DARYL VS. BABETTE: Round 1 For A Statewide Race?

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DARYL METCALFE … hard-driving leader of hard-right lawmakers.

BY TONY WEST/ In other years, the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee hasn’t been an arena that set pulses pounding. This session of the General Assembly, it’s different. A clash of wills and philosophies between its new Majority Chair Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) and its long-serving Minority Chair Babette Josephs (D-S. Phila.) has drawn security guards into the committee room and left observers agape.


That they should clash is no wonder. Josephs, 71, is a card-carrying liberal from worldly Center City. Metcalfe, 49, hails from the remote Pittsburgh suburb of Cranberry Township, nestled amid rolling countryside about as far from Philadelphia as you can get in this state.


Which probably doesn’t bother Metcalfe, since he is as conservative as Josephs is liberal. Over the last eight years, Bob Guzzardi, the small-government activist from Wynnewood, has usually rated Metcalfe the top legislator on his Liberty Index. This score would make Metcalfe the farthest-right politician in Harrisburg.


Since the 2011 session began, the two Chairs have been dueling fiercely over procedure. When Josephs was Majority Chair in the last General Assembly, she ran things one way; Metcalfe runs things another way. Josephs and her fellow Democrats are effectively shut out of the action now and are crying foul.


Josephs is a fan of patient study. “The public has demanded openness, accountability and transparency,” she said. She also takes pride in her fairness to the opposition. “When I was Majority Chair, I advanced 28 Republican bills,” she noted.


State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre), who served Minority Chair of State Government in the last General Assembly, paid tribute to Josephs’ style. “I appreciate the way she ran Republicans’ bills,” he said. “Though she may have opposed our views, she was always respectful. My members liked the way we worked together.” Her slow, painstaking reviews often improved Republican initiatives in a “collaborative learning process,” he said.


Then came the mashup. Right before the end of the last General Assembly, the old Intergovernmental Affairs Committee was folded into State Government. An opening arose on the Finance Committee, a plum assignment, and Benninghoff leapt at a chance to take it over as Majority Chair. That left Metcalfe, the Republican Chair of Intergovernmental Affairs, as ranking GOPster in the new State Government Committee. So when he took over as its Majority Chair, Josephs and he had never worked together.


They still haven’t. Metcalfe’s style could not be more different from Josephs’. He comes with a ready-made agenda and sees his committee as a vehicle to advance it, chop-chop. If minority members want to sit and watch, they’re welcome to; if not, they can leave.


“I think [Josephs] is having a hard time adjusting to the fact she doesn’t run the committee anymore and cannot set its agenda or moderate its discussion,” Metcalfe commented. As for working with Chairs across the aisle, he said Intergovernmental Affairs wasn’t very active, so there wasn’t much to interact with Democrats over.


Although Metcalfe and Josephs sit side by side, he will not recognize her when she asks to speak. She now communicates with him, bitterly, by letter.


Metcalfe brought with him a number of junior Representatives, some of them elected by the 2010 Tea Party movement. Metcalfe, who has been in the legislature since 1999, proved a natural leader for them. “Before he ever heard of the Tea Party, he believed in all its causes,” observed Robert Nix, a Philadelphia lawyer and a Hispanic Republican activist who has often dealt with Metcalfe.


“My speculation is he got 15-20 members who would vote with him and he threatened the leadership with something – maybe holding up the budget. Then he got a chance to handpick his members,” Josephs mused.


Metcalfe promptly used his new committee as a vessel for his top issue: a crackdown on illegal immigration. Metcalfe has earned prominence among state legislators nationwide in this cause. He introduced a 16-part package of legislation into State Government to combat the crime, welfare and school costs he says stem from their presence.


All 16 parts sit on the committee’s agenda like a millstone, at every meeting. Testimony is not circulated in advance. No one knows which parts will actually be discussed, so Representatives have no way to bone up for the day’s discussion.


Not that there will be much discussion, at least for Democrats. Metcalfe “has not let us speak in committee. He has had the question called twice in committee. When I asked around if anyone has ever heard of a committee hearing before where debate was cut off, the answer was no,” Josephs said.


Frustrated, Democrats are acting up. “If he tries to cut us off, we keep talking,” said Josephs – even during votes. “He has not advanced one Democratic bill anyway; we have nothing to lose.” Metcalfe has responded by stationing Capitol security in the hearing room – a rare move – and threatening to eject members from the hearing room.


Metcalfe’s interests range far beyond “the illegal alien invasion,” as he puts it. He targets everything else on the Movement Conservative hit list: gun laws, environmental regs, climate science, abortion, homosexuals, Muslims, vote fraud, taxes, unions, public workers. Metcalfe uses State Government as a forum for many of these hot-button campaigns.


Josephs complains many of them don’t belong in State Government and suspects a deal with a fellow Westerner, Speaker Sam Smith (R-Jefferson). Another Republican observer doubts this, however: “I don’t agree with Metcalfe much, but I think everything he is handling in committee is germane to State Government.”


Regardless, Metcalfe’s hard-hitting, wide-ranging style has turned State Government from a sleepy sideshow into a dynamic venue for big ideas.


Latest out of the chute is congressional redistricting legislation (HB 5), which Metcalfe sped to the House floor despite the efforts of Josephs to slow it up enough to permit public hearings and input.


Metcalfe is a veteran who worked as an engineer before he went to Harrisburg. A Republican colleague described him as “very bright and methodical about his maneuvers.” People who know him describe him as straightforward and sincere. “He is a little bit like the Soup Nazi on ‘Seinfeld’, said Nix. “He lives by the principles that he espouses for others.”


“Daryl has some specific core principles he believes in and lives his life by being fairly rigid to them,” said Benninghoff. “But even people who disagree with him respect the fact he will stand up for them.”


Metcalfe also likes to play his cards close to his chest. “He ran a stealth Lieutenant Governor race in 2010 and did very well,” Benninghoff recalled. “He kept it all under the radar until he filed.”


Josephs charges other Republicans are “afraid” of Metcalfe. That may be a stretch. But his causes are hot nationally; the freshmen look up to him; there is no project so big he won’t tackle it; and he is still young. He has already taken a lick at statewide office and might like to follow in Gov. Tom Corbett’s shoes.


But Pennsylvania is more than just Cranberry Township. “Metcalfe is a fine gentleman,” said State Rep. Jewell Williams, “but he needs to get more sensitive to other people’s cultures and struggles.”


Meanwhile, chairing Finance now, Benninghoff mused, “In my current position, I have a Minority Chair with me and I have tried to operate by what I learned from Babette, utilizing some of the same techniques she showed me.”

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