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In Harrisburg, Dems seek to neuter controversial House GOP committee chairman

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe is under a spotlight once again as Democratic House leaders try to sap his power.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), chairman of the House State Government Committee, is back in the news and under fire from House Democratic leaders.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), chairman of the House State Government Committee, is back in the news and under fire from House Democratic leaders.Read more-- AP

The famed Running of the Bulls in Pamplona doesn't happen until July. But in Harrisburg, a Democratic-driven romp is underway right now.

Let's call it the Chasing of the Daryl.

Maybe you know of State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), the controversial, some say bullying, chairman of the powerful House State Government Committee.

He's a feeder of red meat to many Republicans. A waving red flag to many Democrats.

They call his committee a good-government graveyard. Most recently regarding redistricting reform; over time, anything any Democrat likes.

Now, Democratic leaders, after years of weak-kneed efforts to loosen Metcalfe's ironclad control, are publicly pressing for dramatic action.

In a letter to House Speaker Mike Turzai, House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody asks that Democratic legislation no longer be referred to Metcalfe's committee, and suggests Metcalfe be stripped of his chairmanship.

"Mr. Metcalfe has proven himself unfit to oversee a standing committee," Dermody wrote.

Dermody and fellow Pittsburgh Rep. Dan Frankel, the Democratic Caucus chairman, met with reporters Monday in the Capitol. They said their effort is aimed at corralling Metcalfe's extreme partisanship, incivility, and LGBT prejudice.

They noted that in the eight years Metcalfe has been chairman, his committee approved only one Democratic bill: a routine land transfer measure in 2014.

They said 80 Democratic bills stuck in the committee — including voting reforms, gift bans and LGBT non-discrimination measures – are being reintroduced with hopes they are reassigned to other committees.

Said Dermody, "It's about representative democracy, which Daryl doesn't like much."

Why now, after eight years? Well, it is election season. But recent events seemed to set Democrats off.

Metcalfe gutted redistricting reform bills, clashed with Philly Democratic Rep. Chris Rabb, then took to social media last month to proclaim, "I block all substantive Democratic legislation sent to my committee."

He referred to the committee's Democrats as "liberal loser Democrat legislators," and called one, Philly Rep. Brian Sims, a "lying homosexual."

Said Frankel, "You're not qualified to chair a committee when you're making such statements."

Thing is, Democrats have no clout. Republicans run the show. So, no real word from Turzai's office, other than that the letter was received and is under review (which is pol talk for "go ahead, hold your breath."). And Daryl ain't backing down.

"Ludicrous," he says. "Frank Dermody led his caucus into the greatest Democrat minority in recent history. He's complaining about me because he's looking for a scapegoat for his own incompetency. … He's like Nancy Pelosi."

Metcalfe says he's elected to represent his (north of Pittsburgh) constituency: "For me to come to Harrisburg and advance Democrat ideas would really be ludicrous."

I'd note he's won his last five elections by an average of 68 percent.

And he's long been anathema to the left. He promotes gun rights with annual rallies at the Capitol. The latest was last week. He's no fan of immigrants. Calls undocumenteds "the alien invasion." And he famously interrupted a committee meeting in December to demand a male Democratic member stop touching him: "I'm a heterosexual. … I don't like men, as you might."

He says there are more calls for his resignation than for any legislator ever who's not been charged with a crime, "because I violate their politically correct intolerant view of the world" – ironic, in that intolerant is a word Dems hang on him.

I offer this slice of legislative life for two main reasons.

First, as an example of the width of the ideological chasm separating those supposedly working for the common good of the commonwealth.

Second, to suggest leadership in both parties could benefit from taking stock: Democrats need more than wishes and whines; Republicans should recall past speakers — Sam Smith and the late Matt Ryan come to mind – who valued civility, decency, and the image of the institution.

Absence of self-awareness can be risky. Whether running with the bulls or chasing the Daryl.