HARRISBURG -- One of the fastest-rising stars of the House Democratic caucus yesterday called for the resignation of H. William DeWeese as majority leader because of the Bonusgate investigation.
State Rep. Josh Shapiro, a second-term legislator from Montgomery County, deputy speaker of the House and a one-time political ally of Mr. DeWeese, called him "a symbol of a broken system" and an inept leader who has lost the public's trust.
Mr. DeWeese, of Waynesburg, who's been in the Legislature for 30 years and the Democratic leader since 1993, has now become a liability to the caucus and to all of its members who are seeking re-election Nov. 4, Mr. Shapiro contended.
"We need a monumental shift" in leadership, he said. "It is imperative that Bill DeWeese resign as majority leader."
His comments came three weeks after 12 current and former Democratic lawmakers and staffers, including top aides to Mr. DeWeese, were charged by Attorney General Tom Corbett in an ongoing probe of alleged government corruption called Bonusgate.
Mr. Shapiro said he doubts claims by Mr. DeWeese that he was unaware of the sophisticated political machinery allegedly created to illegally divert tax money as bonuses for work in 2006 political campaigns.
"As the Democratic leader, he should take responsibility and resign," said Mr. Shapiro, who became deputy speaker in January 2007, when he and Mr. DeWeese were allies.
In a statement late yesterday, Mr. DeWeese characterized Mr. Shapiro's statement as a personal attack and a distraction from an important legislative agenda that must be pursued in September.
"I am saddened that Josh would take this public shot at me," Mr. DeWeese said.
Mr. Shapiro is not the first to call for Mr. DeWeese's ouster, but he is the most prominent and the closest to the majority leader to do so.
"Technically, he's not a part of leadership, but he is the symbolic head of the reform movement, so his comments carry weight," said Eric Epstein, leader of the activist group Rock the Capitol.
Mr. Shapiro joins at least six other House Democrats, including state Reps. Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon and Harry Readshaw of Carrick, in calling for Mr. DeWeese to turn over leadership to someone else. Among the first to do so, at a closed Democratic caucus in January, was Rep. John Yudichak of Luzerne.
Having Mr. DeWeese as leader "will be a terrible distraction for Democrats in the fall, when we have serious issues to deal with, such as health care, transportation and the poor economy,'' Mr. Yudichak said.
Mr. Shapiro said he is worried that if Mr. DeWeese remains as leader, House Democrats in November will lose the 102-101 edge by which they now cling to power.
Mr. Shapiro and Mr. DeWeese had been allies for much of the 2007-08 session, which ends Nov. 30. Mr. DeWeese had appointed him co-chairman of the Speaker's Commission on Reform, which worked on a new law to make government records more accessible and to prevent legislation from being passed in the middle of the night without public notice.
Mr. Shapiro also was the mastermind behind the January 2007 coup that helped Mr. DeWeese retain power in the House, even though Mr. DeWeese didn't have the 102 votes needed to win the coveted job of House speaker.
One Democratic lawmaker said yesterday that Mr. Shapiro's public call for Mr. DeWeese's resignation was premature.
"It would have been more appropriate for Josh to request or, if he feels that strongly, demand for leaders to bring the caucus together on this issue in private," said Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, who supports Mr. DeWeese.
Mr. Shapiro said he has no plan for who should become majority leader, but does not want the job himself.
Mr. DeWeese's term as leader is set to end Nov. 30 when the legislative session ends. He is running for re-election Nov. 4 against Republican challenger Greg Hopkins.
Mr. Shapiro wants him to quit as leader before the Nov. 4 general election.