GOP eyes mid August special for Orie seat

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Ah, the Orie saga. Laura Olson and I have the latest on how the now-empty 40th state Senate seat may be filled this year:

Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who presides over the Senate, has 10 days to schedule a special election.

While balloting could be held as early as late July -- or delayed to the general election Nov. 6 -- local Republicans are eyeing Aug. 21 as their preferred date. By that time, schools hosting polling places would be open again and the election would not interfere with the national political conventions, which kick off Aug. 27 with the Republican gathering in Tampa, Fla.

Local officials from both parties will pick their nominees for the special election. The Republican nominee will be picked by 55 committee members and party activists from Allegheny County and 29 from Butler County in a meeting tentatively set for early to mid-June in Gibsonia.

About 10 Republicans currently are interested in the seat, said Allegheny County GOP chairman Jim Roddey.

The best known is former congresswoman Melissa Hart of Bradford Woods, who held the 40th District seat for a decade before joining Congress in 2001.

Other possible candidates include: Allison Park attorney Chris Abernathy; Doug Austin of Austin cleaning products in Mars; former North Allegheny school director Scott Cunningham; Allegheny County Councilman Matt Drozd; McCandless committee chairman Bill Kirk; North Hills school director Jeff Meyer; Butler County committee vice chair Robin Redding; Allegheny County GOP treasurer Karen Shaheen; and lobbyist Rob Vescio of Franklin Park.

The Democratic pick is made by committee members in the district before ratification by the state Democratic Committee. Dan DeMarco of Ross, who lost to Ms. Orie in 2010, is thought to be the main candidate.


Ories still claiming Zappala "vendetta"

Published by Tim McNulty on .

The Orie clan is still claiming that a "political vendetta" by Allegheny County DA Stephen Zappala is behind the latest charges against Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. (Read "Navigating the Courthouse" from July 2010 for a primer.) The latest is in a motion filed with the Judicial Conduct Board pushing one member of the board to recuse himself from its investigation of the justice, claiming he had family and business ties to the DA.

Rich Lord writes the board member did recuse himself but of course the board still charged her before the Court of Judicial Discipline, hours after a county grand jury indicted her.

From Rich:

Her attorney, though, wrote in a legal filing that the charges against Justice Melvin reflected a "political vendetta" by the district attorney. The accusation was included in a motion filed April 30 with the Judicial Conduct Board in which the justice's attorney sought the recusal of one board member.

"Justice Orie Melvin has always maintained that this prosecution emanates from a political vendetta due to her vocal opposition to the juvenile detention facilities owned by the district attorney's brother, Gregory Zappala," the motion said. Justice Melvin's attorney, William I. Arbuckle, wrote that the justice believes that the district attorney's office "has utilized its prosecutorial powers against the Orie and Melvin family due to the extensive, pervasive, financial and direct interests of the Zappala family," which Justice Melvin and her sister, state Sen. Jane Orie, have periodically threatened.

Mr. Zappala on Monday called the motion "defamatory and actionable. And I'm trying to give this person a fair trial."

So what are these supposed ties between the DA and a conduct board member?

The recusal effort focused on Philip Ripepi, a West Mifflin physician who is a Republican, appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell to the board in 2010. The April 30 motion seeking his recusal traced a series of marriages and included as exhibits newspaper articles going back to 1948, in an effort to show that Dr. Ripepi was a relative of Mr. Zappala, and that his family members have been represented by relatives of the district attorney.

"I'm not related to Dr. Ripepi," Mr. Zappala said.

The doctor could not be reached for comment.

The board's chief counsel, Joseph A. Massa, Jr., also could not be reached.

The recusal motion went on to detail what has been a centerpiece of the Orie families' defense so far. It said the justice criticized the involvement of former Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Zappala Sr. in the Pennsylvania Casino Association, and the court system's initial handling of accusations that two Luzerne County judges took bribes to send adjudicated minors to centers co-owned by Greg Zappala, the district attorney's brother. Greg Zappala has never been charged or accused of any wrongdoing in relation to the centers, PA Child Care in Luzerene County and Western PA Child Care in Butler County.

Justice Melvin was one of numerous critics of the Judicial Conduct Board's failure to investigate the Luzerne County judges. Ex-board members have defended the board's handling of the matter.


Rendell: Bain ads "disappointing"

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Randy JohnsonJim O'Toole reviews the Obama camp attacks on Mitt Romney's business past, many of them through Bethel Park's Randy Johnson (above), who was laid off from his job after a Bain takeover:

Beyond the inevitable posturing of the political season, the controversy over the lessons of Mr. Romney's business background stems from the fact that both the candidates and his critics lump together two different issues. Mr. Romney speaks about his record of helping to create jobs, but his chief responsibility at Bain was, appropriately, the interests of his investors.

Mr. Booker and another Obama ally, former auto czar Steven Rattner, have criticized the attacks on Bain as an unfair indictment of investment banking. But the Romney campaign itself has left room for controversy with an emphasis on Bain's role as a jobs creator.

At different times, Mr. Romney has estimated the number of jobs he helped create as 10,000 or more than 100,000. His chief communications aide, Eric Fehrnstrom, endorsed the higher number in an MSNBC interview Monday. But the documentation behind those figures, according to various media fact-checking efforts, remains murkily imprecise. Mr. Romney has counted jobs at Bain success stories, such as the big box store, Staples, that came into being after he left the investment firm.

Hey look -- it's Ed Rendell courting second-day contrarian controversy, from Buzzfeed:

“I think they’re very disappointing,” Rendell said of the ads attacking Bain. “I think Bain is fair game, because Romney has made it fair game. But I think how you examine it, the tone, what you say, is important as well.”

UPDATE 9:43 AM. Rendell's comments have already been highlighted by the Romney camp:

"Two days after Mayor Booker first called President Obama's attacks on free enterprise 'nauseating,' another leading Democrat – former DNC Chair and former Governor Ed Rendell – is rebuking the president. Governor Rendell and Mayor Booker are among those who recognize this election is about the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work, not desperate political attacks from a president who doesn't have what it takes to get our economy moving again." – Andrea Saul, Romney Campaign Spokesperson


Shuster: Chairmanship, reelect on way

Published by Tim McNulty on .

If Republicans still control the House next year, Bill Shuster will be in line to take over the powerful Transportation committee. Karen RamsburgThe last member of the Pa delegation to be a chair was Shuster's dad, Bud, and Tracie Mauriello got him to comment for a story Sunday:

"Republican leadership was against me and the Democratic president, Bill Clinton, was against me ... but I had a groundswell of support from the country," said Bud Shuster, who seldom bucked the party line on issues other than transportation.

"There are issues on which you have to be partisan, but not transportation. There's no such thing as a Republican bridge or a Democrat bridge. These are American assets," he said.

Shuster also has to survive reelection in November. He'll face off against Mercersburg nurse, activist and author Karen Ramsburg, who staged a write-in campaign as an independent to make the ballot. Ramsburg has the endorsement of former congressman and 2010 U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak, who wrote the endorsement below of her candidacy (in full after the jump):

I am proud to endorse Karen Ramsburg as an Independent running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 9th District. She is exactly what this nation, the state and the 9th District needs: a believer that we can rebuild the American Dream for the middle class together, bringing respect across the political divide to unite people in what needs to be done.


State budget day = June 13?

Published by Michael Macagnone on .


Several top Republicans in the state Legislature have set an ambitious deadline for approving a final budget: June 13.

While "mid-June" has been a rough goal of some lawmakers since the Senate passed its budget two weeks ago, today Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre and the chair of the Appropriations Committee, and Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, both forecasted to reporters that the budget could be done in three weeks.

"It's always good to have goals in life," said a grinning Corman, at the end of his remarks to the monthly Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg.

The constitutionally mandated deadline is June 30, a date they narrowly met last year (by about 13 minutes). Steve Miskin, Mr. Turzai's spokesman, said that discussions have been ongoing between both branches of the legislature since the Senate passed its budget.

Miskin also said that the Appropriations Committee will begin to take up the Senate budget at its meeting this afternoon. 

The Senate bill restored some $500 million cut from Gov. Tom Corbett's originally proposed budget, for a total of $27.6 billion.

Other highlights from the lunch with Mr. Corman:

-Pension reform "absolutely, positively has to be done," he said.

-Corman continued to push for higher education funding, calling the roughly $1.1 billion spent there a "good investment."

-General Assistance funding is difficult to put into the budget Corman said, as are all welfare programs without a federal mandate.