JUST IN TIME for the full Legislature's return on Monday, a group of state lawmakers, including House and Senate leaders, is due back today from an unpublicized weeklong trip to Taiwan with a lobbyist.
Nothing like a little Far East jaunt, especially on someone else's yuan.
The trip was paid for by the Taiwanese government; the lobbyist paid his own way.
The cost, according to Peter Lan of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York (Taipei is the capital of Taiwan), can't be determined until the trip is over.
Roundtrip airfare alone, New York to Taipei, is about $1,000 a ticket.
Billed as a "trade mission," the trip includes factory and port visits, cultural tours, receptions and dinners - all free to lawmakers.
Given the perk-cutting atmosphere in a state ostensibly reforming its politics, I'm not sure this is the best time for "trade missions," aka junkets.
Given the state of the Legislature - unable to pass budgets on time, still crawling out from the mess it made with its '05 pay grab, under investigation for possible misuse of tax dollars as bonuses - maybe image-polishing is more in order than free travel.
Plus, it strikes me that international trade is not among the top three, five or 10 concerns of average Pennsylvanians.
Those on the road to Taiwan and back make up an eclectic crowd:
_ House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese, a frequent international traveler.
He's a key figure in an ongoing investigation by the state attorney general's office into millions of dollars of legislative bonuses.
"Governments often ask for trade missions," says DeWeese spokesman Tom Andrews. "He decided to take them up on their offer."
_ Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow, of Scranton.
He made news in '05 by responding to a citizen complaint about the pay raise with e-mail suggesting the complainant "get a life." Mellow says he'll likely run for governor in 2010. He's no doubt boning up on Taiwanese issues critical to running the state.
_ Gib Armstrong, conservative Republican Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, of Lancaster County, went, according to Lan, though Armstrong's office did not return a call seeking confirmation.
His timing isn't the best. Lancaster County Recorder of Deeds Steve McDonald tomorrow formally announces he's challenging Armstrong in next year's GOP primary, noting it's the first time Armstrong faces voters since the pay raise.
_ Rep. Mike Sturla, Lancaster Democrat.
He made news last summer with a fundraising golf outing - "with special guest Paris Hilton (invited) . . . so put on some panties and let's golf" - on the very day the state laid off 24,000 workers because lawmakers had failed to pass a budget on time.
His office says it's something to do with "economic development." Sturla has an interest in economic development. He sponsored legislation creating a $75 million tax credit for TV and filmmakers, passage of which in July is now the subject of a Senate investigation surrounding potential lobbying irregularities.
_ Harrisburg lobbyist Roy Wells, president of Triad Strategies.
Although Lan and a Triad spokesman say Wells paid his own tab, I'm betting his clients won't mind eventually paying for a week of close, unfettered access to legislative leaders.
_ Philly Rep. Rosita Youngblood.
Interesting, since she and DeWeese often are at odds. They fought over internal caucus issues and office staff. And Youngblood was one of just three Democrats to vote for Republican John Perzel for speaker last January. Within hours, her daughter-in-law was fired from a state job. The next day, someone fired a shot into Youngblood's state car.
Hey, maybe she and DeWeese made up this week over a couple of Kaoliangs (140 proof grain alcohol served straight, popular in Taiwan) or, better yet, some cocktails made with equal parts of Seagrams, Kahlua and Bailey's - also known as Taiwan Duck Farts. *
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