People and Politics: February 2010
Scandal goes on. The Bonusgate scandal in Pennsylvania has now snared 25 current and former House members and aides from both parties. The latest people charged were House Majority Whip and former House Speaker Bill DeWeese and former long-time Representative Stephen Stetler, who was Governor Ed Rendell’s state revenue secretary for the past three years. The two, along with Sharon Rodavich, DeWeese’s legislative aide, were charged in December and released on $50,000 bonds. The charges included one count of conflict of interest, four counts of theft, and one count of criminal conspiracy. They carry a sentence of up to 40 years in prison and $85,000 in fines. The charges were handed down by a grand jury in its probe of political fundraising inside the Capitol from 2001 to 2007. A former House employee, Kevin Sidella, testified before the grand jury that he had raised “millions of dollars” for DeWeese when he was a legislative employee.
Saying goodbye. Montana’s longest serving fiscal analyst retired in December after 24 years in the Legislature, 16 as head of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Division. Clayton Schenck is trading in balance sheets for the hiking trails of Glacier National Park. A Vietnam veteran with a master’s degree in business administration, Schenck was respected for his “steady hand” and ability to point out the “larger perspective” of issues, according to House Appropriations Chairman Jon Sesso. “This has been, no question, a very challenging job and a high stress one,” said Schenck, “but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. This has been an incredible honor and a privilege.”
Bad taste TV. A group of New Jersey lawmakers has demanded that MTV cancel the reality show “Jersey Shore,” which debuted in November. The New Jersey Italian American Legislative Caucus wrote to Viacom, MTV’s parent company, stating the show “promotes ethnic stereotypes of Italian Americans that are offensive and untrue.” The letter stated, “Rather than profit off ethnic stereotypes and derogatory myths about Italian Americans, MTV and its parent company, Viacom, should do the socially responsible thing and pull the plug on Jersey Shore. Not only is the program wildly offensive, but it diminishes the accomplishments and contributions of Italian Americans in New Jersey and across the nation.” The lawmakers have asked advertisers to boycott the show.
A Tennessee original. John Wilder, an enduring and at times controversial legend in Tennessee politics, died at 88 Jan. 1. He was a towering political figure who served in the Senate for 44 years. He was elected speaker of the Senate in 1971. None of his 77 predecessors as speaker served longer than six years. Wilder smashed that record by holding the post for an astonishing 36 years, making him the longest serving presiding senate officer in modern U.S. history. Under Tennessee’s constitution, the speaker is also the lieutenant governor and first in line of succession. During his long career Wilder wanted to make a difference for the state and put the state ahead of the party. His legislative colleagues believed he did. Wilder, who retired in November 2008, died four days after suffering a massive stroke. Wilder was “a Tennessee institution, the very definition of a gentleman legislator,” said U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, who was a Republican governor during part of Democrat Wilder’s tenure.
New leader in Georgia. Republican David Ralston is the new speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives. He replaces former Speaker Glenn Richardson who resigned the post in November amid a scandal that included an admission of a suicide attempt and accusations by his wife of an affair with a utility lobbyist while he was promoting legislation to benefit the company. Ralston bested Representatives Larry O’Neal and Bill Hembree in the race for speaker. “He’s absolutely the best choice Republicans could make to try to get themselves on the right track,” said former Democratic Representative Tom Bordeaux, who served with Ralston. Representative Jan Jones was selected become speaker pro tem by her GOP colleagues, making her the highest ranking woman in the history of the Georgia General Assembly.
Bipartisan first. Never before has it been more important for us to put partisanship aside and renew our commitment to putting the people first,” said New York Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson when he appointed two Republicans to chair major Senate committees—a first in Senate history. Sampson appointed GOP members George Maziarz chairman of the Committee on Energy and Telecommunications, and Tom Morahan chairman of the Committee on Mental Health and Hygiene. “These are thoughtful and principled [people] … who can bridge the gap that crippled this body for too long.”
National role. President Obama has nominated Oregon Representative Sara Gelser for the National Council on Disability. The youngest woman in the Oregon Legislative Assembly, Gelser is assistant majority leader and chair of the House Education Committee. The council is an independent federal agency that makes recommendations to Congress and the president on issues affecting the 54 million Americans with disabilities.