EXCERPT: One False Move


BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE It’s the Ides of March, a date that lives in infamy, the day that Julius Caesar was betrayed and butchered by members of the Roman Senate — friends, Romans and countrymen, to a man. That was back in 44 BCE, and it’s been a bad-omen day ever since. But John Fetterman, the hulking lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania and, as such, the president of the state Senate, which he’s moments away from gaveling into session, isn’t sweating it. After all, he gets Et tu, Brute’d by the Republican-controlled Senate on a semi-regular basis.

At this moment, he’s posing for a staffer’s camera on the sun-drenched balcony adjoining his office in the state Capitol complex, unfurling a bright yellow Gadsden Flag — retrofitted with marijuana leaves and the motto “Don’t Tread on Weed” — in the yawning chasm between his meaty outstretched paws. The pro-pot flag, along with a half-dozen or so homemade rainbow pride flags that, draped over his shoulders, make Fetterman look like a Roman emperor crossed with Wavy Gravy, were sent to his office by supporters from all over the U.S. and points beyond, one from as far away as Australia. “I don’t want to hang any today just because they’re going to be taken down in an hour,” Fetterman says by way of explanation for the photo session, the pics from which he’ll blast out on social media. “But I do want to thank everyone.”

The flags are replacements for ones that had been hanging from his balcony since his first year in office in 2019. The display so irked the Republican majority of the state legislature that they tucked a provision into a budget bill prohibiting the display of “unauthorized flags” on the exterior of the Capitol. In January, when Fetterman politely refused to comply, maintenance workers, at the behest of Republican leadership, confiscated his array.

“The GOP collectively shrugged when a couple of its members were photographed down in D.C. on Jan. 6th, but my pride and weed flags are a point of outrage for them?” Fetterman complained to a reporter from NBC News at the time. All in all it was just another skirmish in the hyper-partisan forever war currently raging in the ornate chambers of the state capitol.

Though he arrived here today in a black SUV chauffeured by his two-State Trooper security detail, dressed in a sweatshirt, board shorts and running shoes, he has since changed into the crisp, undertaker-black suit and azure tie he wears when he presides over the Republican-controlled state Senate. Of that august body, know that, in the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “nowhere will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Beneath the towering gilded splendor of the statehouse rotunda is where the rancid sausage-making of the state legislature takes place. It 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 Pennsyltucky backwaters like Lockhaven and Knobsville, Shickshinny and Hokendauqua, their countenances plastered with the dead-eyed glossy headshot perma-grin of the damned.

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. 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.

Back in January, during a heated dispute about seating a newly-elected Democrat, even though his election had been certified, the Republicans used an obscure parliamentary maneuver to have Fetterman removed from the Senate floor. Just like that that President of the Pennsylvania Senate was rat-fucked out of power — for a day, anyway. As Caesarian back-stabbings go, this would rate a mere flesh wound, but the message it sent was clear: This isn’t a state house where the people’s business gets done, it’s a circus of cruelty.

Small wonder he wants out of the clown car. MORE