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Activists who blast establishment become part of it - abc27 WHTM

Activists who blast establishment become part of it

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

The inflatable pink pig returned to the Capitol Monday nine years after it was born out of protest over a middle-of-the-night pay raise state lawmakers gave themselves.

The pig is the symbol of legislative excess and the sidekick of citizen activists who, like the porker, are never short of hot air.

"Bad things happen when money, lobbyists and politicians get together," said Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital, who offered an update on lawmakers who took the pay raises and kept them and had their pensions increased because of them. He briefs reporters every July 7.

In the nine years since the pay raise, four men have been trying to hold elected officials accountable: 54-year-old Epstein, 64-year-old Tim Potts, 51-year-old Russ Diamond and 64-year-old Gene Stilp.

Epstein is a sound bite machine and he didn't disappoint Monday when pointing out that in 2004, lawmakers' base pay was $69,000 and they tried to increase it to $81,000. In 2014, thanks to cost-of-living adjustments and with little fanfare, the base pay has increased to $84,000 a year

"For lack of a better term, Pennsylvania state government is a sloth-ocracy," Epstein said. "It accomplishes next to nothing and is overly compensated. It is the embodiment of the third deadliest sin."

Stilp is the master of the visual. The pink pig is his. He recently jumped in front of a pro-gas drilling march up State Street with a banner: "Tax the frackers behind me."

But the fearsome foursome is no longer just fighting "the man." They're becoming "the man."

Diamond is the Republican candidate for an open state House seat in Lebanon County.

Potts is on the Carlisle School Board.

Epstein is on the Central Dauphin School Board.

Stilp is the Democratic candidate challenging incumbent Republican Sue Helm for a state House seat in Dauphin County. He says he'd like to work for change from the inside.

"One thing I've learned is that as soon as they get in here they drink the legislative Kool-Aid and they change," Stilp said. "They don't fight for reform. But we'll keep fighting either inside or outside."

Stilp wants to join the legislature, but is currently suing both chambers in Commonwealth Court. On Monday, he blasted lawmakers with a report card full of F-minuses for failing to reform themselves.

Not everyone is amused at his sight gags.

"When a candidate for office comes in and tries to play like he's an outsider, he's been the consummate insider, a staffer and now a candidate, so take that for what it is," said a clearly annoyed House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin, who also insisted the General Assembly has made numerous positive changes in the nine years since the pay raise.

The four activists are definitely older, maybe wiser, and they promise to keep beating up on the establishment, even if they've become part of it.

"I don't think you can just sit there and cast stones at glass houses without at some point being an occupant of the glass house," said Epstein, who grapples with whether or not to raise taxes.

He now sees first hand the pressures elected officials must deal with.

"Seeing how it feels, it's been a learning experience," he said. I've been humbled."

 

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