By Peter Buck
Like you, I’ve witnessed people suffer through this ongoing pandemic. My best friend manages an assisted care facility, and at the height of the pandemic, he went to work every day to set an example for his employees. After he contracted the virus, COVID-19 reduced my friend Chris, a competitive amateur runner and avid outdoorsmen, to barely being able to walk a couple of blocks or strum his mandolin.
And there are countless others who have been personally affected. A friend and colleague of mine lost his mother way too early. Dozens of friends out of work and worried. A single mom working every day with her five-year-old to keep them on task during Zoom school.
This grim reality has been the backdrop for a gerrymandered Legislature whose helmsman, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, shows little interest in truly working across the aisle and providing the insightful moral leadership we need.
On Tuesday, Benninghoff, who I am challenging in the Nov. 3 election, wrote an op-Ed, published by the Capital-Star, to defend a handful of bipartisan actions the Legislature has taken over the last few months to deal with COVID-19.
What Benninghoff omitted, though, should raise questions about his actions in leadership. He has played a part in covering up an active COVID-19 case in the legislature, has refused to apply transparency rules to himself that he insists the governor abide by, and has simply tried to set fire to Gov. Tom Wolf’s plans without advancing one of his own. These are the actions of a man insulated by a fake majority.
Let me explain.
A few months ago, state Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Dauphin, walked the halls of the Pennsylvania state legislature knowing that he was infected with COVID-19. Like some of his buddies in the GOP, he was a proud truther, a denier of the gravity of the situation. He didn’t care what the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to say, much less the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
He just wanted to ‘own the libs’ and let his buddies think that they are to the virus what the 300 Spartans were to the Persian army at Thermopylae. We are lucky — he’s lucky — he’s not in my friend Chris’s position or worse.
As if this weren’t bad enough, the Republican leadership, my opponent included, covered up Lewis’s case. They waited a full week to tell their Democratic colleagues.
Representatives and their staff returned home at night, some to kids in remission or to elderly parents. What an utter abdication of responsibility. All of the communication about who knew what and when hidden from the public eye.
Weeks later, the Legislature passed a law requiring more transparency from the governor. Wolf let the bill become law. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
Benninghoff, though, won’t apply the same transparency standards to the legislature much less his own dealings. What are in his emails about Lewis’s case (not to mention meetings with lobbyists)? For Benninghoff, do as he says, not as he does.
There is no doubt that we need bipartisan action now. Where it has happened, I am glad. But it’s the exception. Not the rule.
A few months ago, there might have been an opportunity for Pennsylvania’s two legislative branches to work with the governor more effectively. Reasonable people could imagine a bipartisan and bicameral Gang of 8, 12 or 16 and the governor working across differences to hammer things out on a regular basis. That could have truly used a tempering process to make for a better outcome.
It might have been difficult. It might have been infuriating. It also might have saved lives.
But it didn’t happen. Instead, Benninghoff and his fellow Republicans tried to revoke Wolf’s disaster declaration four times without providing a viable alternative. He shook his fist while members of his party baselessly proposed impeaching the governor, and others screamed about how putting a mask on a child is abuse.
These people aren’t responsible representatives. They’re the blind leading the blind. And they’re blinded by hyper-partisanship created by gerrymandering
Is it too much to ask that Benninghoff advance a fair redistricting bill to the floor so that the people of Pennsylvania get a real Legislature?
Will it happen? Don’t hold your breath.
Peter Buck is the Democratic nominee for the 171st House District, which includes parts of Centre and Mifflin counties. He is challenging Republican state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff in the Nov. 3 general election. In accordance with the Capital-Star’s policy for candidate op-Eds and letters, this will be his only appearance in our pages until after Election Day.