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Lancaster Online.com: News : Mike Long Seeks To Stop Conservatives In Pa.

Lancaster Online.com: News : Backlash in big letters: "Backlash in big letters
Billboards to criticize Wenger, Brightbill for pay hike

By Charles Lardner, Intelligencer Journal Staff
Intelligencer Journal

Published: Aug 17, 2005 10:42 AM EST

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Two Lancaster County state senators are choosing to stay quiet amid a new campaign that aims to show their support of a controversial pay raise demonstrates they have lost touch with their constituents.

Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania has begun a campaign to erect billboards and air radio spots criticizing the senators for their "liberal voting records."

A billboard scheduled to go up next week along Interstate 70 near Altoona will feature the likeness of Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer and include the text, "Sen. Jubelirer voted to raise his own pay to $145,463. A 34% increase. Bigger pay for bigger government."

In the next few weeks, the group plans to erect similar billboards criticizing Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill, who represents a portion of northwest Lancaster County, and Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Noah Wenger of Stevens, said the group's chairman, Chris Lilik.

The three Republican senators were targeted because of their leadership roles, Lilik said.

Radio spots are planned to coincide with the billboards.

Lilik would not provide details on where the billboards are likely to be erected or where the ads would air.

Young Conservatives, which runs the anti-pay-raise Web site www.InformedPA.com, wants the state Legislature to repeal the pay hikes.

Jubelirer, Wenger and Brightbill all supported the pay raise, which was approved in the dark morning hours of July 7. The vote, which raised legislators' pay by 16 percent to 34 percent, has been widely criticized. It includes a provision that allowed lawmakers to accept the raise as an "unvouchered expense," circumventing a ban on raises taking effect in the term in which a legislator votes for them.

Wenger is now earning more than $115,000 a year, and Brightbill earns $134,771.

Young Conservatives is going after top-ranking Democrats as well, Lilik said.

It plans to erect billboards and air radio spots criticizing Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow, a Lackawanna County Democrat, and House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese of Greene County.

"People are angry, and they need to know it was the leadership in both parties that did this," Lilik said. "The Senate vote for the pay raise was 27 to 23. If (leadership) had a backbone, they could easily have stopped this."

Young Conservatives director Ryan Shafik, a student at Villanova University, said conservative Republicans like him feel betrayed by the voting records entrenched Republican leaders in Harrisburg have amassed over the years.

For example, Shafik said, Wenger cast the key vote in favor of the last legislative pay raise in 1995 and was one of a handful of Republican leaders to join Democrats in 1991 to approve the largest tax increase in state history.

Shafik said the radio ads would call into question the conservative credentials of Wenger, Brightbill and Jubelirer.

Lilik said the ads would highlight how Jubelirer voted against the Abortion Control Act more than a decade ago, and other, more recent votes.

Lilik also said Wenger's pay-raise votes show "he's been too liberal for too long."

Wenger's chief of staff, Chad Weaver, declined to comment on the Young Conservatives campaign, saying he "wasn't aware of the matter."

In an e-mail, Jubelirer aide Mike Long defended the Senate GOP leadership and its record.

"This is America, and everyone has the right to say what they want," Long wrote, "but, this group is just wrong.

"The Senate Republican leadership, including Senator Brightbill, Senator Wenger and Senator Jubelirer, have done more to advance a conservative agenda than any other group over the last 25 years in Pennsylvania."

Long said the senators all supported seven straight years of tax cuts during the administration of former Gov. Tom Ridge.

They also passed school tax-relief legislation, although no school district in Lancaster County opted into the program, Act 72.

Long added that Brightbill, Wenger and Jubelirer this fall will be supporting additional property tax-cut measures, along with tax cuts for individuals and businesses.

The attacks by the Young Conservatives represent divisions within the Republican Party, said Terry Madonna, a Franklin & Marshall College pollster and political analyst.

Conservatives may be using public displeasure over the pay hikes to punish Republicans who curry their favor during the all-important primary elections but fail to stand firm on social issues after they are re-elected, he said.

"Underneath what looks like relative uniformity in the Republican Party there has been a simmering fissure that this pay-hike vote has brought to the surface," Madonna said.

"For the better part of a decade now, there has been a split between the sort of mainstream Republicans who control the state party and ... the Legislature and conservatives who are activists on the social issues."

Shafik agrees with that assessment.

"(The pay raise) passed by three votes," Shafik said. "If Jubelirer wanted to stop it, he could have, and so could have Noah Wenger.

"Their records are awful. They have lost touch with their constituents."

"People are angry, and they need to know it was the leadership in both parties that did this.""

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