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When state lawmakers in Pennsylvania approved big pay raises for themselves and state judges last summer, they had no idea what they were in for. Protestors rallied against the middle-of-the-night action. Voters ousted a Supreme Court justice who got the raise. And lawmakers rescinded the hike in December. But opponents of the pay raise say every legislator should be kicked out of office and they've recruited 81 candidates to replace them. From member station WITF in Harrisburg, Damon Boughamer reports.
DAMON BOUGHAMER reporting:
They are college students and bodyguards and real estate agents. Some are novices, some have run before. A few have even gotten elected to local or county offices. Together, they form an imposing crowd. Yesterday they packed in behind their leader. An activist named Russ Diamond who described the kickoff event as the first shot in a political revolution.
Mr. RUSS DIAMOND (PACleanSweep, Founder): So proud because these people have answered the call. I believe with firm conviction in my heart that you are looking at founding fathers and founding mothers of a new Pennsylvania.
BOUGHAMER: Diamond's group is called PACleanSweep and its mission is to sweep out every member of the Pennsylvania legislator which tried to raise the base salary for lawmakers to an unheard of 81,000 dollars. Only California legislators make more. Anger over the pay raise is driving most of the field. Larry Mondes (ph), a Republican is a financial advisor and first-time candidate.
Mr. LARRY MONDES (PACleanSweep Republican candidate): The culture of corruption in Harrisburg has resulted in isolation. The only time the incumbent cares about anybody is when it comes to election time.
BOUGHAMER: Forty seven of the candidates are Republicans, 32 are Democrats, one is a Libertarian and one is an independent. About all Cleansweep ask was that they pledge to submit all future governmental pay raises to voters. The group has no rules about how each campaign has to run. But outside the box thinking is encouraged. For example, teaching assistant Dennis Kaufman, a Democrat, says he's not interested in raising a lot of money.
Mr. DENNIS KAUFMAN (PACleansweep Democratic Candidate): From the 104th District, when I ask people for money, I'm going to be asking them for a dollar, four, maximum amount uh, that they can give to my campaign is a hundred and four dollars.
BOUGHAMER: But others are taking a more traditional approach. Twenty-one-year-old Republican Mark Harris who finishes college a few days before the May primary, says he's already raised 25 thousand dollars, and is committed to running an aggressive campaign.
Mr. MARK HARRIS (PACleansweep Republican Candidate): Knocking on doors, candidate coffees, meeting anyone I can, anywhere I can and just telling the message because when people hear my message, they support me.
BOUGHAMER: With 253 members, Pennsylvania is the largest full-time legislature in the country besides the U.S. Congress. And dozens of incumbents may yet go unchallenged. Activist Russ Diamond issued a final plea for others to join the revolution.
Mr. DIAMOND: Are you interested in running for office? Are you interested in doing the right thing in Harrisburg? Are you interested in turning this ship we call Pennsylvania around, and steering it in the right direction?
BOUGHAMER: Although the primaries are less than four months away, candidates are still signing up. One man read a story previewing the rally in the morning newspaper. A few hours later, he was running for state senate. For NPR News, I'm Damon Boughamer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
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