Looking up on Monday afternoon, I marveled at the downright majesty of the brightly painted ceiling in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives chamber. Symbols of democracy and honor filled my mind with humble visions of a better day through representative democracy.
Then the devil cloud exploded into my line of sight.
State Rep. Kevin Haggerty, my state rep from the 112th legislative district, hovered above me like an angel of evil. Sneering, he stood looming like a keeper at the gates of Hell. I was cornered in Haggerty’s Inferno.
But I do well under pressure.
Despite our well-publicized antagonism for each other, I rose like a seasoned diplomat, extending my hand to my unworthy opponent. Representing the fight for good government, I had won. Haggerty had lost. Come next year, Haggerty is out on his ear after losing a hot May 20 primary election to keep his seat.
Looking up from my chair at the rear of the opulent chamber, I briefly thought that maybe he was big enough to approach me and agree that state Rep. Frank Farina, the best man, had won fair and square, that we had all battled in the hardcore arena of public opinion and Haggerty had eventually fallen to defeat.
Bob Mellow is Mother Teresa, too.
I extended my hand to Haggerty because the gesture was the right thing to do. After all, we were surrounded by hundreds of Haggerty’s colleagues, a platoon of high school students in attendance to be honored and others there as guests of their hometown state representative.
Although Haggerty is currently my rep, Farina takes over in the expanded 112th after hammering Haggerty in the primary. So when I ran into Farina by the escalator and he asked me if I wanted to come into the chamber, I graciously accepted. I filled out a form, offered identification and took a seat right down the aisle from the newly-crowned Miss Pennsylvania. A big shot at the front of the room even introduced us as guests. When he called my name, I rose and raised my hands above my head like a champion prizefighter at a Friday night main event in the old Town Hall in Scranton.
Haggerty looked at my extended palm and said, “I’m not shaking your hand.”
I took my seat.
I said nothing.
Looking up, I watched Haggerty’s face contort as his brain kicked into passing gear but stalled and misfired over and over again. In a menacing voice, he accused me in a rambling rant of somehow conspiring with Farina in some twisted attempt to beat him. Haggerty went on like a runaway train, railing about me being in the chamber as a member of the press.
People must have heard his irrational accusations.
People must have seen his jerky body language and the full moon look in his eyes.
“You’re crazy,” he sputtered, as spit formed at the sides of his mouth. “And you know it.”
I looked up and smiled. I hadn’t said a word. Like I advise listeners to my show, I listened, crazy like a fox.
But then I had enough. Nodding to the two hulking security officers in plain clothes sitting nearby at the door, I said in the soft voice of a hostage negotiator, “Kevin, how would you like if I asked those Capitol police officers if they would help get you away from me because you’re harassing me?”
Haggerty looked possessed. Among the angels I thought I saw frowning in the fresco ceiling paintings, I imagined Father Karas from “The Exorcist” telling Haggerty that the power of Christ compels him. Haggerty needed all the help he could get but Haggerty was on his own. Like the poor devil-inhabited child in the Jason Miller movie, Haggerty was spitting up pea soup.
Turning to walk to his seat at the front of the chamber, Haggerty mumbled, made scary demon faces and pointed a twisted finger at me.
But Haggerty’s reign of madness wasn’t over.
The unraveled rep was making his way to Farina, who sat preparing to vote and do the job that taxpayers pay him to do. I felt bad that I couldn’t warn him. But Farina has previously dealt with a personal Haggerty outburst on the House floor so I knew he was up to the challenge.
I watched as Haggerty loomed over Farina as he had loomed over me. Farina, like me, sat politely and listened to a lost man out of control, a pathologically pathetic example of why people hate government and don’t trust politicians. Then, in more ways than one, Haggerty was exhausted, disappearing into the crowd of legislators charged with doing the people’s business.
When the House broke for a recess, Farina passed me on the way out.
“He attacked me,” Farina said wide-eyed.
“Me too,” I responded with a grin.
Like a stubborn kidney stone, a great moment in Pennsylvania House of Representatives history had just passed.