where inmates are processed for assignment to other state prisons.

DeWeese was convicted by a jury in 2012 of using district office staff for campaigns. A state-paid staffer also sat outside his Capitol leadership office raising campaign money for him, testimony revealed.

With removing the portraits, the message is most important. As for keeping the historical record intact, each portrait should be replaced with a glass-covered frame, 9x11 inches, listing in bold black the name, years in the Legislature, length of time as leader, a list of the crimes committed, the sentence and amount of time served in state prison.

That would serve as a reminder to lawmakers who walk past the portraits each day that their tenures need to be marked by integrity.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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