Pennsylvania State Lawmaker Plaques Will Now Reflect Criminal Pasts, Taking Honesty to a New Level
What do you do when a government official gets a criminal conviction? Wipe him from the annals of history? Nah, says Pennsylvania, you just update the state lawmaker plaque. NBD. The Pennsylvania state capitol building in Harrisburg features big, fancy portraits of former legislators lining a hallway and conveying a certain sense of power and majesty. Now schoolkids touring the facility will also get a glimpse of four of those former officials' criminal pasts. Sounds pretty educational!
Four former state lawmakers will get the plaque-death treatment: Robert Mellow; Bill DeWeese; John Perzel; and Herbert Fineman. All four served time in jail, according to The Washington Post. All but Perzel are Democrats, which may explain why Republicans seemed particularly eager to amend the record with accounts of their crimes.
Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Speaker Sam Smith, told the Post that the plaques were part of an effort to come to terms with history without erasing it.
There was a question: "Do you remove the portraits or do you do something else?" You can’t change history, whether you like it or not. There was a feeling you should keep the portraits out there and let people make up their own mind.
A Tweet from last year sheds light on how controversial the portraits could be.
Mellow was jailed after being convicted of filing a false tax return; he served in the legislature for about 40 years. Fineman was convicted of obstructing justice in 1977, and The Philadelphia Inquirer raised a stink about the then-$5,000 cost of the portrait.
Fineman told the Inquirer at the time that even he wasn't sure a portrait was the best idea.
I must admit I had some reservations. But when I was able to stand off at a distance and review my accomplishments in the House, I felt more comfortable with it.
Amazingly, DeWeese and Perzel, once political rivals and both convicted at the same time, actually ended up sharing a cell in prison.
Law-breaking government officials are about as perennial as the grass, but this takes honesty to a whole new level. It's kind of refreshing. But so far there are no plans to replace the portraits of the lawmakers in suits and ties with mugshots.