Every picture tells a story, but sometimes words are needed for a caption to tell the whole story. That wisdom has informed a decision to amend the plaques on the portraits of four past leaders of the state House and Senate in the Pennsylvania Capitol.
The problem was that their distinguished service was not so distinguished: They were all convicted of felonies and sentenced to prison. So what can be done for a gallery meant to honor past leaders when they dishonored themselves and their office?
What was done was to recognize reality. Usually, plaques note the name and dates of service but new ones for the paintings mention the misdeeds of former House Speakers Bill DeWeese (using public resources for political gain), John Perzel (corruption) and Herbert Fineman (obstruction of justice). For good measure, a photograph of former Senate President Pro Tem Bob Mellow now has a reminder about his wrong doing (mail fraud and tax evasion).
Current House Speaker Sam Smith and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, both Jefferson County Republicans, approved the new plaques, which were installed Tuesday. This decision was probably the best of a bad lot of options. All had their drawbacks.
To let the portraits stand without explanation would not be respectful of the people of Pennsylvania. To withdraw the felons’ portraits altogether would not respect history. Placing what amounts to an asterisk on their careers is not just a service to visitors but a warning to other legislative leaders that if they commit crimes it won’t ever be forgotten.