This spring’s legislative session was filled with a bunch of lows from Pennsylvania House Republicans and billionaire-funded allies. From the former Speaker of Pennsylvania touting herd immunity in children as a reason to reopen faster, to the head of the Commonwealth Partners putting a menstrual product on his face to mock mask-wearing, there was no shortage of lows to point to.
Luckily for readers of PA Spotlight, you don’t have to go digging to find out who is the worst of Harrisburg. We’ve helped compile a list so you don’t have to. Below are the Top 10 lowlights of the legislative session this spring:
- State Representative Andrew Lewis became the latest Pennsylvania House Republican to nationally embarrass himself. What’s most disgraceful is he did it by putting his immunocompromised colleagues in real danger. Rep. Lewis failed to disclose to his positive test for coronavirus leading to many ethical questions leading to demands for an investigation by the Attorney General. In a now viral clip, State Representative Brian Sims unleashed on the selfishness of Rep. Lewis’s actions.
- Where to even begin with disgraced former Speaker Mike Turzai? The entirety of his behavior during 2020 has been deeply troubling. From starting off the year saying he was focused on his private-sector career in announcing his retirement, he demonstrated just that. Over the course of the last few months, Speaker Turzai man-splained that it was only elderly and immunocompromised people who were dying when pushing for reopening; he touted “herd immunity” amongst children as a reason to reopen; oversaw a cover-up in his caucus not informing his Democratic colleagues they may have been exposed to the coronavirus; and was famously run out of town by a group of Black lawmakers demanding action on long-stalled police brutality reforms. Just days after his disgraceful exit, he made clear who he was working for all along and confirmed his position with the fracking industry at the People’ Natural Gas Company.
- The Commonwealth Foundation and Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs spent their spring funneling money from foundations connected to the Trump Administration Secretary Betsy DeVos through their various allied front groups. As previously mentioned here on PA Spotlight, hundreds of thousands of dollars went to legislators pushing for an unsafe reopening. What was most surprising though is their underlining of the ReOpen PA rallies in April, during the most trying months of the pandemic. The Commonwealth Foundation was caught by PA Spotlight using their office as a safe space for rally speakers. Not only did we expose this effort, they then went on to lie about it to the Penn Capital-Star. Spokesperson Gina Diorio first claimed they were just opening up for attendees to use the restroom and then had to clarify she wasn’t speaking for the Commonwealth Foundation, but the Commonwealth Partners Chamber, who share offices, dropping any resemblance of independence between the two front groups.
- CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber and former CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation Matt Brouillette deeply embarrassed himself and the organizations he represents by donning a maxi pad on his face to mock the lack of PPE for frontline workers.
The picture blew up in his face after being widely circulated to the point where state representatives we’re tweeting it back at him. Throughout the entire shutdown, Brouillette pushed conspiracy theories about the total number of deaths, gave hundreds of thousands to members of the state legislature opening up before science said it was safe, and routinely embarrassed himself on social media. That’s why Brouillette remains a lowlight in Harrisburg and we were personally glad to have played a hand in running him off Twitter.
- After an embarrassing debut in Pennsylvania where their newly-hired staff tipped off PA Spotlight unintentionally about their arrival, the out-of-state and billionaire-funded Freedom Foundation spent the shutdown harassing Pennsylvania union members with texts, radio ads, and threats to show up at their house despite the COVID-19 shutdown. All this while union members were frontline heroes risking their own lives for the safety of all of us. It’s not a surprise to see them leading the efforts in their state of Washington against masks and for reopening. They are a truly despicable addition to the collection of front groups and State Policy Network affiliates in Pennsylvania.
- How could a list of lowlights in Harrisburg be complete without mention of noted white supremacist, COVID-19 denialist, and homophobe State Representative Daryl Metcalf? Rep. Metcalf is a well-known disgrace to Pennsylvania, but his latest actions have raised even more ire. He has spent the better part of the shutdown sending off one problematic press release after another. One of his latest on the life-saving practices of wearing a mask during the pandemic really stood out. Somehow Rep. Metcalf managed to combine fear of chemical warfare and extremist anti-choice rhetoric with his insistence on putting others in danger by not wearing a mask.
- State Representative Cris Dush was another notoriously outspoken and offensive legislator making the case to reopen before it was safe. Rep. Dush famously compared Governor Tom Wolf’s administration to nazis. He was later forced to the House floor to apologize. It should be no surprise Rep. Dush is also bankrolled by the previously mentioned and menstrual product enthusiast Matt Brouillette. Brouillette’s collection of front groups spent nearly $300,000 on Rep. Dush’s state senate campaign. In fact, they largely bankrolled the effort including in-kind printing and consulting expenditures, as well as direct donations. Rumor has it that Brouillette is spending so heavily to get back at State Senator Joe Scarnati in revenge for his opposition to his own failed state senatorial campaign.
- State Representative Russ Diamond spent the early part of the coronavirus shutdown arguing with people on Twitter, pushing legislation to open up businesses before it was safe, and defying COVID-19 safety protocols. But that’s not the worst part. Despite having to quarantine himself, he still couldn’t help arguing with people on Twitter. While that is certainly lowlight and par for the course for Harrisburg Republicans, Rep. Diamond wouldn’t have made this list if not for the danger he specifically put immigrants in at the meat processing Bell & Evans which resides in his district. Meat processing plants have become incredibly dangerous, and Rep. Diamond has made it worse.
- Many House Republicans thought they were clever in pushing for single industries to reopen before, but what they really did was tell on themselves. They were pushing businesses they owned and would profit from reopening. A few notable entries into this mess of conflict of interest was State Representative Todd Polinchok. Before serving as a state representative, he was a former President of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors and currently runs a real estate business. It’s no surprise he was the lead sponsor of legislation to reopen the industry before it was safe.
- In another instance of House Republicans putting their own bottom line above their constituents’ lives, State Representative Barbara Gleim led the efforts to force local government’s unsafe reopening in direct defiance of Governor Tom Wolf. Rep. Gleim sent multiple emails to county officials demanding as such, and she was even caught by the press doing so. Many speculated it was because of her familial ties to the construction industry. Don’t these people know their statement of financial interests are public and we can see when they are lining their own wallets?
Sadly, this list is only 10 of many, many lowlights from Harrisburg already in 2020. Please keep checking PA Spotlight for updates. If you appreciate our efforts in exposing and bringing accountability to these individuals and organizations, please consider making a donation to PA Spotlight.