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Less for senator is more for others

| Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010

He just might be the anti-DeWeese.

Jim Brewster appears uninterested in the perks and privileges afforded to state legislators. Unlike many of his peers, the new Democratic senator from McKeesport doesn't appear to believe the General Assembly is an elected officials' country club whose dues are paid by taxpayers.

"We're supposed to be public servants," he said, a statement almost certain to draw stern private rebukes from some veteran lawmakers. "None of us should be here for the money."

Try to picture Bill DeWeese uttering those words.

DeWeese is the long-time Greene County state representative, facing corruption charges. He's accused of using state employees and resources for campaign purposes. He used to have a state-owned plane fly him between his home and Harrisburg.

Contrast DeWeese's avaricious attitude toward transportation with that of Brewster, 62, the former McKeesport mayor elected last month to fill former Sen. Sean Logan's unexpired term. Logan resigned in August to take a job with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

No plane rides for Brewster at taxpayer expense. He won't even use a state fleet vehicle as many other senators do, relying instead on his 2009 Chevy Avalanche to get to and from the Capitol.

DeWeese was one of the masterminds behind the infamous 2005 legislative pay raise. Brewster has vowed not to accept any salary increase and is declining this year's 1.67 percent annual cost of living increase that legislators began receiving Dec. 1.

"When you have senior citizens not getting a social security cost of living adjustment, there's no way in my mind to justify a 1.7 percent COLA for us," Brewster said. "Frankly, I think our COLAs should be eliminated."

Brewster can survive that $1,300 hit to the wallet; he'll make about $78,000 in 2011 even without it. But he stands to lose more by refusing the $157 per diem that lawmakers receive for food and lodging while in Harrisburg.

Refusing to claim per diems, an act of sacrilege to DeWeese and most other legislators, could cost Brewster nearly $8,500 if the Senate next year is in session for as many days as it was this year.

"I've just never been motivated by money," he said.

Brewster's actions seem to bear that out.

While mayor of McKeesport, he took $10,000 a year less than the $70,000 he was entitled to under the city home rule charter. He finally accepted a raise several years ago, but deferred the compensation until he was out of office.

After recently resigning, though, Brewster didn't cash that check. Instead, he said he began disbursing the roughly $60,000 in deferred money to community organizations in McKeesport.

He hopes to infuse a similar mentality among his Harrisburg colleagues.

"I'm not out to make any enemies," he said. "But we can't continue to do business here the way it's been done in the past."

Brewster appears to be the kind of guy the Legislature needs, although his ride in Harrisburg probably will have some bumps.

For example, think how awkward a chance meeting with DeWeese will be. What would they discuss?

The two lawmakers don't appear to have much in common.

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