HARRISBURG - A day after being released on bail, State Rep. H. William DeWeese yesterday found himself with an unusual vantage point on the floor of the state House of Representatives.
For the first time in 21 years, DeWeese was not occupying a desk at the head the cavernous chamber reserved for top leaders, but instead sat four rows back in Seat 75.
It was, in his words, "a new neighborhood" for "a freshly minted member of the rank-and-file."
On Tuesday, Attorney General Tom Corbett filed theft, conflict-of-interest, and conspiracy counts against DeWeese, alleging that he misused his legislative staff at the Capitol and in a district office for campaign purposes.
It forced DeWeese to step down as majority whip, the caucus' second-highest post. Yesterday, Democratic members gave the job to Rep. Frank Dermody of Pittsburgh.
Even so, DeWeese, a former speaker of the House and longtime top Democratic leader in his 17th term, did what came naturally.
He took the microphone.
In a floor speech spiced with historical metaphors, the 59-year-old Greene County lawmaker outlined his legislative plans for the coming year. He vowed to push for a new tax on natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale reserve, for merit selection of appellate judges, for campaign-finance reform, and for changes in how the state conducts its once-a-decade reapportionment.
With a half grin, he fessed up that he had been the one behind the redrafting of a Pittsburgh-area district last decade that gerrymandered a Democratic foe from office.
"It should look like a checkerboard, not a bucket of snakes," DeWeese said of any new political maps. "One district in Philadelphia looks like the Monongahela River turning around Charleroi."
DeWeese acknowledged that some might view the new course he's set as "the political equivalent of a death-bed conversion" given the criminal charges and the 33 years he has spent entrenching himself in the chamber.
"If you want to say that these remarks are tinctured with hypocrisy or surfeited with hypocrisy, well, OK," he told his colleagues.
But, as a history buff, he prefers to compare his situation to that of the nation's sixth president, John Quincy Adams.
"He had some troubles as president, but he became very focused as a congressman," DeWeese said, his voice dropping slightly. "I realize this is my last chapter."