Friday, June 02, 2006

Changes in state Senate leadership looming
Tuesday, May 30, 2006By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- When Republican senators return to the Capitol on June 5, you'll hear a lot of public discussion about the new state budget and measures to reduce property taxes.
A third subject also will be on the agenda, but you won't hear anything about it aired in public: Who will lead the Republican caucus for the 2007-08 term, which begins Dec. 1?

The call to order's amid chaos
By Brad BumstedSTATE CAPITOL REPORTERFriday, June 2, 2006
HARRISBURG -- In the aftermath of last month's earthquake at the polls and continuing tremors in the General Assembly, the Legislature returns to session next week facing considerable chaos.

It's the first time they will be back in Harrisburg since the May 16 primary rocked the Capitol and claimed 17 careers, including the Senate's top two Republicans -- Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, of Altoona, and Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill, of Lebanon County.

Then the FBI stunned the state political establishment Wednesday by arresting two aides in an investigation that appears to target a top Democrat, Sen. Vincent Fumo, of Philadelphia.
A potential GOP uprising against House leaders is brewing because of unrest among conservatives over last year's pay raise fiasco and the loss of 11 incumbents in the primary.
Behind the scenes, lobbyists, staffers and other Capitol observers are asking: Can the Republican-controlled Legislature govern when the leaders gavel in on Monday?

"It's a mess," said Jack Treadway, chairman of the political science department at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in Berks County, who questions whether the Republican Party is "capable of coming together on anything right now."

The General Assembly faces several challenges, including the sweeping property tax relief that has eluded it for three decades, passage of a $24 billion state budget and deciding how to carve up a state surplus that Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell claims exceeds $700 million.

Lawmakers are "coming back to a dramatically changed political landscape than the one they left a month ago," said Chris Borick, director of the Public Opinion Institute at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Lehigh County. "We're seeing a degree of instability and uncertainty that hasn't been seen in some time."

Some analysts compare today's political climate to that of the late 1970s when numerous lawmakers were embroiled in scandals during the administration of then-Gov. Milton Shapp, a Democrat.

"There's obviously been a series of earthquakes," said Ted Hershberg, professor of public policy and history at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

These events, compounded by Rendell's high-profile re-election bid against Republican challenger Lynn Swann, might stall action on key legislation, but there could be a long-range benefit for the public, Hershberg said.

"There's a lot of shaking up that's been going on, but I think that's all to the good," Hershberg said. For too long, "politics in Harrisburg has been much too cozy. In my classes, students ask, 'Is it like this everywhere?' Things accepted in Pennsylvania would not be tolerated in states like Wisconsin or Minnesota," where there are strong reform traditions.

"If the Legislature takes from this that they want good government and good public policy, then all of this will have been worthwhile," Hershberg said. ..

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