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Suit targets Jubelirer's dual role

Can't keep Senate seat, Republican contends

Thursday, October 18, 2001

By John M.R. Bull, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Correspondent

HARRISBURG -- Republican state lawmaker John Lawless continues to build on his reputation as a renegade who bucks his party's leaders routinely, yesterday filing a lawsuit against the most powerful Republican in the state Senate.

Lawless, of Montgomery County, contends in his lawsuit that longtime Sen. Robert C. Jubelirer of Altoona must give up his seat because he took over the vacant position of lieutenant governor and the state constitution prohibits him from holding both posts at once.

"The Senate is Republican. The House is Republican. You really think they're going to do anything to stop him? Come on. That's not going to happen," Lawless said in a news conference after the suit was filed. "I'm here today because I took an oath of office to uphold and defend the constitution ... and I have the courage to stand here to do something about it."

Democrats and some conservative Republicans have argued for weeks that allowing Jubelirer to serve in both positions violates the state Constitution's separation of powers clauses.

The lieutenant governor, under the state constitution, formally presides over the state Senate. It's a non-voting position, except to break tie votes on procedural matters, such as whether a particular bill can be amended on the Senate floor.

Theoretically, Jubelirer could vote twice in those extremely rare instances when procedural issues come to a tie vote.

Jubelirer has promised he would only vote as a senator if such an occasion arises.

"Two votes is more power than any honorable politician would want and more power than any other kind of lawmaker should have," Lawless said.

The suit, filed by Scranton-area constitutional law attorney Gerald C. Grimaud on behalf of Lawless and two private citizens, asks Commonwealth Court to declare the Senate seat held by Jubelirer for the last 27 years to be vacant, and to order a special election held to choose a replacement. The suit seeks a quick court decision.

Jubelirer was sworn into the lieutenant governor's office on Oct. 5, hours after former Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker became governor, replacing Tom Ridge who left office to be the head of the new federal Office of Homeland Security.

Jubelirer has said he will keep his Senate position and hold both posts for the 14 months remaining in the four-year term of lieutenant governor.

The lawsuit contends that the state constitution clearly states that one man cannot hold the office of lieutenant governor and any other elected office at the same time.

"No member of Congress or person holding any office ... under the United States or this Commonwealth shall exercise the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor or Attorney General," states Article IV, Section Six of the state Constitution.

Lawless said anyone "with a sixth-grade education" can see how clear the point is.

Not so fast, said Jubelirer's attorney in the Senate, J. Andrew Crompton.

That section of the constitution deals with being appointed to the lieutenant governor's position, and not having it forced on someone through the state succession clauses in the event the governor's office is vacated and the lieutenant governor becomes governor, Crompton argued.

The thinking when that section of the constitution was amended in the 1870s was to prevent people from running for both lieutenant governor and another office, and serving in both positions for the duration of the four-year lieutenant governor's term.

Jubelirer is "very concerned" about the separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch but doesn't feel he is obligated to relinquish his Senate seat, Crompton said.

Jubelirer is Senate pro tem, giving him the power to assign all bills to the committees of his choice and to name which senator sits on which committees and who chairs each committee.

In his almost three decades in the Senate, Jubelirer has amassed tremendous political power and his current position allows him to dictate the life or death of any bill in the Legislature.

Jubelirer's top aide, Mike Long, blasted Lawless for filing the lawsuit.

Long claimed Lawless filed the suit to get back at Jubelirer for not crafting a Senate district tailored for a Lawless win, if Lawless decided to run for the Senate. Top House and Senate leaders created new legislative districts a few weeks ago to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. Census.

"This is about retribution because he didn't get the Senate district he wanted," charged Long, who is the Senate Republican's primary campaign strategist. "The man is totally without honor. He is not truthful. He has no integrity."

Lawless denied Long's charge.

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