OFF THE FLOOR: Grand jury report 'one of the best days of my life!' DeWeese said.

OFF THE FLOOR A Capitolwire Column By Peter L. DeCoursey Bureau Chief Capitolwire HARRISBURG (July 18) – “One of the best days of my life!”? That wasn’t the way any Democrat in Harrisburg thought of July 10. That is the day when Attorney General Tom Corbett said former House Minority Whip Mike Veon, D-Beaver, faced more than 50 felony charges for creating a culture that a grand jury said misused millions of taxpayer dollars for campaign work and personal gain. That was the day Rep. Sean Ramaley, D-Beaver, the heavy favorite to win a state Senate seat this fall, was also charged with using his staff job in 2004 for Veon to campaign for office on a taxpayer salary. And that was the day 10 top former or suspended House staffers, from former caucus chief of staff Mike Manzo on down, were charged with felony after felony after felony. So when it came time that day for a conference call among the House Democratic leaders, what did House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, say? Two of his fellow caucus leaders recall him exulting that the release of the grand jury report was "One of the best days of my life! One of the best days of my [expletive-deleted] life!" Others say he said on that conference call that it was “One of the greatest days of my life! One of the best days of my [expletive-deleted] life!” Either way, they agree they were stunned and appalled. Two used the word "disgusted." But it wasn’t the profanity - all agree he used the gerund form of the word that refers to the initial procreative act - that stunned several of DeWeese’s fellow House Democratic leaders. It was his obvious, buoyant joy and ebullience. One leader said: “He was like a kid on Christmas who got the toy he has been wishing and waiting for feeling." Another leader still sounded appalled and stunned talking about it days later: “He was so happy, and we are sitting with a caucus where a bomb just went off, and our public perception is awful, and he says, ‘It’s one of the greatest days of his life'?” DeWeese said his comments were taken “completely out of context.”

When I asked him Thursday what he meant by them, he swiftly responded by e-mail: “That is a mischaracterization of what I said!!! What I did say was taken completely out of context and that was that the grand jury confirmed what I had been saying for months and months and months that the scheme was carried out behind my back and without my knowledge. In fact, it was one of the saddest days of my life.” But that is not how anyone else who talked to me remembered that conference call among the leaders. They also remember DeWeese using a word then that he has often used since to refer to the grand jury report: “vindication.” One summed it up by saying: “To Bill, it is always all about Bill, and that is why he was happy. He doesn’t understand that the fact that they could do it for years in his name without him knowing is less of a legal problem for him, but a big problem for us, with the public.” But more than any such considerations, the main perception his fellow leaders took from that comment was simple: On the worst day for the House Democratic Caucus in years, DeWeese was delighted because the grand jury reported no evidence that he, its leader, knew what was going on. And no one who communicated with me – and to be fair, some of the call participants did not thought DeWeese acted or sounded sad during that call. Or since. As late as Wednesday, he was still telling members that he will “resign if I become a distraction,” then asserting that he was not hurting the caucus now. And it is true that pre-grand jury report, DeWeese’s caucus got everything major done that it could have in this past budget season. The Senate GOP, not Bonusgate or DeWeese, stymied every stalled item on the agenda of Gov. Ed Rendell and House Democrats. But even DeWeese's fellow leaders, who are unable to demand his resignation and terrified that ousting him will start a civil war that could unseat them too, are appalled by his public glee about the grand jury report. And House Democrats point to his statement about "one of the best days of my life!" as a sign that DeWeese's priority is his survival as leader, not their success as a caucus. As one House Democrat and long-time DeWeese ally said: “It is the best of times for Bill, and it is and it is gonna be the worst of times for the rest of us.”