- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 14, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey has long been a reliable bean counter for his Senate colleagues. Perhaps that’s why they put him in charge of the jelly beans.

When leaders doled out new seat assignments on the Senate floor, Toomey scored the coveted “candy desk.”

In accordance with tradition, the occupier of the desk closest to one highly trafficked chamber entrance fills the drawer with confections from back home.

Toomey’s takeover means Jelly Belly candies will no longer flow from the desk drawer as they did when Mark Kirk, R-Ill., took a turn as candy czar. Also disappearing are Illinois-made Snickers bars, Lemonheads, gummy bears and Hubba Bubba bubblegum.

Instead, Toomey is stocking up on Pennsylvania Hershey bars, Hot Tamales, Twizzlers and Three Musketeers.

Oh, and don’t be surprised if you hear rumors of Toomey giving Kisses to policy rivals across the aisle. They’ll be the Hershey variety, of course.

The desk is on the Republican side of the aisle, but any senator with a sweet tooth is welcome to stop by for a sugar fix.

Still, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., noted that the Democrats have their own candy desk that lawmakers chip in to stock. Sweet-toothed senators brought in candy from their home states or gave money to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who would make bulk purchases.

If Democrats seem more bitter than usual, Rockefeller’s recent retirement as senator and candy monger could be to blame.

“The candy desk duty is ‘Mounds’ of responsibility,” Toomey said. “I campaigned for this assignment on the platform of life, liberty and the pursuit of Peeps, and hope Pennsylvania’s treats will sweeten the bitter partisan atmosphere,” he wrote.

The candy desk has been a Senate tradition since 1965 when Sen. George Murphy, R-Calif., began keeping a supply of candy in his desk for colleagues. He was defeated for re-election in 1970, but his tradition continued. Every senator occupying the desk since Murphy has helped sweeten the Senate.

Toomey is the second Pennsylvania senator to occupy the desk. Former Sen. Rick Santorum also was a prolific candy distributor.

The treats are provided by candy makers in senators’ home states. Ethics rules prevent lawmakers from accepting more than $100 worth of gifts from any giver in a single year, but there are exceptions for consumables of minimal value that are produced in the lawmaker’s home state and available to office visitors.

Casey said he’s looking forward to treats from his home state being available on the Senate floor - even if it means he’ll have to cross the aisle to get to them. He couldn’t name a favorite candy, though.

“As long as (Toomey) keeps Pennsylvania candy in there, I’ll be happy,” Casey said.

The Hershey Co. and other Keystone State treat makers intend to make sure the well never runs dry.

“Our goal is to keep the candy desk full at all times, and we will provide as much candy as necessary to keep the senators happy,” said Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman.

Pennsylvania’s 210 candy makers employ more than 10,000 people, according to the National Confectioners Association.

“They’re proud to show what their workforces produce,” said association spokeswoman Susan Smith.

“Small pieces of candy - little bites - might just get senators through a tense day because they bring a little bit of happiness,” she said. “Maybe it’ll even help with a little bit of compromise.”





Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

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