Portrait: Senate of Pennsylvania
Born in Warren, January 3, 1903, the senator was the son of Clare and Harriett Stanley Berger. He received his education from Kenyon College and Dickinson Law, was admitted to the Potter County Bar, and established practices in Warren and Coudersport. He joined the Jones & Lewis law offices, continuing his practice through the mid-1970s. On February 28, 1932, the senator married Georgianna J. Daniels.
Berger succeeded Bradford state Senator Thomas Wilson, fulfilling a 20-year, five-term upper-house career, 1944 through 1964. Senator Berger served as Republican caucus leader, majority leader (1959-60 and 1963-64), and minority leader (1961-62). He was vice chair of Labor and Industry during his freshman session (1949-1950), chairing the same committee, 1951-1958. Pro tem Harvey Taylor appointed Berger, vice chair of Constitutional Changes in 1955, vice chair of Judiciary General, 1957-1958; Rules, 1959-1960; and vice chair of Finance, 1963-1964.
The senator backed passage of the Veterans Compensation Bill (1945 G.I. Bill of Rights), the multi-state Delaware River Basin cooperative, the 1945 dissolution of the General State Authority (establishing the Municipal Authorities Act); voted for the Woods Gross Receipts Bill and Harvey Taylor’s 1947 (Insurance) “Quiet Act,” proposing the “regulation of insurance rates and (safeguarding) against excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory rates – to meet the insurance needs of everyone.”
Berger supported Taylor’s 1947 “Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act” to curtail “nefarious, unscrupulous, and improper practices” in the retail-auto industry. He cast for passage of the regulatory 1947 Anthracite Strip Mining Law, the enactment of the State Tax Equalization Board (responsible for monitoring fair school district-property tax assessments), the Philadelphia First Class City Home Rule Act (enacted 1955), the 1951 Pennsylvania Public Safety Commission Act, the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951, and the Delaware River Joint Commission Act.
Senator Berger worked in tandem with pro tem Taylor, staving off Governor Leader’s income tax initiative, promoting a three-percent sales tax in its place. While he objected to the Governor’s revenue initiative, he nonetheless supported the chief executive’s Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority Act, the Industrial Development Assistance Act, the Dangerous Drug Act of 1955, a 1957 open records law, and the same session’s anti-eavesdropping (wire-tapping) law.
Among one of his more sensational assignments, in 1951 he received an appointment from Senator Taylor as chair of a bribery investigation committee, concerning charges proffered by Senator John Haluska, indicating Taylor’s alleged acceptance of money for withdrawing opposition to the session’s income tax measure. Berger’s successful defense of the pro tem led to Taylor’s exoneration. Senator Berger retired from the upper house to become the 1967 director of the Legislative Reference Bureau under the Shafer Administration.
An active member of numerous fraternal and civic clubs, Berger belonged to the Eulalia Masonic Lodge 342 F&AM, the Coudersport Scottish Rite Bodies, and served as commander in chief of the Coudersport Consistory. He was coroneted an honorary member of the Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, in 1955.
The Honorable James Stanley Berger passed away on April 18, 1984, at the age of 81. Governor Scranton recalls Senator Berger as “close to the vest” but “absolutely honest” and “unassuming.”
The Potter Enterprise (Coudersport), April 25, 1984; Interview, Governor William Warren Scranton, 2005.