Capitol Notes: Pay raise, party-switching, beach party and more pay raise

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Welcome to Capitol Notes, a bite-sized collection of items and events, usually of the lighter variety, happening under the green dome of your state Capitol in beautiful Downtown Harrisburg.

State Rep. Patrick Fleagle, a Republican legislator from rural Franklin County in south-central Pennsylvania, will be running for re-election in November as the Democratic candidate.

Yes, you read that right. Mr. Fleagle lost the Republican primary in May to challenger Todd Rock, mainly because of Mr. Fleagle's support for the July 7, 2005, legislative pay raise, which was later repealed.

The pay raise, needless to say, didn't go over well with a lot of voters. Mr. Fleagle was one of 17 legislative incumbents who lost in the May primary, mainly due to public anger over the raise.

But Mr. Fleagle didn't put all his eggs in the GOP basket. He also ran a write-in campaign among Democrats, as did Mr. Rock. Mr. Fleagle narrowly edged out Mr. Rock by a 339-336 margin as a Democrat.

The area of Franklin County where Mr. Fleagle comes from is largely Republican and running as a Democrat is difficult. But Mr. Fleagle has much higher name recognition than your average Democratic candidate, and he also has years of bringing home the bacon to his district, so it's not out of the question that he could win. Mr. Fleagle is hoping voters will judge him on his whole record, not just the pay raise vote

And if he does win in November, will he join the House Democratic caucus, swelling its ranks from the current 94 members?

No way, Mr. Fleagle said. If he wins in November, he'll enter the new term in January as a Republican legislator, thus keeping its current majority at 109.

Mr. Fleagle said he is making no bones about his desire to remain a House Republican, and there is nothing in House rules to prevent him from running as a Democrat and then joining the GOP caucus. After all, Rep. Michael Diven of Brookline did it just last year.

Rep. Steven Stetler, a Democrat from York, surprised many colleagues this week by announcing he will resign from his seat on Sept. 29 and become the new executive director of the Pennsylvania Economy League, replacing retiring Director Karen Miller.

That leaves York Democrats scrambling to find a replacement candidate to try to hold onto that seat so they don't fall even farther behind the GOP.

House Democratic leader H. William DeWeese of Waynesburg has been hoping -- some might say he's wildly fantasizing -- about the possibility that Democrats could capture at least eight additional seats in the November election.

That possibility, which Republicans dismiss, would give Democrats a 102-101 margin in the House and give them control of the chamber for the first time since 1994.

Mr. Stetler, 57, is in his eighth term in the House. The Economy League is a statewide think tank group that issues reports on various state policies such as education, taxes, gambling and other issues.

He joins 31 other incumbents who have announced their retirements from the Legislature this year, in addition to the 17 who lost in the primary.

Mr. Stetler was in some trouble with York voters because he voted for the 2005 pay raise, but insisted he could have won re-election.

If you're in the vicinity of Harrisburg at noon on July 29, you might be interested in a picnic being put on by Common Cause/Pennsylvania, one of the groups that was most active in fighting the pay raise.

The event is being called the "When Pigs Fly"' picnic, because last year many people were saying that the pay raise would only be repealed when the ham and bacon took to the skies.

But pigs did fly, figuratively, in mid-November. Legislators, frightened by the November retention-election defeat of Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro, repealed the raises for themselves, judges and members of Gov. Ed Rendell's cabinet.

Present at the picnic, of course, will be what is probably the most visible symbol of the pay raise battle -- a giant inflatable pink pig owned by Gene Stilp, one of the protestors.

Common Cause officials said the event is aimed at honoring Mr. Stilp and two of his anti-pay-raise colleagues, Eric Epstein of Rock the Capitol and Tim Potts of Democracy Rising.

Common Cause is asking for a $30 donation to attend the event, with the money going "to benefit Common Cause's work for open, accountable and responsive government.''

Speaking of state Rep. Michael Diven, it's mid-summer, so he must have sand-and-surf on his mind.

In a press release Tuesday, the Brookline Republican referred to the neighborhood abutting his home community as "Beachview."

Indeed, the only waves to be seen in hilly Beechview are little ones in backyard swimming pools, or the kind created by politicians who stir things up with misspellings and other faux pas.

What's a gubernatorial campaign bus trip without state Capitol reporters?

A good trip, according to Dan Fee, campaign spokesman for Gov. Ed Rendell.

Mr. Rendell is making a swing by bus through the western part of the state this weekend, but without the usual entourage of Harrisburg-based reporters that normally accompany him on such political trips.

Four years ago, when he first ran for governor, Mr. Rendell took reporters on his bus trips.

He probably will do so again during this campaign season -- but just not on this trip, said Mr. Fee.

Is it something we said or wrote?

Mr. Rendell is well-known for snapping at various reporters, either at news conferences in his office or over the phone. A few months ago he even grabbed a small tape recorder from a reporter who had irked him.

But has it come to this -- throwing them off the bus?

Oh come now, said Mr. Fee. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "As much as the governor loves the Harrisburg media corps -- really, who doesn't? -- he thought the time apart would strengthen and deepen the bond the next time he meets with them."

Let's hope Mr. Fee's tongue doesn't become permanently cemented inside his cheek.

Staff writer Tracie Mauriello contributed to this column. Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at or 717-787-4254.


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