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ELECTION 2018: Fear & Loathing In Pennsyltucky

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EDITOR’S NOTE: A much shorter version of this story ran in the August issue of Philadelphia magazine. We are posting the complete unabridged version on the heels of Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s re-election.

mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA December 5th, 2017, started out as just another low and mildly contemptible day in Harrisburg, the foul rag and bone shop of Keystone State governance. But by mid-morning, it had become a day that will live in infamy. In the bowels of the state capital building, in the midst of an undoubtedly fascinating debate about landlocked easements by the State Government Committee, something both unforgivable and endlessly, albeit unintentionally, hilarious happened: Representative Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery County), in what would instantaneously prove a futile effort to stave off interruption and hold the floor long enough to finish his sentence, briefly touches the arm of the man seated next to him, Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County), the committee’s glowering authoritarian chairman. Although the man-on-man physical contact lasted less than one second (00.69 seconds, to be exact) it sends Metcalfe into a downward spiral of full-blown homosexual panic, and triggers the following cringe-inducing pronouncement:

“Look, I’m a heterosexual. I have a wife, I love my wife. I don’t like men, as you might.  But stop touching me all the time. It’s like, keep your hands to yourself. Like, if you want to touch somebody, you have people on your side of the aisle that might like it. I don’t.”

There are gasps of disbelief and nervous laughter as everyone looks around to make sure they hadn’t inadvertently slipped down a wormhole in the time/space continuum and transported back to their 5th grade cafeteria lunch line. The woman in a blue dress sitting next to Bradford, Kim Hileman, then the Executive Director of the committee, covers her face with her hands and looks away as if averting her eyes from a particularly grisly crime scene. But upon closer inspection — you can watch it on youtube — she is trying to avoid laughing in the chairman’s face.

Soon dubbed Touchy-Feelygate by the smirking statehouse press corps, it became the tap on the shoulder heard round the world — literally. The story was headline news as far away as the UK and Australia, and soon became fodder for late-night talk show monologues. Most notably actor Neil Patrick Harris, who is openly gay, found it necessary to explain to America that homosexuality is not contagious. “You don’t turn gay if a gay person touches you, we’re not zombies,” he said two nights later when he was guest-hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live.

For the last 20 years, Metcalfe has been holding up the far right ‘God, guts and guns’ end of the political spectrum in Harrisburg, a theocratic winter soldier doggedly fighting for the beleaguered armies of White Male Grievance in the muddiest trenches of the culture wars, a throat-slashing hyper-partisan flamethrower railing against the lies of the “fake news media,” sounding false alarms about phantom voter fraud, invasive hordes of  “illegal aliens” and libtard crusades to confiscate guns and make everyone get gay-married. On Facebook, he puts quotation marks around the word “students” when referring to the kids of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, suggesting they are in actuality crisis actors not tender-aged gun-massacre-survivors-turned-activists.

In the course of 10 terms in office, Metcalfe has become an adept practitioner of the dark arts parliamentary fuckery, parsimony and vengeance. He has successfully opposed any law that affords LGBT people even the most basic civil rights protections from housing and employer discrimination for fear it will turn the Keystone state into a Sodom and Gomorrah of gay coal miners fracking all night and partying every day. He thinks mass transit is nothing more than a taxpayer-funded people-mover for welfare recipients. He’s the John Coltrane of racist dog whistlers. He once invited a white supremacist to testify at an English-Only bill hearing, much to the delight of the Daily Stormer web site, which, before it was shut down in the wake of Charlottesville, was like the online neo-Nazi Bible. In 2008, he was the recipient in absentia a ‘Christian Soldier’ award from a Ku Klux Klan affiliate called Christian Nation. Let the record show that Metcalfe publicly renounced the award and condemned Christian Nation, but if you blow the white power dog whistle, don’t act so surprised when people in white hoods and swastikas start showing up.

Since 2010, Metcalfe has been chairman of the all-powerful yet altogether dysfunctional House State Government Committee, where all good Democratically-sponsored — which is to say Philly-friendly — legislation goes to die. That is not just some West Philly anarcho-leftist exaggeration, it is a statement of objective fact, and Metcalfe proudly acknowledges as much. “When they [Democrats] oppose us on my committee, they lose every vote and we win every vote! I block all substantive Democrat legislation sent to my committee and advance good Republican legislation!” Metcalfe wrote in a Facebook rant back in April. “Liberals continue their lying attacks in an attempt to stop my work in defense of taxpayers and our liberty!”

Were he not chair of the State Gov, it would be easy to dismiss Metcalfe as just another extreme right wing wackadoo — the troll prince of the menthol trailer parks and the MAGA-loidal hinterlands of western Pennsyltucky. After all, as a state representative, Metcalfe lords over a relatively paltry fiefdom of roughly 122,000 people that reside Pennsylvania’s 12th legislative district, a bucolic patchwork of farms and suburbs just north of Pittsburgh. He’s their problem. However, as chairman of the all-powerful State Government Committee, Metcalfe lords over all 12.8 million Pennsylvanians — and given that Pennsylvania was one of three swing states that made Donald Trump’s electoral college victory possible, Daryl Metcalfe is America’s problem. Which begs the questions: Who the hell is this guy and what is he on? What makes a man start fires? And how does someone known for such cruel and shallow sideshow antics and astonishingly infantile outbursts keep getting elected? And how do we make it stop?

________________

I came to Harrisburg in search of the answers to those questions and wound up on a manhunt for a fugitive on the run from this story: Daryl Metcalfe. I first reached out to Brooke Haskell, Metcalfe’s communications director, requesting an interview with the law maker in the middle of May. She politely assured me she would would pass my message along to Rep. Metcalfe. Over the next two weeks I follow-up with multiple phone calls followed by a lengthy, heartfelt email about wanting to let Metcalfe tell his tribe’s side of the story because we are trying to understand ‘why they hate us’ etc. Brooke wrote back: “Thanks for the follow-up, Jonathan. I will be sure to pass this onto Representative Metcalfe.” Several ‘circling back on the circling back’ follow-up emails went unanswered. I decide to drive out to Harrisburg and doorknock him. For two days I sit in the gallery of the House chamber, leaving voice messages and sending unanswered emails to Brooke saying basically ‘Hey, I’m here, let’s do this!’

Nothing.

Beneath the towering gilded splendor of the state Capitol rotunda is where the rancid sausage-making of the legislature takes place. If the red meat of The Law often smells funny, consider the butchers that brought it to you. The General Assembly is a bicameral body, with a Senate chamber and a House chamber. The Senate is a story for another time, but the House of Representatives is a nary-splendored thing, a joyless, dreary enterprise, peopled with faceless hacks, bullies, crooks, cowards and bad-haired mediocrities in short sleeves and boxy, traveling salesman-blue suits, hailing from sleepy backwater redoubts like Lockhaven and Knobsville, Shickshinny and Hokendauqua, their countenances plastered with the dead-eyed glossy headshot perma-grin of the undead.

There is also a downside.

Harrisburg is the place where good people go to become less so. Power invariably corrupts and almost everybody leaves this town in tears or handcuffs. This is not hyperbole. The PA General assembly — the largest full-time state legislature in the Union —   is ranked the 5th most corrupt in the nation, and 39th for gender diversity by a nationwide quorum of statehouse reporters.This august body includes one member with a restraining order against another member, alleging that, among other things, he’s threatened her with a gun and still he legislates; where both Republican and Democratic caucuses pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars of hush money settlements to staffers alleging sexual harassment with taxpayer money — and somehow this is perfectly legal. Bi-partisanship? We haven’t had that spirit here since 2012 when Republican Speaker of the House John Purzel and shared a prison cell at Camp Hill with Democratic Speaker of the House Bill DeWeese.

Ensconced in the plush velveteen perch of the visitor’s gallery, I sit through hours of murmured monotone proclamations of commendation for an endless parade of this and that high school state champion basketball/volleyball/soccer/pingpong team and sundry cheerleading squads, 4-H clubs and something called The Center For Dairy Excellence. Then recess, rinse and repeat. I look down on Metcalfe shooting the shit with fellow lawmakers, his mule grey brush cut sticks out like a stiff broom in a closet full of wet mops. Nobody touches his stuff. Momentarily enraptured by the vast, vaulted ceiling majesty of the House Chamber, I wonder if he even knows this is Harvey Milk Day. Then I think about Dan White. Then I wonder if he’s strapped.

Requests to speak with the House Republican leadership about Metcalfe are gently rebuffed, and attempts to buttonhole rank and file GOP lawmakers from his neck of the woods also go nowhere. I couldn’t get a single Republican lawmaker to say nice things about Metcalfe on the record. It was almost as if, as Martin Sheen says of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now,  even the jungle wanted him dead. The Democrats, on the other hand, seem utterly exasperated by Metcalfe and happy to talk to anyone who might be able to put a few dents his armor.

Sitting around the conference table in the stately, darkwood-paneled Capitol office of the Democratic Minority Leader of the House, Frank Dermody shows me the impressive list of 88 Democratically-sponsored bills that Metcalfe has deep-sixed in the past year. It is estimated that in the eight years that Metcalfe has chaired the State Gov committee, he’s shanked hundreds of Dem bills. Dermody has asked House Speaker Mike Turzai to re-introduce the 88 bills to any committee that Daryl Metcalfe isn’t a part of. That was back in April, to date the Republican leadership has made no effort to honor Dermody’s request.

In fairness, Dermody admits that when the Dems were in the majority, they torpedoed their fair share of Republican bills, but never with such scorched-earth ruthlessness and undisguised contempt for his colleagues across the aisle. He doesn’t treat the Democratic members well at all, he cuts them off, doesn’t let them speak,” said Dermody. “Sometimes when they insist on speaking, which is their right, they are representing their constituency, he calls security.”

There is a scene in the movie Stripes, the 1981 G.I. buddy comedy starring Bill Murray, that gets to the heart of Daryl Metcalfe’s darkness, and characterizes his relationship with Philly lawmakers. After a long, hard day of boot camp, the members of Murray’s platoon — Ox, Cruiser, Elmo, Uncle Hulka et al — sit around the barracks sharing their back stories. A high-strung crazy-eyed man named Francis, he of the homicidal Manson glare and Moe Howard haircut, takes the floor:

“The name’s Francis Soyer, but everybody calls me Psycho. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I’ll kill ya…And I don’t like nobody touching my stuff. So just keep your meat-hooks off. If I catch any of you guys in my stuff, I’ll kill ya. Also, I don’t like nobody touching me. Now, any of you homos touch me, and I’ll kill ya.”

There are many anecdotes that reveal the measure of the sheer depths of Metcalfe’s hyper-partisan red-meat-in-a-can assholery, but the time he went nuclear on a fellow Republican takes the cake. After getting into a very minor legislative tussle with moderate Republican Kate Harper (R- Montgomery County), who moonlights as a municipal solicitor, Metcalfe turned around and crafted a bill that would make it illegal for a municipal solicitor to serve in the state legislature, and smuggled it onto the House floor for a vote before anyone in the State Government Committee could even get a look at it. Even though the bill eventually went nowhere, the message was sent: Any of you homos touches my stuff, and I’ll kill ya.

_____________

Six months after Touchy-Feelygate, Rep. Bradford still seems taken aback by the scope of the public reaction to Metcalfe’s outburst. “You never in a million years think something you do will could go viral,” he tells me when we meet in his Capitol office. “I’m asleep, but my cell phone is next to my bed, and I keep hearing ting ting ting ting, and there’s hundreds of people who have no interest in politics, but are watching Jimmy Kimmel and blowing up my phone! The former borough council president in Norristown – he’s gay – calls me. He’s like, ‘Neil Patrick Harris is giving you props! This is the coolest thing! You’re going to be huge in the gay community!’ Dude, I have an eleven-year-old son. This is fucking hell. This is not cool. My son’s like, ‘Dad, does he get fired for that?’ I’m like, ‘No. That’s not the way it works’.”

When Rep. Bradford talks about Metcalfe he is diplomatic and gentlemanly to a fault, but he has that ‘Help! I’m being held captive by a psychopath, call the police!’ look in his big, kind eyes.

Two other Philadelphia lawmakers were present that fateful day: Rep. Chris Raab, who reps Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy, and South Philly’s Brian Sims, the only openly gay lawmaker in Harrisburg, which, it should go without saying, should not be construed as meaning he is the only gay lawmaker in Harrisburg. Far from it, according to reliable sources and actuarial tables. “When Metcalfe said ‘maybe some people on your side of the aisle like to be touched’ he was looking right at Brian Sims,” says Rep. Raab, during a sitdown with a reporter in the cozy confines of his Capitol office. “And Brian and I looked at each other like, ‘Oh man that’s fucked up!’ So I said, fairly loudly, ‘You know what? I’m a heterosexual too, and I love touching men.’ And we started hugging each other.”

Back in April, Metcalfe and Raab all but came to blows over an anti-gerrymandering bill that Metcalfe had gutted and rendered toothless and moved out of committee and onto the floor for a vote without telling any of the other committee members. Raab was livid. “I looked at Chairman Metcalfe and I said, ‘Wow, this is a real low, even for you. I didn’t know that was possible’,” Raab says. “So I was baiting him. I admit it. I was telling him what I thought. I have no respect for him. And I said it calmly, and I said it to his face. He said, um, ‘Well, this would be a very different conversation on the street.’ And I muttered to myself, ‘Fucking disgusting.’ And I went over to Chairmen Bradford and I said, ‘This guy just threatened me.’ Now, if it were almost anyone else, I would’ve let it go, but because of his white supremacist leanings, and the rumors that he carries a firearm to work, as a black progressive Democrat who’s had bad interactions with him before, I took his choice to end our exchange with a threat seriously.” (Raab is no stranger to gun violence. While campaigning in his district on April 24th, 2016, Raab witnessed a 21-year-old man murdered in cold blood, literally seconds after speaking with him about volunteering for the campaign.) Raab filed a formal complaint against Metcalfe with the head of House Security, who beefed up security at committee meetings.

In late April, Metcalfe responded with a rant on Facebook in which — among other things cruel and petty and bizarre — he called Raab “[a]nother lying Philadelphia Liberal Democrat Legislator” and and called Sims “a lying homosexual” under the cloud of an ethics investigation the smart money says was initiated by Metcalfe, himself no stranger to ethics investigations. Sims has been going mano a mano with Metcalfe almost since the first day he showed up in Harrisburg in 2013 and found himself assigned the House Government Committee, much like his predecessor, Babette Josephs. Metcalfe had delighted in tormenting Josephs by asking her to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of every meeting. Objecting to the line “under God,” Josephs would always refuse, he even did it to her on her last day in office.

When Sims showed up for his first State Government Committee meeting, Metcalfe asked him to recite the Pledge. When he proceeded to recite the Pledge in Spanish — to needle the architect of Pennsylvania’s failed English Only bill — Metcalfe tried to wrestle the mic from Sims, a former Bloomsburg State defensive end, and started shouting the Pledge in English. Ever since, Brian Sims, the son of two retired Army Lieutenant Colonels, has made a point of standing within earshot of Metcalfe and saying the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish as loud as he can at the beginning of every State Government Committee meeting.

_________

The the floor-to-ceiling glass wall that fronts Sims’ Harrisburg office is affixed with a series of oversized Post-It notes, each one is emblazoned in magic marker with a few words from Metcalfe’s stop-touching-me-I’m-not-gay rant. Roughly once a month, the activist ladies of the Harrisburg branch of Tuesdays With Toomey don the eerie blood-red robes and whites bonnets from The Handmaid’s Tale and haunt the offices of anti-Choice lawmakers while carrying signs that say THIS IS NOT NORMAL. One day they stood outside of Metcalfe’s office holding up the placards that spell out the rant, chanting it over and over until Metcalfe called security. Sims let’s them stow their robes in the closet in his office. “I may be out of the closet, but those robes aren’t,” he jokes cringey-funny style, gesturing to closet door behind his desk.

Everyone agrees the bad blood between Sims and Metcalfe was first spilled in June of 2013 when Sims attempted to address the House and commemorate the Supreme Court’s freshly-rendered marriage equality rulings. There is rule called unanimous consent that allows members to address the House at the end of every session on any topic they see fit — usually they acknowledge their wife on their anniversary or praise the local Kiwanis Club or high school basketball champions. Sims walked up to the Speaker’s lectern and asked for and received permission to acknowledge the same-sex marriage decision.

“So I went back to my seat and waited for him to call on me,” says Sims. “When he did I stood up and the Majority Leader said ‘For what purpose does the gentleman from Philadelphia rise? I said, ‘Today, I rise to commemorate the Supreme Court’s decision’ and click! My mic went dead. And I thought I broke it. Really quickly one of my other colleagues popped up. ‘For what purpose does the gentleman rise?’ ‘I rise to commemorate the Supreme Court—’ click!, and then his mic went dead. And then a third person stood up and she said, ‘I rise to recogn—’ and click! her mic went dead. And everyone knew what was happening. There’s only one master kill switch on the floor, and the Speaker controls it. The guy who just gave me permission to speak. And so, there was this kind of melee, everyone going back and forth, it was like Parliament, wigs and shoes flying.”

It was then, after much sturm und drang and heated parsing of the House rules, that Sims learned that if a fellow lawmaker objects to you speaking on this or that topic, which he or she can do anonymously, not only do you not get to speak, you don’t get to find out who objected or why. But it was no great mystery who had objected and soon all eyes were on Metcalfe. “He looked up at me and said, ‘You want a name? It was me, I did it!’ and then he stormed out the back of the room.” Metcalfe would later tell a reporter from NPR that he used a procedural maneuver to shut down Sims’ speech because he was “in open rebellion of God’s law.” Now, some members of the statehouse press corps would have you believe there is an equivalency between the actions of Metcalfe and Sims, that both are, in equal measure, a stain on the dignity of the institution, but that’s like saying both sides killed people during World War II.

The next day I run into Rep. Bradford in one of the Capitol elevators. “Did you ever get an interview with Daryl?” he asks.

No dice, I say.

“I told him I spoke with you. And he asked me if you were fair,” Bradford says.

What did you tell him?

“‘He seems fair’.”

____________

A few days later, I’m tear-assing across Pennsyltucky in the middle of the night, over the mountains, through the woods, and across the fruited plain of the Allegheny Plateau. To pass the time, I mull over the bare-bones public facts of Metcalfe’s life I’ve assembled. Scant as they may be, they are as follows: born in Syracuse in 1962, he graduated from Charles W. Baker High School in Baldwinsville, New York. He attended  Kansas State University while serving in the Army at nearby  Fort Riley. Upon graduation, he was stationed in Germany where he worked as an air defense radar systems repairman. It was there that the future immigration hawk met his wife Elke, a German national. In 1989, he settled into civilian life in Butler County where he took a job as a field technician for DuPont Diagnostics, before getting elected to the House of Representatives in 1998. Along the way, Elke became a naturalized citizen.

He currently resides in Cranberry Township. He is a Reformed Baptist. He has an adult daughter named Lisa and, according to published reports, it was hearing his granddaughter’s sonogram that inspired him to push a bill that would criminalize abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. He is a member of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a real-deal vast right wing conspiracy of corporate lobbyists who ghost write state-level legislation and the Republican lawmakers that back door it into law. He’s weathered an ethics investigation into his alleged misuse of taxpayer-funded per diems, as well as darker rumors repeatedly whispered into the ears of visiting reporters to Harrisburg, but nothing has stuck. He routinely trigger ethics investigations against his enemies in the House. He’s been re-elected 10 times. He’s run unopposed in the 2004, 2006 and 2012 general elections. In fact, the only time he ever came close to losing was the 2014 primary when Gordon Marburger came within 544 votes of beating him as a write-in candidate after Metcalfe got the state Supreme Court to kick him off the ballot on a misfiled paperwork technicality.

He is notorious for waging jihad on challengers to his throne, Democrat or Republican. I have it on good authority that he has destroyed the budding political careers of at least five Butler County Republicans who ran against him or threatened to by revealing, or threatening to reveal, skeletons in their closets. He refuses to debate his opponents. He’s been known to get into shouting matches with constituents he runs into at the polls or while knocking on doors. He voted against a state pension increase then took it anyway when it passed. He once called a veterans group “traitors” for believing that climate change is real. His desktop is usually empty, save for a copy of the King James Bible. He claims to be a superfan of Jesus, but legislates according to the punishing dictates of the Book of Leviticus instead of the all-you-need-is-love gospels of the New Testament. For reasons unclear he refuses to meet with anyone one on one. He really likes Burger King.

At the Blue Mountain rest stop I gas up while pecking out out an email to Brooke on my phone:

I will be on the ground in Butler County tomorrow from 9 AM to 6 PM talking to voters. Hoping Rep. Metcalfe can find some time to talk to me.

I cross the Butler County line as the sun rises over the Allegheny mountains to the east. It looks more or less like every other county I’ve driven through on the way here: one minute you’re orbiting the Third Mall from the Sun, five minutes later you are driving through a Johnny Cash song. The House isn’t in session, so I’m assuming Metcalfe’s here somewhere. I drive by his house in Cranberry Township just to eyeball it and maybe get lucky on the off chance that he’s outside mowing his lawn. Turns out he doesn’t have much of a lawn, nor is he mowing it. I stop by Metcalfe’s home office in the Cranberry Township Municipal Center unannounced, hoping for some spectacularly confrontational moment of ambush journalism that ends with Metcalfe running from our cameras with his suit jacket over his head. Instead, all I encounter is some semi-startled office ladies and Brooke Haskell who smiles sweetly and tells me, with a faint hint of pity, she will pass my message on to Rep. Metcalfe.

Metcalfe’s had a notoriously prickly and combative relationship with Cranberry Township supervisors ever since he first got elected back in 1999 and has been slow-walking their requests to secure readily available state funding for a shovel-ready project to expand traffic-choked Freedom Road, the township’s main commercial artery, for years.  “We’ve never had Mr. Metcalfe support for any of the initiatives that we’ve put forth to try to get some of our taxes back from Harrisburg for this road construction, so we don’t even go to him any more — we know it’s a futile attempt,” says John Skorupan, a Cranberry Township Supervisor and, like the other four Supervisors, a Republican. “I’m not sure how well liked he is in Harrisburg with some of the antics he’s pulled. He’s always fighting amongst his fellow representatives. I don’t think there are many people who want to work with him. He’s not working to get money back to his district, that’s for sure.”

“He certainly doesn’t like us,” he adds. “He even stated that he doesn’t represent us because we’re not real Republicans. And he has run [candidates] against us in an attempt to get us voted out of office. ”

Any of you homos touches my stuff, and I’ll kill ya.

_________

As luck would have it, Metcalfe is up for re-election in the fall mid-terms, which many election prognosticators expect will be swamped by a blue Tsunami of anti-Trump outrage. His opponent is a sweet-natured, openly gay, happily-married, bank executive/barbershop quartet singer with a Mr. Clean haircut named Daniel Smith. Connor Lamb, he ain’t. But he is, in a district where the GOP enjoys a two to one registered voter advantage over Democrats, something better: a lifelong Republican in Democrats’ clothing leading an insurgent challenge to Metcalfe’s two-decade death grip on that House seat. I reach out to him and we agree to meet the next morning at the Starbucks on Freedom Road.

“Every time Metcalfe opens his mouth I get donations,” says Smith, who told me to look for a “a fat guy in cargo shorts” when I get to Starbucks. “I’m confident this is the year it could happen. I just have a feeling that this is the year. It’s not just the Blue Wave everyone talks about. He’s like old man Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life. After talking with constituents more and more every day, I am confident this year is different. The political climate in this district is: they’ve had enough.” Instead of fighting Metcalfe on his chosen battlefield, Smith plans to detour culture war issues and make Metcalfe’s refusal to bring back the bacon from Harrisburg to expand Freedom Road the centerpiece of his campaign — Freedom Road Ain’t Free, if you will. He thinks the issue is hot button enough help him clean sweep Democrats and independents and pick off enough Republicans to tip the scales.

Gordon Marburger, the no-nonsense fourth generation alfalfa farmer who nearly beat Metcalfe in 2014, is unconvinced. “Daryl will win 66% to 34% just like always,” says Marburger with a sigh, calling from the air-conditioned cab of his new tractor paid for with fracking royalties. “The time to unseat him is in the primary, a Democrat just can’t win in the 12th. I know I would’ve beaten him back in 2014 if he hadn’t gotten me kicked off the ballot.” Metcalfe played hardball with Marburger, threatening to primary his wife, who is currently the treasurer of Butler County, if he ran. “I don’t hate the man, even though people say I should,” says Marburger. “I don’t even know the man,” nobody seems to. The two men were cordial when they ran into each other at the polls during the spring primary, but Marburger had the last laugh.

Did you vote for him?

“Naw, I voted for myself as a write-in candidate,” he says with a chuckle.

Pat Krebs is the woman that held Metcalfe’s seat from 1991-1998, retiring after a self-imposed limit of four terms. She thinks career politicians corrode democracy. Let the record show Metcalfe is seeking an 11th term, and has gutted the House anti-gerrymandering bill that represents an existential threat to his perpetual grip on power. Krebs also happens to be Daniel Smith’s high school civics teacher, and thinks her former pupil’s campaign just might turn out be a David and Goliath story.

“I think he has a good shot,” she says, proudly. “My district got hijacked by Daryl. It’s full of moderates, I believe he doesn’t truly represent the opinions and feelings of many, many people in the 12th District. I think Daryl has exhausted many in the 12th District with his opinions.”

Twenty years ago, Mr. Metcalfe went to Harrisburg, railing against the dry rot of “career politicians,” and vowing to serve selflessly for a few terms as the kind of “citizen-legislator” the Founding Fathers envisioned before rotating back to the real world.  Ten terms later, he’s still there fighting dirty for another. You see a funny thing happened on the way to the high road: he amassed power and infamy and all the double whoppers and fries taxpayer money can buy. He’s legislated with all the Solomonic wisdom and mercy of Hannibal Lecter, turning the the floor of the House into a theater of cruelty and the State Government Committee into a house of pain and hyper-partisan gridlock he rules from beneath a paper crown and atop a plastic throne of toxic intolerance and giddy indifference to any perspective but his own.

Along the way he’s managed to burn all bridges on both sides of the aisle, cutting himself off from the kind of good faith, bipartisan transactional alliances that make it possible for Freedom Road to stay free of gridlock, and in the process left his rear flank open to a savvy, single-minded insurgent vowing to get done what he is either unwilling or unable to accomplish for his constituency. And for what? After two decades, what has he actually accomplished — and for that matter what have his constituents gained — beyond the enduring assurance that gay people in Pennsylvania can be fired and evicted without recourse by the kind of people that would refuse to make them a wedding cake? After all, as it was written in the New Testament of the Holy Bible he wields like a truncheon against all enemies great and small: What shall it profit a man — or for that matter Butler County — to gain the whole world but lose your soul?

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