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One of legislature’s biggest critics set to become Pa. Republican lawmaker

Tribune-Review
| Monday, January 5, 2015 4:30 p.m
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Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon County
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Russ Diamond whipped up the crowd at a 2005 state Capitol rally against the Pennsylvania legislative pay raise. By noon Tuesday, he'll officially be a member of the state House. Copyright by Raintree Multimedia.

HARRISBURG — Russ Diamond, a fierce critic of the 2005 legislative pay hike, will accept an automatic pay boost for lawmakers when he takes the oath of office Tuesday as a new state House member from Lebanon County.

“Whatever the salary is, I am going to take it,” said Diamond, 51, a Republican.

The cost-of-living boost announced in November increases lawmakers’ pay 1.6 percent, or $1,344 annually, to $85,356.

“Russ is probably more pragmatic and centrist than his public persona,” said Eric Epstein, who worked closely with Diamond.

Epstein called the automatic annual adjustment “a stealth pay raise.” That’s a “tenet of the reform theology,” he said. “I’ll still be able to work with (Diamond), but I’m not going to candy-coat my disappointment.”

Diamond led the citizens revolt a decade ago that forced lawmakers to repeal a raise of 16 percent for rank-and-file members and up to 34 percent for top leaders. He formed PACleanSweep, a group that became the epicenter of statewide opposition. Voter outrage led lawmakers to repeal the raise, which the state Supreme Court reinstated for judges.

“So far, he has been very active, and everyone has been collegial,” House GOP spokesman Stephen Miskin said of Diamond’s conversion to lawmaker. “He’s part of the caucus, and he’s looking forward to working with other members of the House.”

Diamond said he will reject perks such as per diems, a pension and use of a state car, but will accept the salary that includes the automatic pay boost stemming from a 1995 law. He will accept mileage reimbursement and health care benefits.

“There’s no legal way for me to refuse it,” he said of the salary increase. He said to decline the 1.6 percent, he would need to donate the extra money to charity — and could be subject to criticism for using it as a tax deduction. “It’s a lot of rigmarole to go through for $100 month and some talking points. I’ll vote for any bill to repeal it.”

Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, worked with the citizen groups against the pay raise because of constitutional concerns. That was a major part of Diamond’s opposition, Brouillete said. A special provision allowed legislators to take the higher pay immediately as “unvouchered expenses” despite the state constitution’s ban on mid-term salary increases.

“I don’t think it (accepting the increase) negates any claims of his as a reformer,” Brouillette said.

The 1995 law providing automatic raises for legislators, judges and other officials — signed by former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge — was designed to prevent lawmakers from voting on sizeable pay boosts. It has withstood the test of time and is not constitutionally suspect, Brouillette said.

When lawmakers approved the 2005 pay bill in the middle of the night, without a public hearing, “they flipped us all the bird,” Diamond wrote in his book, “Tip of the Spear,” an account of the anti-pay raise movement.

“There are some distinct differences between the Joe Six Packs of the world and the Political Class, and that’s what this book is all about,” he wrote.

The pay increase triggered a “revolution at the ballot box” in the 2006 election. Voters ousted three legislative leaders, and more than 50 lawmakers retired or lost the election, said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. It was the largest turnover in recent state history, Madonna said.

Diamond characterized himself as “extremely conservative on fiscal policy and more of a libertarian — small l — on social issues.”

“I think he’ll realize very quickly you can’t be the leader of one; you have to be one of many,” Brouillette said.

Asked whether he intends to be a rabble-rouser or loyal party member, Diamond said: “Probably somewhere in between.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter.

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