EXCERPT: Fear & Loathing In Pennsyltucky


Illustration by BRITT SPENCER

PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: December 5th, 2017, started out as just another low and mildly contemptible day in Harrisburg. But by midmorning, it had metastasized into one that would live in infamy. In the bowels of the State Capitol building, in the midst of an undoubtedly fascinating debate about landlocked easements before the State Government Committee, something both unforgivable and endlessly hilarious happened: Representative Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery County), in a futile effort to stave off interruption long enough to finish his sentence, briefly touched 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 contact lasted less than one second, it sent Metcalfe into a full-blown gay panic and triggered 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 were gasps of disbelief as those present checked to make sure they hadn’t been transported back to their fifth-grade lunch line. The committee’s executive director, Kim Hileman, averted her gaze as if from a grisly crime. But on closer inspection — you can watch on YouTube — she was trying not to laugh in the chairman’s face.

It was the tap on the forearm heard round the world. What became known as Touchy-Feelygate made international news and was dissected on late-night talk shows. Neil Patrick Harris explained to America while guest-hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live that homosexuality isn’t contagious: “You don’t turn gay if a gay person touches you; we’re not like zombies.” (Bradford, for the record, is straight, not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

But the rant was hardly out of character for Metcalfe, who for the past 20 years has been holding up the far-right “God, guts and guns” end of the political spectrum in Harrisburg. He’s railed against “fake news” while sounding false alarms about voter fraud and libtard crusades to confiscate guns. On Facebook, he puts quotes around the word “students” when referring to the kids of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. During 10 terms in office, he has successfully opposed multiple versions of a bill that would offer LGBT people the most basic protections from housing and employer discrimination. He thinks mass transit is a taxpayer-funded people-mover for welfare queens. He once invited a white nationalist to testify at an English-only bill hearing.

Since 2010, Metcalfe, who’s 55, has chaired the powerful but dysfunctional House State Government Committee, which reviews legislation that broadly impacts government, such as election law. It’s also where all good Democrat-sponsored — which is to say Philly-friendly — legislation goes to die. That isn’t some anarcho-leftist exaggeration; it’s a statement of fact, one Metcalfe proudly acknowledges. “When [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 cackled on Facebook in April. “Liberals continue their lying attacks in an attempt to stop my work in defense of taxpayers and our liberty!”

It would be easy to dismiss Metcalfe as the troll prince of Western Pennsylvania, where he lords over a relatively paltry fiefdom of the roughly 70,000 residents of Pennsylvania’s 12th State House district, a bucolic patchwork of farms and suburbs north of Pittsburgh. But as chairman of State Gov, Metcalfe lords over all 12.8 million Pennsylvanians. And given that he’s been waging a two-decade-long proxy war on the people of Philadelphia through our lawmakers, Chairman Metcalfe is most certainly our problem. Which raises questions: Who the hell is this guy? And how does someone like him keep getting elected? MORE