HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Pennsylvania lawmaker convicted of corruption said Wednesday he will follow tradition and step down from the House of Representatives when he is sentenced, but a colleague said Rep. Bill DeWeese should resign immediately.
DeWeese, a long-time Democratic leader who has served in the House for 35 years, said that he intended to ask the courts to postpone his sentencing so he could run a re-election campaign.
"The state constitution requires that, upon sentencing, I would relinquish my seat and I certainly will behave in this honored chamber, as I always have," DeWeese told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
But in remarks on the House floor later in the day, Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, said DeWeese should abandon any re-election effort.
"He's a felon and he has to go," Josephs said.
A Dauphin County jury convicted DeWeese on Monday of five of the six counts against him – three counts of theft and one count each of conspiracy and conflict of interest. The charges stemmed from allegations that he used legislative employees and other public resources for political campaign work.
DeWeese is currently scheduled to be sentenced on April 24 – primary election day. He said he plans to file his nomination petitions by Tuesday's deadline and to seek a postponement of the proceeding until after the Nov. 6 general election so he can remain in the Legislature and campaign for re-election.
The lawmaker from Greene County in southwestern Pennsylvania, who is known for his florid style of public speaking, had said previously that he intended to retain his seat.
"If I were to exit the stage in April, having been re-nominated and benefitting from my name being on the November ballot, I would certainly hope that the appropriate (courts) would give prompt and fair hearing to our appeals and that, if and when vindicated, I could return to the hall of the House," he said.
Josephs called DeWeese's conduct "a disgrace to himself and to the body he has served."
DeWeese, 61, said it was premature to speculate about whether he will be forced to step down in April but that he would do so without "any personal passions or pyrotechnics on the floor of the House of Representatives, which I love with all my heart."
Language in the state constitution has been interpreted to bar felons from serving in public office. Under House rules, if DeWeese does not resign by the time he is sentenced, a resolution calling for his expulsion will be drafted and put to a vote.
DeWeese was the only sitting lawmaker to stand trial in a 5-year-old investigation by the state attorney general's office. It resulted in the arrests of 25 people connected to the House Republican and Democratic caucuses.
Twenty-one defendants have been convicted or pleaded guilty. Two were acquitted, charges against another were dropped and one is awaiting trial.