Ranking the dumbest things Pennsylvania politicians have said concerning coronavirus | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Ranking the dumbest things Pennsylvania politicians have said concerning coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has America in uncharted territory. Many states are essentially shut down, unemployment-claim records are being shattered, and public-health responses are unprecedented. For the most part, politicians have responded to this crisis with a unified message underlining the severity and urgency of the pandemic.

Earlier this month, several Republicans across the country, including President Donald Trump, downplayed the seriousness of coronavirus, but many of them have since capitulated to reality and have started to call for drastic measures like the rest of the country’s sane and intelligent leaders.

However, even in these unprecedented times, politicians and political figures say some really dumb things. Some border on dangerous, while others are just aggravating, but all deserve to be called out for what they are: dumb. City Paper has ranked the dumbest statements we could find among Pennsylvania’s political elite.

1. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler)

A perennial figure in saying dumb, false, and offensive things, Metcalfe takes the No. 1 spot for a combination of radical ideology, right-wing triggering, hypocrisy, and setting a bad example of how Butler County residents should be responding to coronavirus.

On March 24, Metcalfe posted a video to his official Facebook page of himself walking through the halls of the state Capitol building in Harrisburg. Butler County didn’t receive a stay-at-home order until March 27, but state House leaders have been allowing representatives to vote remotely as a way to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Metcalfe deemed himself too important to stay home.

“I believed that my physical presence was needed here this week to be a stronger voice for my constituents and for the citizens of Pennsylvania against the unconstitutional actions of [Gov. Tom Wolf] that he committed when he issued a dictate to try to shut down businesses across this state,” said Metcalfe in a video.

Metcalfe takes issue with Wolf’s order to shut down all “non-life sustaining” businesses, which includes construction projects, textile and electrical equipment manufacturing, private schools, and several retail businesses. He said “all jobs are life-sustaining” and implied that employment is the only way families can feed themselves, put a roof over their heads, and can get health insurance.

This ignores the millions of Americans that receive health insurance, food, and shelter in the countless other ways not related to employment, like support from religious institutions and philanthropy, government-provided assistance, social security, and health-care programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act.

Later in the video, Metcalfe encourages the police department and county District Attorneys to disobey the governor’s order. He then equates criticism of police officers to how the governor is ordering them to enforce the non-life-sustaining business order. It’s Blue Lives Matter, but on steroids.

Eventually, he laments the Pennsylvanians who are reporting businesses ignoring Wolf’s order, saying people shouldn’t “snitch” for Wolf. Metcalfe also hints at the idea that the economy being productive is more important than people avoiding contracting and spreading COVID-19.

“The governor’s unconstitutional action by attempting to be a tattletale for him or a snitch for him on your fellow citizens or on your neighbors that are operating businesses that they believe they can operate in a safe manner during this time in our nation,” said Metcalfe. “When we need the economy to continue moving forward so that people can continue to provide for themselves and their families.”

But Metcalfe’s hypocrisy is evident, as he has been a strong proponent of Pennsylvanians contacting federal immigration officials to report the presence of undocumented immigrants. In 2017, Metcalfe co-sponsored a bill that would have had law-enforcement personnel and employees of colleges and universities assist in immigration enforcement.

When it’s something he agrees with, like enforcing immigration laws, Metcalfe is all for snitching, but when it’s something he disapproves of, like closing businesses to slow the spread of a deadly virus, then it's a grievous offense.

2. Former state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth)

In a March 23 Facebook post, Saccone admitted that he worshiped at the Impact Life Church in Greensburg, despite the social distancing guidelines that had suggested gatherings be halted due to coronavirus.

“It was wonderful to gather together and sing our praises to the Lord,” wrote Saccone on Facebook. “Yes we had social distancing and foot bumps instead of fist bumps but we did not forsake our gathering.”

On March 16, President Trump, whom Saccone fervently supports, advised people that gatherings of 10 or more people should be avoided. Nevertheless, Saccone wrote on Facebook that he and his wife “will continue to explore those churches that keep there [sic] doors open.”

Last Sunday, March 29, Saccone announced on Facebook that he worshiped at New Birth Ministry in Duquesne and then encourage parishioners to go visit churches that are open. (Religious institutions were exempt from the governor's closure orders, but many churches have been strict in only holding virtual sermons during coronavirus.)

“Know that faithful churches are open. Go and encourage them,” wrote Saccone. "Practice social distancing and good hygiene but DO NOT FORSAKE gathering together to worship God.”

3. Former U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley)

Though ousted from office in 2018, Rothfus has been active on social media and on March 12, the former representative tried to deflect criticism that other Republicans were being racist when calling coronavirus the “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus.

He wrote that saying coronavirus originated in China when referring to the virus is “consistent with history” and then named three geographically named diseases that were all coined before 1978.

Not only have American race relations evolved since 1978, but when coronavirus first became a big global story a few months ago, it was called just that, coronavirus. Since February, it has also consistently been referred to as COVID-19, which is just an acronym for coronavirus disease of 2019.

Rothfus and other conservatives, weeks later, trying to refer to it as the Chinese virus is really just a thinly veiled attempt to encourage xenophobia surrounding coronavirus.

On March 27, the FBI warned of an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans due to the spread of coronavirus.

4. State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Adams)

On March 28, Mastriano introduced legislation that would “allow all businesses to reopen if they agree to abide by Center for Disease Control mitigation measures to contain the spread of the virus,” according to a press release.

The state senator from Adams County in south-central Pennsylvania called Wolf’s “non-life-sustaining” business order “flawed, ineffective, lacks accountability, has no oversight, and is riddled with unconstitutional powers.”

In an op-ed published on his official website, Mastriano then parrots Trump’s statement claiming the economic slowdown caused by coronavirus will be worse than the health problems caused by the virus.

“The question will be, was Wolf’s cure worse than the disease?” wrote Mastriano. “I believe the answer will be yes.”

Today, Pennsylvania saw an additional 756 positive coronavirus cases and now has a total of more than 4,800 cases. A graph of positive cases in the state shows exponential growth since March 5, with no signs of flattening. A study released today from the Keystone Research Center and PA Budget and Policy Center concludes that by Aug.1, 2020, coronavirus “will have killed more than 3,000 Pennsylvanians, and it will heavily stress our health care system in mid-April.”

So far, Pennsylvania does have the most unemployment claims of any state in response to coronavirus closures. But the question of which is worse — losing people’s lives to coronavirus or having the state’s economy suffer — is a moral one. And Mastriano has decided a bad economy is worse than losing thousands of Pennsylvanians to a pandemic.

5. Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Marshall)

Turzai also has a reputation for saying embarrassing and controversial things, and the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t changed that.

On March 27, he tweeted out a graphic that was originally shared by the Pennsylvania House Republicans that tried to tie Pennsylvania’s large unemployment claims to Wolf vetoing a bill that would have potentially provided $1 billion in tax subsidies to petrochemical companies that move to Pennsylvania.

The graphic is a poor attempt at a meme, and honestly doesn’t make much sense. It appears to blame Wolf for the high unemployment figures, and then criticizes him for vetoing a bill, HB 1100, that Turzai claims would “help create thousands of jobs” in Pennsylvania.

The issues are completely unrelated, since if HB 1100 was passed, it would potentially encourage petrochemicals to bring jobs to the state over 50 years, not the immediate future. And the unemployment spike is clearly linked to closures related to attempts to stop the spread of a pandemic.

Not only that, HB 1100 was drafted and passed by the House months ago. If Turzai legitimately wanted to provide businesses to create jobs during the pandemic, he would draft legislation to encourage businesses to grow in the state that are actually operating.

The Shell petrochemical facility in Beaver County is still under construction, and company officials actually shut down construction before announcing closures because workers complained about potentially spreading and contracting coronavirus.

6. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh)

Toomey hasn’t been downplaying the seriousness of the virus like other politicians. In fact, he has been one of the strongest voices in trying to get people to wear masks to stem the spread. But he did tell a reporter that a provision in the latest federal coronavirus stimulus creates “incentives not to work” at a time when people should be encouraged not to gather and work.

Toomey supported the stimulus bill, but was irked by the $600 a week unemployment payments it included. CP highlighted some constituents and people on social media that took objection to Toomey’s comments.

7. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto (D-Point Breeze)

Peduto has also been very active in creating measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, like declaring a citywide state of emergency and prohibiting gatherings in the city. But one comment has stumped some bike and pedestrian advocates in the city.

In an interview with CP, Peduto said he opposes the city closing down certain streets to provide more space for Pittsburghers to walk, bike, and recreate while still maintaining social distancing.

“Limiting the accessibility [of some streets] is not something we are going to pursue,” said Peduto on March 27. “Having public works set up barriers and police up and about to monitor these areas is not a priority.”

The advocates at Bike Pittsburgh disagree that it would require police to monitor closed roads. Bike Pittsburgh is suggesting only closing down some roads that are near or travel through city parks, like Highland Park and Schenley Park. Honestly, it doesn’t make any sense that police would need to monitor anything after streets are closed with barriers.

Bike Pittsburgh is also perplexed by Peduto’s rejection of their idea, since Philadelphia, New York City, Minneapolis, and Calgary have all closed down streets to provide space for safe social distancing while people recreate.

Addendum: State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton)

As with all news during the pandemic, this statement from Borowicz skipped my mind, but it deserves inclusion nonetheless. On March 23, the conservative state representative from Central Pennsylvania introduced a bill calling for "A State Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer" in response to the coronavirus.

During the introduction of the bill, Borowicz said the coronavirus pandemic may be a "punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins."

Borowisz first stirred controversy when she recited an mega-Christian opening prayer to the State House in last year the same say the chamber's first female Muslim member took office.

Her coronavirus-related bill received widespread criticism not only for its apocalyptic nature, but also because it's incredibly tone-deaf considering state legislators should be focused on bills that provide economic relief and better health results to Americans. State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia) called it "the stupidest resolution I’ve ever seen a politician introduce." No big argument here.


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