Pay raise backlash ousts top legislators

GOP's Jubelirer, Brightbill lose; 10 incumbents in House out

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Associated PressSen. Robert Jubelirer, right, and Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill, both lost primary re-election bids last night.
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Two of the top legislative leaders in Harrisburg yesterday lost their party's nominations for re-election, victims of voter anger over last summer's aborted legislative pay raises.

Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer, R-Altoona, and Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill, R-Lebanon, two of the architects of the pay raise, were defeated by candidates who presented more conservative platforms.

On the Democratic side, House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, of Waynesburg, and Minority Whip Mike Veon, of Beaver Falls, survived challenges. Mr. DeWeese had an easy time, but Mr. Veon, the lone vote against repeal of the pay raise, struggled in a bitter battle with retired school teacher Jay Paisley.

Mr. Jubelirer, who has served more than 30 years in Harrisburg, lost a three-way race to Blair County Commissioner John Eichelberger. The incumbent had nearly $1.3 million to spend, but it mattered little in the end.

Mr. Brightbill, who had more than $800,000 to spend, lost to former Lebanon City Councilman Mike Folmer.

Across the state, at least 10 incumbent House members lost their party nominations, so they already know they will lose their jobs. Others face additional challenges in the general election in November.

In Western Pennsylvania, the following incumbents lost their party's nominations: Frank J. Pistella, D-Bloomfield, a 14-term incumbent; Ken Ruffing, D-West Mifflin, who has been in office since 1999; Frank LaGrotta, D-Ellwood City, who is finishing his 10th term; and Tom Stevenson, R-Mt. Lebanon, who has been in office since 1997.

Among those who survived the purge were Marc Gergely, D-White Oak; David Levdansky, D-Forward; Joseph Markosek, D-Monroeville; Don Walko, D-North Side; and Tom Petrone, D-Crafton Heights.

Twelve-term incumbent state Rep. Joe Preston, D-East Liberty, was in a race too close to call with community activist Ed Gainey.

"This has been a tremendous defeat that I predict will reverberate throughout the Legislature for months to come," said G. Terry Madonna, head of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall University.

Mr. Madonna said that across the state many Republican incumbents lost their nominations to more conservative challengers. That could mean substantial changes in the relationship between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

"It looks like we're going to have a much more conservative leadership in the Republican Party," Mr. Madonna said. "This could be the end of the kind of unifying negotiations the governor has been able to engage in to push his agenda."

Mr. DeWeese said he wasn't surprised that top Republican leaders in the Senate went down to defeat. Senate Republicans were a stumbling block in recent weeks as the Legislature tried to pass property tax reform, he said.

"The Republican Senate leadership team hasn't been helpful as we're trying to shift from property tax to sales tax," he said. "I really believe [the defeat of Mr. Jubelirer and Mr. Brightbill] augurs favorably for tax reform."

Across the state, all 203 House seats and half of the 50 Senate seats were up for election. Even before the results were in, this promised to be a year of change because 27 House members decided not to seek re-election, the most since 1992.

Voter dissatisfaction began shortly after the state Legislature voted itself and other state officials pay raises that ranged from 16 to 34 percent during the early morning hours of July 7.

The outrage grew with several lawsuits claiming the pay raises should have been illegal because the state Constitution prohibits lawmakers from receiving pay raises during their current terms. Legislative leaders devised a method to receive the extra money through a mechanism known as "unvouchered expenses," which allowed them to receive expense money without receipts.

Existing taxpayer groups such as Democracy Rising and Rock the Capitol were quickly joined by a new group called PACleanSweep. Lebanon County businessman Russ Diamond founded the group for the express purpose of defeating all incumbents because of how the Legislature does business.

Rescinding the pay raises in November did little to slow the momentum of PACleanSweep, which pushed for candidates to challenge incumbents across the state. The group offered organizational help, but no money.

The anti-pay raise movement was strongest in western and southcentral Pennsylvania. Across the state, PACleanSweep endorsed 112 candidates in House races, including 52 candidates who were challenging incumbents.


Ed Blazina can be reached at eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470.


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