During the brief time they served together in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Republican Jeff Coleman and Democratic leader Bill DeWeese were political enemies on the floor and fast friends off it.
Now Coleman, who stuck by DeWeese through his multi-year battle with political corruption charges and his conviction last month, has a novel idea for his old friend’s sentence.
Let him teach African American history to students in Harrisburg city schools.
“Put an ankle bracelet on him and let him teach a subject that he knows, do something meaningful rather than crochet in the prison library,” said Coleman, who left the legislature in 2004 after two terms representing Armstrong County. He is drafting a letter to Dauphin County Judge Todd Hoover asking for just that.
DeWeese, 61, whom a jury convicted on five felony counts of theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest involving use of state resources and staff for political campaign work, has famously made it his annual custom to devote a full year to learning a single subject.
African American history was one of those subjects.
Coleman makes the case this way: rather than having taxpayers pony up $30,000 to house DeWeese behind bars, why not let him share his knowledge of history with students in a struggling school district? And maybe throw in a course on political ethics while they’re at it.
“If the goal of the charges against him is to teach the world a less on abuse of power, have that person speak out in a structured course,” said Coleman, who now runs Churchill Strategies, a political consulting firm.
Plus, as anyone who has heard DeWeese give a floor speech or a newspaper interview can attest, he holds his audience’s attention. His literary allusions and vocabulary alone are a learning experience, even for grownups.
Under sentencing guidelines, DeWeese faces a minimum of nine to 16 months in county or state prison. His sentencing is scheduled for April 24, which happens to be the same day as the state primary. The southwestern Pennsylvania lawmaker is once again on the ballot.
Despite the charges and the conviction, he is, at least as of now, running unopposed in his district’s Democratic primary. Then again, his victory may be short-lived. If courts throw out his conviction, he can remain a legislator. But state law requires that upon sentencing, he give up his seat.
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