As a former Marine, Bill DeWeese knows what it's like to fight, even when the odds are against him.
So it shouldn't strike readers as unusual that the Democrat who served as Speaker of the House in 1993-94 wasn't willing to give up his seat without a fight.
DeWeese, 62, was convicted on five counts of corruption in the state's Bonusgate scandal in February. Those counts included conspiracy, conflict of interest and theft and were related to using his legislative staff to work on campaign activities on taxpayer time.
His sentence - two-and-one-half-to-five years - was announced on April 24 - the very day he was re-elected by the voters of his Greene County district.
Yet, he fought to keep his name on the November ballot while in jail.
At a hearing on Aug. 8 before Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley, DeWeese's attorneys argued that his name should remain on the ballot because candidates can only be replaced by a party if they die or withdraw.
But the state Constitution contains another provision: It disallows anyone convicted of an "infamous crime," from holding public office. The state Supreme Court has ruled that any felony is an "infamous crime."
It strikes us that Bonusgate and the subsequent Computergate scandal involving Republicans constitute infamous crimes. More than two dozen lawmakers and their staff members were convicted for their roles.
On Aug. 10, Judge McGinley ruled that DeWeese's candidacy was invalid and ordered his name removed from the ballot. DeWeese entered the state prison system on Aug. 13.
The Democratic Party now has until Aug. 23 to announce a substitute candidate.
DeWeese has long considered himself a man of the people. But his decision to remain on the ballot was both selfish and arrogant. It would have left the district without representation.
Although DeWeese ultimately lost his case, the fact that he even had a case to plead is absurd. While felons cannot hold office, they are not prohibited from running for office. In some cases, convicted felons not only have campaigned for office, they have held it, despite what the courts have said. That's because they can only be removed after being certified as a winner and only if a public complaint is filed.
The state Legislature has an obligation to amend the law. It would spare taxpayers court costs and spare the commonwealth the stigma that felons can still run for office.
Changing the law in DeWeese's name could serve as his final public service to the commonwealth.
- Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era