Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Scranton Demands Rendell Do Something That Scranton Would Never do Himself

Gov. candidate Scranton favors 'independent' for Pa. high court: "Gov. candidate Scranton favors 'independent' for Pa. high court
Tuesday, November 15, 2005

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- The battle over state officials' pay raises entered the governor's race yesterday, as Republican Bill Scranton urged Gov. Ed Rendell to name a "politically independent" person to replace Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro.

By unseating Democratic Justice Nigro in last week's retention election, state voters "spoke with clarity and conviction about the need for honest reform" in state government, Mr. Scranton said.

Mr. Scranton is one of four GOP hopefuls now competing to run against Democrat Rendell in 2006.

By denying Justice Nigro a second term, "citizens expressed their outrage over the unprecedented pay raise that you signed into law" in early July, Mr. Scranton told the governor.

Mr. Rendell had defended the raises for the first three months after they were enacted, saying judges and his own Cabinet members in particular deserved higher salaries. But recently he reversed course, urging legislators to repeal the raises for all three branches -- legislative, judicial and executive -- and set the pay back to what it was on July 6. He said the issue has become a serious distraction to conducting state business.

Justice Nigro will leave the seven-member high court in early January when his current 10-year term expires. He failed to win another term last week, with most observers blaming his defeat on voter anger over the pay raises. Justice Nigro received a raise in July but didn't actually vote on the bill. Another Supreme Court justice, Sandra Schultz Newman, narrowly won a second term on the court last week.

Mr. Rendell must name a replacement for Justice Nigro to serve through the end of 2007. A person to serve a full 10-year term on the court will be chosen in the 2007 elections.

Some legislators expect Mr. Rendell to name a Democrat to the court.

Mr. Scranton said "citizens will not tolerate a selection pulled from a short list of politically active supporters or friends. We expect a new justice that demonstrates political independence, the highest degree of competence and experience and a commitment to upholding the spirit and plain meaning of the constitution."

He also said a legislative committee should hold hearings on Mr. Rendell's selection before he or she joins the court. The nominee will need confirmation by the state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, but it isn't known yet if committee hearings will be held.

Kate Philips, press secretary for Mr. Rendell, has said it's too early to speculate on who Mr. Rendell might choose to fill the seat.

In another pay raise matter yesterday, a Republican state committeeman from Butler County said new blood is needed on the GOP panel.

While newspapers and other media across the state have repeatedly talked about the pay raise story, the state GOP panel has been silent about it, said Butler GOP Chairman Jim Powers.

"This is symptomatic of a larger leadership problem at the Republican State Committee," he said.

Last month, he mailed "Repeal the Pay" petitions to all 355 state panel members, but only 20 percent agreed to sign.

(Harrisburg Bureau chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.)"

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