I think I was past that already. I felt much more emotional in April when it all happened, as I had been telling people. November 14, that was the last thing I did. What happened was Daryl Metcalfe, that charming gentleman from Butler County—
I wouldn’t give him that status. I noticed that he was going to do a hearing on ... Sharia law, so I sent out a blast ... I was very alarmed because [government interference in religious law amounts to] wholesale discrimination against Muslims and Jews and anybody who belongs to a faith-based group that has a canon law.
I [also] asked for an investigation about Election Day. I was talking about the number of provisional ballots, that problem, the problem that people weren’t in the poll book.
So that’s the note you left on. How did you begin? Do you remember your first impressions of Harrisburg?
[I remember Pennsylvania politicians who] were thrilled to be in Harrisburg because it was a big, sophisticated city for them. I thought, Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into? I grew up in New York. In Queens. So the quality of work that comes out of people who think Harrisburg is a big, sophisticated city—you have to shake your head.
What’s changed since then?
Representation of Jews has dropped because of me ... there’s no Jewish women now in the entire general assembly. Not one.
OK, so some things really haven’t changed. What else is the same?
The gridlock. We taught them how to do it in Washington. We were in gridlock for almost the entire time I’ve been in Harrisburg, and maybe the whole time.
We have been so partisan in Pennsylvania for years. I remember going to the National Conference of State Legislators conventions and having presentations, panels with state legislators—Republicans and Democrats and in some places even third-party people—talking about a bill that got passed with bipartisan cooperation ... Those of us from Pennsylvania just kept looking at them like, ‘We can’t do that kind of thing at all!’ And that’s been almost my entire career. When [Democrats] were in charge, same thing. The only thing that made it different for me is when it started to happen in Washington, and when it was reported in the national press—which people pay attention to much more than the local press—I would say, ‘Harrisburg is gridlocked just like Washington, except Harrisburg is worse.’ And [then] people would get it.
Can you think of any significant bipartisan effort in Harrisburg?
I was very surprised—I’m still surprised—that we were able to raise the minimum wage when Rendell was the governor [in 2006]. We were in the majority in the House, the Senate was in the minority, but we still raised it. The Senate Republicans are a lot less doctrinaire and extreme than the House Republicans.
What have you learned about the great state of Pennsylvania?
I think Pennsylvanians are much more moderate than the Republicans that represent them, and probably more moderate than the progressive Democrats [laughs]. I think Pennsylvanians are moderate and fair and care about justice. [Take for example] civil rights for LGBTQ people. You go to the most conservative one-sixth of the state, which is the Central-South—York and those places—the most conservative area on gay rights. Sixty-five percent thought LGBTQ people deserved equal civil rights. That’s huge. That’s enormous. You win by 65 percent, that’s a damn landslide! And that’s the lowest mark. In Philadelphia, it was 85, 90 percent. Pittsburgh it was 75 or 80 percent.
So I really believe that Pennsylvanians are much fairer, much more moderate than the Republicans who represent them. And I think that they don’t have any idea what the Republicans are doing in Harrisburg—and that hasn’t changed.
What about the Catholic Conference? They don’t straight-out write bills anymore, yet they still seem to have such influence.
I don’t think anyone pays any attention in the public to the Catholic Conference. Some of the legislators do because they’re fearful. I think you’re going to start to see fewer and fewer people having any respect for the Catholic Conference because they have not addressed the abuse of children at all, not one bit. And I don’t know anybody who is a Catholic who thinks [they have], except the old guys. But the parents who have young children, which is the wellspring of the American church, they are profoundly distrustful.
So what’s next?
I’m going to take off and see [my] children and grandchildren. I can devote more time to family now, and they’re all growing up fast. I have three adolescent grandchildren who live in upstate New York.
PW's Summer Guide 2015