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Plaques & portraits: Harrisburg's rogues

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Thursday, July 17, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
 

Plaques added below state Capitol portraits of four former Pennsylvania legislative leaders noting their criminal convictions and prison sentences send a mixed message. After all, the portraits still hang among those honoring other lawmakers who avoided such disgrace. That dichotomy should be rectified by removing the portraits and keeping the plaques.

The plaques were ordered by House Speaker Sam Smith and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, two Jefferson County Republicans. Adding them represents a compromise between critics who want the portraits removed and others who contend doing so would distort history.

Indeed, it is ugly history. But it tells cautionary tales that shouldn't be forgotten or minimized. Pennsylvania certainly needs no repeats of the conduct that disgraced this quad of convicts — illicit use of state resources for campaigning in recent years by former top Senate Democrat Bob Mellow of Lackawanna County and former House Speakers John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, and Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, and obstruction of justice in the 1970s by former House Speaker Herbert Fineman, D-Philadelphia.

Their criminality made their portraits fit for display only in a rogues' gallery.

Leaving the portraits hanging now muddles the plaques' lesson: Nobody is above the law. Put the portraits in storage and leave just the plaques hanging in their place. That lesson will be as stark and clear as it can be.

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