by Lowman S. Henry | February 23, 2004

Democrats gobble, Republicans wobble, taxpayers pay

When some Republicans in the General Assembly wobbled last Christmas and gave Governor Ed Rendell the votes he needed to enact a massive tax hike, many wondered aloud if there was a difference anymore between the two major parties.

In fact, on issue after issue partisan lines have become blurred. Slots and casinos have supporters, and opponents, on both sides of the aisle. Education reforms, such as school vouchers, have been stymied by a strange coalition of legislators form both parties. So, is there in fact any difference between Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg?

Yes, Pennsylvania, there is a difference. And that issue is . . . food! When it comes to food the gulf between the two parties is as vast as baked or fried. The Democrat position on food is to eat vast quantities and stick taxpayers with the bill. Republicans, on the other had, make money from food.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review started a food fight recently by reporting that Governor Ed Rendell spent $75,918 dollars on taxpayer funded goodies during his first 11 months in office. This bit of bad publicity sent the Rendell people scurrying for the Maalox.

The Governor’s appetite is legendary. From his affinity for “spotdogs” at Harrisburg’s infamous Spot Restaurant, to flitching fries from patrons at the Farm Show, Ed Rendell appears to never have met an edible he didn’t like. Those of us who care about his health –that would be anyone who doesn’t want Catherine Baker Knoll to become governor – wish he would slow down a bit and watch the fat intake.

But Ed Rendell’s feeding at the public trough pales in comparison to Harrisburg veteran Vince Fumo. A few months back it came to light that the heavyweight state senator (in power not size) spent $73,000 on taxpayer funded meals at just one Philadelphia restaurant, making Rendell’s expenditures look like crumbs on the linen tablecloth.

Republicans on the other hand approach food from another perspective – they make money, lots of it, from food. The late Senator John Heinz with his family’s 57 varieties is the all-time champion, although it looks like most of those profits might end up helping the Democrats. Then there is the GOP’s behind-the-scenes powerhouse, National Committeeman Bob Asher who earned his fortune making and selling fine chocolate.

Other Republicans are legendary for their food as well. Joan Specter, wife of U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, created and sold the best pies your mother didn’t make. Former PA Attorney General Ernie Preate’s family was known for its wine-making acumen. And, then there is former state house Speaker Jack Seltzer, whose family name graces many a package of Lebanon bologna – the edible, not the political kind.

Republicans have for years been getting rich selling all this food, much of it apparently consumed by Democrats. So there is proof that Republicans and Democrats in Harrisburg can have their differences, but still work together. Unfortunately, as happens all too often in the city on the Susquehanna, we taxpayers get stuck paying the tab.