HARRISBURG -- An unfolding political corruption scandal in Harrisburg prompted another House Democrat to call on Bill DeWeese to step down as majority leader Monday...
By MARC LEVY
HARRISBURG -- An unfolding political corruption scandal in Harrisburg prompted another House Democrat to call on Bill DeWeese to step down as majority leader Monday, saying DeWeese has lost the voters' trust and could hurt the election chances of other Democrats.
However, DeWeese fought back, showing no sign of relinquishing his 12-year leadership of the Democratic caucus, and calling Rep. Josh Shapiro's statement a personal attack motivated partly by the mention of his name in a state grand jury report.
The public criticism was the latest fallout for the Democrats, more than three weeks after the state attorney general's office charged 12 people connected to the House Democratic caucus. The grand jury that reviewed the evidence accused the defendants of illegally diverting millions in taxpayer dollars to underwrite political campaigns and personal perks.
Shapiro, a second-term state representative who holds the largely ceremonial title of deputy speaker, told reporters that the disturbing grand jury presentments demand monumental change that DeWeese is incapable of making to a system he enabled.
"The abuses outlined in the presentments occurred on Bill's watch, and as such he will always be a symbol of a broken system," said Shapiro, D-Montgomery. "As Democratic leader, he should take responsibility and resign his post."
Besides the grand jury's allegations, Shapiro singled out for criticism a $200-million plus cash surplus the Legislature controls and rules that allow lobbyists to give gifts to public officials, including lawmakers, and to pay for their meals and hotel stays.
Shapiro is not the first Democrat to publicly call for DeWeese to resign, and he does not know whether a majority of Democratic representatives support his position. However, of the handful who have publicly called out DeWeese, some have feuded with him for years.
Neither Shapiro, D-Montgomery, nor DeWeese, D-Greene, was implicated in the criminal charges filed July 10.
But Shapiro's name appears in the grand jury report as one lawmaker whose 2004 campaign benefited from the work of a caucus employee who allegedly later was tapped to receive a taxpayer-paid bonus to reward her for the political activity.
"I am saddened that Josh would take this public shot at me," DeWeese wrote in a statement responding to Shapiro. "I know he has been distraught since he was named in the grand jury's presentment in July and I believe that his actions are motivated, at least in part, by undue concern about his own exposure."
DeWeese, who was first elected to the House in 1976, insisted he has been a good steward, recently advancing stronger internal conduct rules and an overhaul of Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law to give citizens more access to public records. He also accused Shapiro of distracting the caucus from its agenda on health care and other issues.
Responding to previous calls for his resignation, DeWeese has contended that the grand jury reports vindicated him, and said he could not have known about the alleged schemes because of the elaborate secrecy that was involved. Two of the people charged included his former chief of staff and a trusted former lieutenant.
For now, the Legislature is on its traditional two-month summer break from Harrisburg, with many lawmakers concentrating on their re-election campaigns before the Nov. 4 general election.