“We write you today regarding Gov. Tom Wolf’s unconstitutional and illegitimate attempts to close businesses and shut down our Commonwealth,” reads the letter. “We are calling on every district attorney throughout the Commonwealth to publicly commit to actively intervening to ensure that any citations issued under the governor's emergency declarations are withdrawn, including citations based on the governor's mandated business closures and stay-at-home order.”
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, sent out a letter yesterday to all 67 PA district attorneys (districts attorney?) asking them to actively not enforce Wolf's COVID-19 orders. He was joined by 25 other Republicans. https://t.co/ag2278JP8u— Stephen Caruso (@StephenJ_Caruso) May 12, 2020
This Friday, 13 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties will be moved to the yellow phase of the governor’s reopen plan, but some exceptions, like Beaver County, drew criticism from some elected officials. District attorneys in both red and yellow districts said they won't prosecute businesses that reopen. In Beaver County, the DA said he will not prosecute in the red phase; in Armstrong County, the DA announced she won't prosecute, even if they're ordered to stay closed when they move to the yellow phase on Friday.
Many Republicans, and even some Democrats, have criticized Wolf that his plan is moving too slowly to reopen or saying his business-closure list is too strict and arbitrary. But not many politicians have encouraged people and businesses to completely disregard Wolf’s orders, as Gaydos and 24 other Republican lawmakers have now done.
Gaydos represents the 44th state House District, which covers Western Allegheny County municipalities like Moon, Sewickley, and Findlay Township. She says her inclusion in the letter was due to frustrations in not getting clear details on the closures from Wolf’s administration. She says that people should be following social distancing guidelines.
“I totally believe that people should be wearing masks, and all those precautions,” says Gaydos. “But we got to have more transparency from our governor. It is really frustrating.”
Gaydos says she has been participating in Friday conference calls with Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, and she has not been satisfied with Levine’s answers to her questions about who is helping to guide the decisions of stay-at-home orders and which businesses are deemed non-essential. Gaydos says Levine’s answers have been too broad.
She acknowledged that many of her colleagues on the letter were more concerned about the constitutionality of Wolf’s orders, but she said her inclusion was more about not receiving enough data about Wolf’s decision making.
The letter was penned by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry) and co-signed by several other conservative legislators who are considered to the right of the average Republican legislator. These include members like state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton), who earlier this year introduced a bill calling for "A State Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer" in response to the coronavirus, and state Rep. Cris Dush (R-Jefferson), who last week compared Wolf’s administration to Nazi Germany.
Gaydos was the only Republican who represents part of Allegheny County to sign the letter; the other six Republican state reps who represent part of the county didn’t sign the letter.
According to a recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll, 72% of Pennsylvanians support the way Wolf is handling the pandemic, while 27% disapprove. Wolf responded to those encouraging people to disregard his coronavirus orders by saying there would be consequences, and the state might withhold financial aid to those counties that don't abide by orders.
“I cannot allow residents in a red county to get sick because their local officials can’t see the invisible risk of the virus in their community,” said Wolf on May 11.
Gaydos believes the economy can reopen more broadly than Wolf is allowing because many of the coronavirus outbreaks are clustered in nursing homes.
“I think by scaring people, we are doing too much damage to the economy,” says Gaydos.
Yesterday, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention director Anthony Fauci was asked by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton) if there was a risk of opening up the economy while skipping CDC guidelines. Fauci said "there is a real risk you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control,” which he noted could damage any economic recovery places may have gained by reopening.
Additionally, when asked about the letter encouraging DAs to work against the governor’s orders, spokesperson Mike Manko said the position of the Allegheny County DA and Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association is the same as it was on March 22. That policy states to “document any reported violation; remind the business of the mandatory closure; and refer the violation to a state agency for determination on enforcement.”
Gaydos says several constituents have called her office to complain about businesses not opening up. She recognizes that Allegheny County will move into yellow phase partial reopening on Friday, but still felt compelled to sign the letter to show her support for other counties still stuck in the red phase. She says it is about fairness.
The Pennsylvania Democratic Party responded to Gaydos’ inclusion in the letter, and criticized the message of the letter.
"It's a shame that Valerie Gaydos thinks you can beat the coronavirus with strongly-worded letters,” reads a statement from the PA Dems. “She and her Republican colleagues are not leading with the facts, listening to health experts, or putting public safety first. This is a disservice to the entire commonwealth and shows why she needs to be replaced in November."