Is the Republican Party in Pa Above the Law?

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Posted by John from Pa. Working families of America Unite on December 11, 1999 at 18:26:27:


Politics are clear in Serafini case
The Issue: Republicans in the state House beat back an effort to unseat a colleague sentenced for perjury.

Our Opinion: The state constitution is clear: The disgraced legislator should be expelled.


The presence of Rep. Frank R. Serafini in the Pennsylvania General Assembly is a disgrace and an outrage. It makes a mockery of the honor and credibility of the Legislature.

Serafini, R-Lackawanna, was convicted of perjury in connection with illegal contributions to the Bob Dole campaign.

A federal judge sentenced him to five months in prison and five months probation last Nov. 18.

The state constitution provides that no one convicted of "embezzlement of public monies, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime" is eligible to serve in the General Assembly.

The only House member ever expelled in the last 100 years was Leonard Sweeney of Allegheny County, who was ousted in 1974 after being sentenced for mail fraud involving insurance claims.

Otherwise, every House member convicted of serious felony while in office has resigned after sentencing.

In the Senate, the only senator who did not resign upon sentencing, Frank Mazzei, was expelled in 1975

The law is clear and so are the precedents. But Republicans defeated a move to unseat Serafini this week on a 95-92 vote in the House.

Why then <*h94*> <*h*>if the issue is so simple and forthright did the Republican majority in the House block efforts to oust Serafini?

The answer is equally clear: Pure partisan politics.

Republicans currently hold a 103-100 margin in the House, where the constitutional majority to pass legislation is 102. It is widely suspected that the GOP would like to stall matters long enough to allow House Speaker Matthew J. Ryan to schedule a special election after the April 4 primary.

Republicans obviously are edgy about an earlier election because Serafini won by only 250 votes in his last election.

They obviously view with horror the prospect of losing that seat and seeing their razor-thin majority sliced down to the bare minimum, where even one defection could mean legislative defeat.

Republican leaders supporting Serafinis keeping his seat didnt even bother arguing the law.

Majority Leader John Perzel attacked the governments case against Serafini.

But thats not at issue.

Republicans also said it would be unfair to unseat Serafini when he might still be found innocent on appeal.

Thats not the issue either.

Nonetheless, so appealing were these lame arguments that all the Republican legislators representing areas of Berks County - David Argall, Dennis Leh, Sheila Miller, Samuel Rohrer and Paul Semmel dutifully followed the party line, although five Republicans from elsewhere in the state had the guts to break ranks with the party leadership.

The Democratic leader in the House, Rep. H. William DeWeese, never at a loss for a colorful metaphor, cut to the marrow in this instance. "They urinated on the constitution, quite frankly," he said of the GOP leadership.

Mr. DeWeeses description was extremely apt in this case. Serafini has absolutely no right to continue to hold his House seat.

His continued presence is an insult and an outrage, and hometown voters deserve to fully question their elected representatives on how they could aid in this attack on the Pennsylvania constitution and the rule of law in the Legislature.

"We will be back," said DeWeese.

Pennsylvania voters should insist on that.

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