The “ Touch Heard Round the Internet ” has shown the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the nation, something that those of us who serve alongside House Republican Daryl Metcalfe have known for a very long time. The extreme tea party legislator has made his career by bombastically pursuing discriminatory and hateful policies, aided by his party and the unique position of power he holds in our legislature.
Daryl Metcalfe was elected almost two decades ago, but really only began gaining power after a statewide pay raise scandal and the birth of the national tea party movement. He made a name for himself attacking Philadelphia’s early LGBT marketing efforts (the campaign would go on to win national awards), criticizing a group of military veterans promoting environmental policy as “traitors to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution of our great nation,” and losing an election for lieutenant governor.
He was seemingly rewarded for his extremism as the right-wing and tea party power brokers around the state and country showed their support and pushed for his rise. What followed was his selection by House Republican Leadership as the Chairman of the powerful State Government Committee, setting the backdrop for a near decade-long reign of discrimination and denigration.
As in most states, proposed legislation is sent to committees made up of smaller groups of legislators who take the first look at legislation. The work most committees do is self-explanatory. The education bills go to the Education Committee, health care bills go to the Health Committee. Sometimes it’s not so obvious, like the State Government Committee.
As the majority chairman of the State Government Committee, Daryl Metcalfe is actually charged with overseeing many of the most critical civil rights bills and government reform bills in a state with almost no LGBT civil rights and massive, illegal gerrymandering. That’s right, he oversees the issues impacting the people he has attacked again and again.
In my five years serving under his committee chairmanship, I have seen him blatantly disrespect women, immigrants, people of color, and absolutely LGBT people like me and my communities. His past decade in office reads like a legislative record of hate, disrespect and fear-mongering ― from suing our state’s first out, married couples and pushing English-only bills, to forcing ultrasound wands on any woman considering an abortion.
During the first few months of my first term in office, the Supreme Court decided the groundbreaking United States v. Windsor case and I’d asked the Speaker for the opportunity to comment on the historic nature of the day to memorialize it within the legislative journal, which he granted. Upon taking to the House floor to speak, however, I was interrupted and ultimately my microphone was cut as a result of a then-secret objection led by Chairman Metcalfe. That night he chillingly told a local radio station: “I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law.” The fallout from his outburst and religious justification drew condemnation from both sides of the aisle and across the country, but had little impact on his assignment as the Chair of the Committee by the Republican leadership in the House.
It gets worse.
Midway through his career, Metcalfe founded an organization to oppose birthright citizenship and helped popularize fantasies like “anchor babies” and “illegal alien invasion,” along the way. In 2010, Metcalfe introduced a law to essentially deputize our state’s police officers as federal immigration agents to check the “papers” of anyone they suspected of being an “illegal alien.” He proudly copied the legislation made famous by Arizona’s similar attempt which was ultimately found to be unconstitutional.
His attacks on women’s rights and women in general have made him well-known to the pro-choice and women’s health advocacy communities. Metcalfe has repeatedly tried to ban funding for Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that existing federal law means no tax dollars are spent on abortions. He has promoted and voted for legislation to prohibit insurance companies participating in state exchanges from providing abortion coverage in an insurance plan, even at a woman’s own expense. Even now he is aggressively supporting the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation.
It still gets worse.
Using a thinly veiled attempt to address “voter fraud,” several years ago Metcalfe succeeded in passing one of the nation’s notorious voter ID bills. Ignoring all data regarding the rarity of such voter fraud, and knowing that these bills have the effect of massively limiting voter turnout among low income voters, women, seniors, and Democrats generally, Metcalfe celebrated the passage of his bill with a cake decorated like a voter ID.
During the expensive legal battle that followed, his legislation was ultimately ruled as “plainly unconstitutional” and “fraught with illegalities and dubious authority,” but not before Metcalfe said, “people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID.”
Just two years ago, in the fall of 2015, the chairman was hosting a bipartisan committee meeting on a “Sanctuary City” bill designed to punish cities like Philadelphia for refusing to give special treatment to federal immigration agents looking to deport nonviolent undocumented people. In the hours before the hearing, we learned that one of the “experts” he intended to bring before us was actually the head of what the Southern Policy Law Center calls a “nativist extremist group,” the chairman defended his decision on the House floor by arguing that he was actually just a white nationalist and not a white supremacist. His remarks drew a strong response publicly but again the Republican leadership left him as their chosen chair of the committee. You can’t make this stuff up.
And then there was his outburst in that committee this past week. If you had asked any of us who attended the meeting, Republican or Democrat, we would have told you that the fireworks were going to be the second item on the schedule, a union-busting “paycheck protection” bill the far right always throws at us this time of year. No one thought they would come during the first and only other business on the schedule, a minor land use bill. Instead, what we got is another one of those moments I’ll never forget about my experience as a legislator.
Twenty five minutes into the meeting, and without any warning, the Republican chairman, sitting at the front of the room next to his Democratic counterpart, leaned into his microphone and loudly interrupted the hearing with this:
Look, I’m a heterosexual. I have a wife, I love my wife. I don’t like men, as you might, but don’t...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!
The video does the awkwardness of the moment justice as you can see the reaction of staff for both members immediately push away in extreme discomfort.
The video also clearly shows that the two men sit alongside one another in tight quarters and Representative Bradford, the Democratic chair and a delightful, straight father of four, very gently placed his hand on Metcalfe’s forearm directly next to his own, in a brief and completely innocuous way. He quickly apologized, saying he was attempting to “beg” permission for more time to speak.
“Then beg, don’t touch,” said Chairman Metcalfe.
Now I’ve never grown accustomed to the chairman constantly interrupting my women colleagues, slyly referencing the urban neighborhoods my black colleagues represent, maligning the heritage of my Latino colleagues, and attacking the LGBTQ communities I know and love the most. I don’t want that kind of thick skin and I have pushed back against him as often as I can. Our relationship is filled with heated exchanges and opposing legislation. But this was new.
In the moment, as the only openly gay person on the Committee, although certainly not in the room, I did what countless other LGBTQ people, women, people of color, and so many “others” do when their identity is being openly mocked in front of others, I made a joke (a good one) that made even the Republicans laugh out loud, but also at Metcalfe and his outburst. The whole experience was baffling and infuriating.
By the end of the day, the exchange had gained statewide attention. By the next morning, the national morning news and talk shows were showing the outburst and I’m certain it played a major role in abruptly ending the legislature’s session for the week. But still nothing has happened to Chairman Metcalfe. The Republican leadership hasn’t even hinted at removing him from his powerful position and he’s made it clear that he has no intentions of giving it up voluntarily.
However, I have hope. Within a day, Governor Tom Wolf had issued a statement on Twitter, saying, “In light of this documented history of discriminatory statements, I urge House leadership to re-examine whether it is appropriate for Rep. Metcalfe to continue controlling the committee that oversees civil rights legislation.”
The state-wide LGBTQ equality organization EqualityPA has issued a statement saying that “[i]t’s past time for Speaker Turzai to remove Daryl Metcalfe as the chair of the House State Government Committee,” citing his “long series of homophobic and xenophobic actions” during his tenure. They’ve also circulated a petition calling on the Republican leader to remove Metcalfe from his position as chair of the State Government committee.
At least one large union, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, has joined their efforts, saying that “Speaker Turzai has a responsibility to ensure that the state House is accountable to Pennsylvanians of all colors, creeds, and orientations, and that “Chairman Metcalfe has failed on all counts.”
I agree, and I signed the petition.
Daryl Metcalfe isn’t just a right-wing extremist. He’s not just a homophobe who wants to take health care away from trans kids or let someone be fired for being gay. He’s also not just someone who tries to rationalize the difference between the White Nationalists and White Supremacists. He’s not even just someone who ignores and discounts women around him.
All of these things make him hateful and vile, but he has a right to be all of those things. Hell, he even has a right to his seat so long as his constituents keep voting him there.
Why he’s so different is because of the power he’s been given by a select few of his Republican leaders and the extreme and catastrophic way in which he has wielded that power. That a man with this broad and outrageous record can be in charge of the success or failure of LGBT non-discrimination bills, anti-gerrymandering bills, ethics reform bills and so much more, given his utterly broken value system and moral compass is why he’s so different.
But he has no right to be chairman, and we have every right, and I believe an obligation, to demand that those elected officials who have given him his throne now take it away.
I will be joining every organization and individual calling for the House Republican leadership to remove Chairman Daryl Metcalfe from his powerful position overseeing the rights of the people he hates the most, and I hope you’ll join us.
Daryl Metcalfe must resign his leadership position.