Year-by-year highlights of Pa. political decade

AP News
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Posted: Dec 28, 2009 12:50 PM

Highlights of major developments in Pennsylvania politics in the first decade of the 21st century:

2000:

_ George W. Bush is nominated for president at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, but speculation that Gov. Tom Ridge might be picked as his running mate fails to materialize.

_ Former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell spends the year as general chairman of Democratic National Committee.

_ Longtime Senate Republican leader F. Joseph Loeper resigns from the General Assembly after pleading guilty to violating federal tax laws and later serves six months in prison.

2001:

_ In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Ridge resigns as governor to accept Bush's appointment as the nation's first homeland security chief.

_ Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker sworn in as governor to complete the 15 months left in Ridge's second term.

2002:

_ Rendell elected governor after raising and spending more than $40 million to overcome challenges from then-Auditor General Bob Casey in the primary and then-Attorney General Mike Fisher in the general election.

_ Catherine Baker Knoll, Rendell's running mate, elected Pennsylvania's first female lieutenant governor.

2003:

_ Touting his "Plan for a New Pennsylvania," Rendell advocates legalizing slot machine gambling and increasing the state income tax to finance increased education spending, property-tax cuts and expanded economic development. All will eventually be approved in some form, but not much in the first year.

2004:

_ The Legislature votes to legalize slot-machine gambling at 14 casinos to raise an estimated $1 billion a year to reduce local property taxes.

_ Voters fill the statewide row offices with new faces _ Democrats Casey and former Sen. Jack Wagner as treasurer and auditor general respectively, and former federal prosecutor Tom Corbett, a Republican, as attorney general.

2005:

_ In a secretive July vote taken while most Pennsylvanians slept, lawmakers approve generous pay raises for themselves, judges and top executive branch officials _ igniting a powder keg of voter wrath, scathing editorials and protest rallies at the Capitol.

_ In November, voters deny state Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro a second term after government-reform activists turn a normally humdrum, up-or-down "retention" vote into a referendum on the pay raise.

_ Eight days after the Nigro ouster vote, the Legislature repeals the pay-raise law.

2006:

_ With help from national Democratic leaders, Casey defeats U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in his bid for a third Senate term.

_ Rendell wins a second term as governor, handily beating Republican Lynn Swann.

_ Democrats win a majority in Pennsylvania's delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in eight years, and control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in 12 years.

_ In balloting that reflects lingering voter animosity over the pay raises, 17 incumbent state legislators are ousted in the primary and seven more in the general election.

_ The state Supreme Court restores pay raises for 1,000 judges in a September decision that also concludes lawmakers violated the state constitution by approving their own midterm raises.

2007:

_ A reform effort spawned by the pay-raise mess falls mostly flat in the Legislature. Lawmakers impose an 11 p.m. curfew for daily sessions, but turn their backs on more substantive proposals such as curbs on campaign contributions and legislative term limits.

_ Spurred by news reports, the attorney general's office opens an investigation into millions of dollars in bonuses that legislative leaders paid to staff members in 2005 and 2006.

2008:

_ The Legislature approves a long-sought overhaul of the state Right-to-Know Law, strengthening what was regarded as one of the weakest such laws in the nation. Supporters tout it as a belated government reform.

_ In July, Corbett announces the arrests of 12 people connected to the House Democratic caucus, including former Democratic whip Michael Veon, for allegedly using taxpayers' money and resources for political purposes.

_ Democrats widen their majority as voter registration surges to record levels during the U.S. presidential election campaign. By Election Day, there are 4.5 million Democrats and 3.3 million Republicans.

_ Knoll dies of cancer in November; Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, automatically becomes lieutenant governor in addition to his duties as a senator.

2009:

_ Multiple candidates line up for the 2010 elections for governor and U.S. Senate, all but guaranteeing primary contests in both parties for both seats.

_ In April, Toomey announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Within two weeks, Specter switches parties, saying he is unlikely win the primary in an increasingly conservative GOP, and receives pledges of support from top Democrats including the president.

_ Longtime Senate Democratic power broker Vincent Fumo is convicted in federal court of 137 counts of fraud, obstruction and tax evasion. The Philadelphia lawmaker begins serving a 4- 1/2-year prison sentence for defrauding the Senate and two nonprofits of several million dollars.

_ Corbett's office arrests 10 people connected to the House Republican caucus in November, including former Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, on charges they illegally spent millions of taxpayer dollars to influence political campaigns.

_ In the first trial resulting from the state corruption probe, former Rep. Sean Ramaley, a Democrat, is acquitted on all counts. Several days later, three more Democrats are charged, including longtime House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese and a former legislator serving in the governor's cabinet, bringing the total charged so far to 25.