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Representatives should reverse whitewash of political corruption

Area representatives should push their new House speaker to quickly reverse a quiet whitewash of corruption made by Mike Turzai on his way out the door.

Turzai resigned as speaker and his seat in June to take a job in the private sector.

Prior to his departure, he ordered plaques placed on the portraits of three former House speakers who were convicted of corruption in office that listed their crimes, removed and replaced with old plaques that just list the former speakers’ years of service.

Portraits of former House speakers and Senate president pro tems hang in the Capitol.

But there is a big difference between most former speakers and three who wound up in prison because of their actions as a public officials.

Adults likely remember the scandals a few years ago that landed Republican John Perzel and Democrat Bill DeWeese in jail. Other officials and staff were also convicted for their roles, but their portraits are not hung in the Capitol.

Perzel pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy, conflict of interest and theft charges for heading an illegal scheme to pay millions of taxpayer dollars to consultants to develop massive voter databases and customized software to aid Republican legislative candidates.

DeWeese was convicted of five felonies, including using state workers during work hours and state resources for political campaigns.

Democrat Herbert Fineman resigned in 1977 after being convicted of obstruction of justice for accepting payments from parents trying to get their children into schools.

Pennlive.com broke the story of Republican Turzai’s instruction to remove the plaques without public notice.

House Chief Clerk Dave Reddecliff told Pennlive.com that Turzai “said it’s my understanding that the prior speaker put them up. I’m making a decision to take them down. So I’m asking you to remove them.”

The plaques were installed in 2014 by the heads of the House and Senate after Pennsylvania was rocked by legislative corruption scandals.

Some question whether their portraits should be removed entirely, something still not out of the realm of possibility given Turzai’s action that will revive the debate.

The Senate commendably has left the plaque listing the crimes of former Senate chief Robert Mellow, who pleaded guilty to corruption and tax evasion on his portrait.

Representatives will be asking for your vote in the coming weeks. Voters should ask them about whether they will act to restore the plaques listing the former speakers’ crimes.

With the election close, the public has the greatest power to pressure their representatives to reverse Turzai’s whitewash, which brings dishonor on the House.

And if representatives don’t act, voters will have to weigh that in their decision at the ballot box.

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