By Andrew Staub | PA Independent
State Rep. Kevin Haggerty thinks some Pennsylvania lawmakers, to use a sports methaphor, are “juicing,” filling out their district office staff with local government officials.
“It’s like playing Major League baseball,” Haggerty, D-Lackawanna, said. “One guy takes steroids, and the other one doesn’t.”
Haggerty views such hires as part of an incumbent-protection program. He wants it to end, saying his main concern is that local officials could use their positions to curry favor for their lawmaker bosses.
“If you’re up there giving jobs out every day and contracts, but you’re also working for a state elected official, then you can be telling everybody in power, ‘Hey, listen, make sure you take care of this guy or this girl,’” Haggerty said.
DON’T BUY LOCAL: State Rep. Kevin Haggerty wants lawmakers to stop filling out their staff with local government officials. He contends it creates an unfair advantage.
Haggerty is trying to galvanize support for a bill prohibiting state lawmakers from hiring local officials from a political subdivision in their district offices. That means no township supervisors, city council members or school board officials, for example.
Since circulating a co-sponsorship memo, Haggerty said he has heard from six to 10 lawmakers whose offices would be affected. He declined to name names, though, and stressed that while he believes it’s unethical, there’s nothing illegal about the practice.
Bill Patton, a spokesman for state House Democratic Caucus, said it’s not unusual for state lawmakers to have local elected officials on their staffs.
Until recently, state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne, employed West Wyoming borough Councilwoman Eileen Cipriani as a legislative assistant. Cipriani gave up her post when she decided to run for the retiring Mundy’s seat.
“In the time Ms. Cipriani was employed by the House, her borough council service never presented any problem,” Patton wrote. “In fact, Representative Mundy saw it as a strength because Ms. Cipriani could offer special insight into challenges facing local government.”
On the other side of the state, Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey works for state Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny. That hire has drawn attention, because the county precludes council members from working on the staff of other elected officials, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Perhaps the most intriguing example, though, is the one closest to Haggerty.
State Rep. Frank Farina, D-Lackawanna, in September hired a Throop borough Councilwoman Charlene Tomasovitch as a legislative assistant in his district office. Because of redistricting, Farina will have to face fellow incumbent Haggerty in a Democratic primary for the redrawn 112th Legislative District.
Throop isn’t in either lawmakers’ current districts, but it’s up for grabs in an upcoming primary that has the chance to be rough-and-tumble bout between two officials hoping to keep their jobs.
When asked about the hire, David Valvano, Farina’s chief of staff, said the state representative hires the most qualified candidates, and “if they have local government experience, then that was a plus.”
Haggerty sees such pairings differently – as a conflict of interest. He believes his legislation could subvert nepotism and patronage jobs handed out with minimal interviews.
Still, Eric Epstein, director of the government reform group Rock The Capital, said the proposed legislation seems more like a “cynical” play aimed at wooing primary voters rather than addressing deeper issues, such as the size and cost of the state Legislature and its staff.
“This legislation doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of going anywhere, and I don’t think this is going anywhere,” Epstein said. “This is a political advertisement.”
Haggerty openly admits he doesn’t think the legislation will gain any traction, but he still wants to call attention to what he believes is an unfair advantage.
“I don’t think it’s how anybody should do business,” Haggerty said.
Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.