WELL, WELL, WELL, Bigfoot is joining the race.

I mean my 2007 Race to Reform, a contest between the state House and Senate to see which cleans up the Legislature - and, in a larger sense, Pennsylvania politics - quicker.

As we end the first quarter of the year and start the fourth month of the race, a lot is done, a lot remains and the Senate holds the lead.

It's even banning an abuse the House embraces (more on that later).

House Speaker Denny O'Brien tells me, "I don't see myself in a race with anybody," which sounds like a track coach with a losing record saying meets aren't about wins and losses.

In fairness, the House is making progress. But the big news is the new contestant.

Gov. Ed stomped onto the course last week with broad proposals that, however unlikely their chances, would be the equivalent of performing exorcisms on the state's bedeviled body politic.

In a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon speech, he called for an end to gerrymandering (the devil in the details of Pa. politics), limiting campaign contributions (as only an incumbent who can't run again would do), ending the election of state judges, imposing term limits on lawmakers and studying cutting the size of the Legislature.

Any one of these could chase out multiple demons; together, they'd bring the state democracy.

You can therefore go ahead and bet the ranch they ain't gonna happen. At least not now, or without some huge groundswell such as arose from the infamous '05 pay grab.

Having witnessed that (and so much more), I'm equal parts hopeful and skeptical. OK, more parts skeptical.

None of the ideas is new. Career pol Rendell never really pushed any in the past. Question is, how hard does he push now?

Even legislative reform leaders don't see his bigger items flying.

"They're not issues my constituents are expressing any concern to me about," says Delaware County Republican and Senate boss Dominic Pileggi. And O'Brien, asked about proposals to cut the Legislature and limit terms, says, "I don't know that I'm for them."

Both say reforms to date - opening the legislative process, ending some perks, making lawmakers' spending visible - takes the heat off.

"If we are productive," says Pileggi, "I do think there will be less pressure for the more radical reforms."

"I think the fervor will go away," says O'Brien.

We'll see.

Reforms to date are significant; overdue, but worthwhile.

New House rules stripping leaders of total control and putting lawmakers' spending online (starting next month) are positive steps. So are Senate moves ending secret bonus pay and offering $75 million in legislative surplus for tax relief.

And both chambers nixed extravagant vehicle leases and pledged no more late-night sessions - though this later might only mean public daylight muggings as opposed to muggings after dark.

Lots more can be done: require receipts for expenses, end sine die session voting, pass a right to know law and limit campaign financing. And the bigger changes should be pursued.

But for now the Senate holds the reform race lead for acting first and fast, and for another reason: It plans to ban PSAs, "public service" announcements that are really free radio and TV ads for incumbents.

I've called for banning such ads, including by governors, in election years. Incumbents, mostly in the House, spent $6 million-plus of your money on PSAs last election cycle.

The House recently voted overwhelmingly to keep PSAs and the abuse and waste they represent. That ain't reform.

And neither is just calling for reform.

The governor's far-reaching proposals, some of which entail amending the state constitution, require extraordinary effort to enact.

Rendell faces pressing problems such as SEPTA and highway funding; passing his massive health-care plan and waging an ugly budget battle.

My fear is his Bigfoot reforms end up like Bigfoot - briefly seen in a clearing in the woods then vanishing into the forest. *

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

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