Swann calls for stronger AG role in slots law

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Lynn Swann reiterated reservations about the state's slots gambling legislation yesterday, taking particular exception to enforcement provisions that, he said, inhibit the potential prosecutorial role of the state attorney general.

The Republican candidate for governor didn't offer any blueprint for changing the law, however, and, in response to a question, said he saw no political appetite for a repeal of the controversial gaming measure.

Mr. Swann discussed the gambling expansion after listening to a series of criticisms of the legislation from a group of African-American clergymen.

In a brief press conference after the morning meeting at Bidwell Presbyterian Church on the North Side, Mr. Swann also said he would be willing to consider controversial initiatives, such as school choice and merit pay for teachers, as part of his still gestating plans to improve education in the state.

While he was once again sharply critical of his November opponent, Gov. Ed Rendell, over last summer's legislative pay raise, he resisted the suggestion that lawmakers who had voted for the raise should be voted out of office. At the same time, he appeared to endorse one of the chief architect's of the measure, state Sen. Robert Jubelirer, R-Blair, a key Swann ally who has been one of the biggest targets of pay-raise opponents.

Mr. Swann, who several weeks ago endorsed the bid of one Pittsburgh slots competitor, Isle of Capri, said he had no plans to move to repeal the gambling law.

"I just don't see where there's an appetite in the Legislature to repeal that at the current time,'' he said. "If there is, then we'd look at the possibility of doing that, but I think we can look to the fact that gambling is here for the moment.''

The former broadcaster was critical of the fact that the law specifies the state attorney general would handle prosecutions of gaming abuses only in response to referrals from the gaming board or local district attorneys. But he offered no specifics on how it might be changed.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you I've got this definitive plan in terms of what you do [with] ... the current structure of gambling in Pennsylvania, but I would certainly involve the attorney general in the process," he said.

He emphasized the importance of the pay raise in the governor's race, while saying it shouldn't be a litmus test in legislative contests.

"Ed Rendell had the [option] of vetoing it when it first came to his desk; why didn't he veto it?'' Mr. Swann said. "He served it up in the beginning, and he signed it at the end. He was the capital letter at the beginning of the sentence and he was the period at the end, and so it will be an issue.''

Asked if legislators who voted for the measure should be defeated, Mr. Swann said, "I don't know that the legislators who voted for the pay raise should be defeated. There are a number of issues out there. I think the voters will decide on what's most important to them, and the voters will make up their minds.''

Mr Swann was pressed on whether or not he would endorse Mr. Jubelirer, who is in a tough primary fight and whose ouster has been urged by conservatives, including former U.S. House of Representatives and Senate candidate, Pat Toomey.

"I haven't jumped up and said I'm behind Sen. Jubelirer,'' he acknowledged, but added, "I certainly hope in terms of his understanding of how government works, he'll be available to talk to and help."

Asked specifically if he would like to see Mr. Jubelirer's re-election, Mr. Swann said, "I think he would be a valuable ally in the Legislature.''

Echoing proposals he had offered the previous day, Mr Swann also said the state should implement a series of "surgical'' initiatives to address the problems of underperforming schools.

In response to a question on school choice, the Republican emphasized that a wide variety of options should be considered for school reform.

"You can't give a blanket yes or no without knowing the details of what that program would be,'' he said. "But the idea is we have to quit talking about changing and reforming education, getting results. We have to start doing some things, and if there is a pilot program that makes sense, all ideas are on the table.''

Politics editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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