Three Democratic veterans in state House will retire
February 19, 2016 12:00 AM
State Rep. Peter J. Daley.
State Rep. Ted Harhai.
State Rep. Nick Kotik.
By Janice Crompton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Three local lawmakers have announced they will retire at the end of this year, taking with them 67 years of experience in the state Legislature.
And even worse than the loss of clout and institutional knowledge, one political expert observed that the retirement of state representatives Peter J. Daley, Ted Harhai and Nick Kotik will likely open the door to more political extremism and divisiveness in state government.
That’s because each of the men are socially conservative Democrats who often compromised and voted with their GOP counterparts.
Pennsylvanians tired of the nearly-nine-month state budget impasse should buckle up because the storm is far from over, said Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College.
“The page has been turned and what we have on the next page is probably a Legislature that is going to be devoid of conservative Democrats that were willing to vote with Republicans. Thus, we will have more of the same gridlock and less compromise,” Mr. DiSarro said. “This isn’t good for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania or its citizens. And more disturbing is those who come after will be far more ideological and more extreme and you will not have much flexibility.”
If extremist factions gain a foothold, it could affect public services in a salient way, Mr. DiSarro said.
“We have a crumbling infrastructure from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. These are needs of the commonwealth that have to be addressed by government,” he said. “At one time, people understood that compromise was necessary. I don’t see the new being individuals that would be willing to compromise and make decisions based on the interests of the commonwealth, not the interests of one faction of one party.”
That lack of compromise and even basic civility in government is part of the reason the men — each of whom is over the age of 60 — are walking away, they said.
“The art of compromise is dead,” said Mr. Harhai, 61, of Monessen, who has served 10 terms. “It’s a one-sided political environment and no matter who has that one side, it is not healthy. It’s just come down to money and redistricting.”
“There is a situation in Harrisburg where the parties are polarized and there really is no middle ground,” said Mr. Kotik, 65, of Kennedy, who is wrapping up his seventh term. “I’ve always considered myself a moderate — someone who tried to work both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, we are a dying breed in Harrisburg.”
Mr. Daley, 65, of California, is the longest-serving legislator from Western Pennsylvania and the fourth longest-serving member in the state. He will close the door on 17 terms in office at the end of this year.
Mr. Daley described himself as competitive and said he always understood ”politics is a contact sport.”
These days, he prefers to look forward.
“I think God wants me to move in another direction; I think God wants me to pursue other plans,” he said. ”I have no idea what I’m going to do but my whole life has been geared to serving other people. I don’t think that part of my life is over.”
Mr. Daley said that overall, he’s satisfied with his legacy — he claims to have brought more than $350 million in development and projects to the Mon Valley during his tenure — but there are still some issues he hopes to resolve by the end of the year.
“I am a ferocious fighter against poverty,” said Mr. Daley, who sponsored five poverty summits and sponsored legislation for immunizations, clinics, transportation and infrastructure. ”Some people have lived through six generations on public assistance. It’s institutional poverty and it’s really, really hard to make people understand that poverty doesn’t exist just in cities.”
A former bond trader on Wall Street, Mr. Harhai said he’s mulling over job offers, but first he hopes to tackle issues involving campaign finance — he was overspent 5 to 1 during his last election — lobbyist reform and redistricting.
“We’re the worst gerrymandered state in the nation,” Mr. Harhai said.
Between his years in office and the 14 years he worked as an aide to predecessor Fred Trello, Mr. Kotik has devoted 28 years to state government.
As the minority chair of the House Gaming Committee, Mr. Kotik still hopes to pass legislation that would allow slot machines in airports.
“We’re trying to ensure the stability and growth of the casino industry,” he said. ”It brings $1.4 billion a year to the commonwealth and we’re facing increasing competition with other states.”
His future is more ambiguous, but Mr. Kotik still has dreams to pursue.
“I’m going to become a talk show host,” he said. “You don’t have to know too much and you make a lot of money,”
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.
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