In July of 2020, outgoing-Speaker Mike Turzai had three important plaques removed from the Capitol’s House wing without any public notice or comment. Understanding the importance of the plaques requires a quick history lesson.
Pennsylvania has a history of bipartisan corruption; this is a statement of fact and shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. In 2020, the Commonwealth was ranked as the fifth most corrupt state in the country by the University of Chicago. Taxpayers have seen their lawmakers, judges, local officials, and executive staff arrested, tried, and convicted of charges related to abuse of office.
Three of those officials were Speakers of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives: Bill DeWeese, Herbert Fineman, and John Perzel. In 2014, Speaker Sam Smith decided to attach plaques to the portraits of his criminally convicted predecessors. Smith felt that it was inappropriate to remove the portraits, but the plaques would allow the public to be informed about the convictions. It was these three plaques that former-Speaker Turzai had removed.
Last week, Rep. Aaron Bernstine sent a letter to the current Speaker, Rep. Bryan Cutler, requesting that he take the plaques out of storage and return them to the portraits. As Bernstine notes in his letter, “it is inappropriate to try to erase history.” The plaques ensure that visitors to the Capitol are made aware of our history. Returning them would be a step in recognizing what has transpired in Harrisburg and serve as a reminder to current members that they’re there to do the people’s business, not enrich themselves.