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Capitol abuzz over powerful Republican Barley's abrupt exit

Thursday, March 28, 2002

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

HARRISBURG -- The sudden resignation of one of the most powerful state House Republicans has started a whirlwind of rumor and innuendo in the Capitol.

Appropriations Committee Chairman John Barley, R-Lancaster, abruptly announced his resignation last weekend from the House seat he has held for 17 years, effective next week.

Why is shrouded in mystery at this point.

"The only story no one is giving any credence to is the one he gave," said Mike Manzo, chief of staff for House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese. "In Lancaster, it's like blood in the water down there. The sharks are circling. There are lots of stories, but none has been confirmed to my knowledge."

Barley said he is stepping down because a grass-roots campaign to defeat him at the polls in November was going to turn bitter and personal and try to "destroy" him and his family. So he was leaving office, he said.

But that's what he said earlier this year, when he announced he would not seek re-election to a 10th term.

Then, two weeks ago, he changed his mind and decided to run for re-election, showing up at a local endorsement committee meeting wearing a Re-elect John Barley button, and was promptly endorsed by the Republican committee.

On Saturday he did another about-face.

He said not only that he had changed his mind about running for re-election, but that he wouldn't even finish the rest of his term or return to the Capitol before Tuesday's effective resignation date.

Barley's former campaign manager, Kim Rankin, told reporters that new information has come to light that is so damaging to Barley that Lancaster GOP committee people could no longer support him. She and others have refused to say what that information is.

Top House Republicans were caught by surprise by Barley's resignation, which came in a brief letter without explanation, said Steve Drachler, spokesman for House Majority Leader John Perzel, R-Philadelphia.

Earlier this week, Barley spoke with Perzel and House Speaker Matthew Ryan, R-Delaware, and gave a fuller explanation for his decision, said Drachler, who would not reveal the explanation.

Barley, 56, of Lancaster, is one of the top three House Republicans and a prodigious fund-raiser, helping bring in a record $4 million to the House Republican Campaign Committee two years ago.

Ryan likely will set a special election for sometime this summer to fill Barley's seat, and House Republicans are expected to name state Rep. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, as the new chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Barley is a fifth-generation farmer who was first elected to the state House in 1984, taking control of the powerful Appropriations Committee in 1996.

Barley's role in his family's farm started a controversy in November 2000, after his son, who sits on the local zoning board, secretly arranged to have a section of the farm rezoned so it could be sold for $15.7 million to a landfill operator.

Angry local residents started a grass-roots movement to oust Barley from office, but the loudest found their homes placed in a different legislative district when lawmakers approved a redistricting plan late last year.

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