Was Mastriano trolling with social media bill? The actual answer may not matter | Wednesday Morning Coffee

February 10, 2021 7:18 am

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin (R) and former state Rep. Rick Saccone at the U.S. Capitol on 1/6/21 (Facebook photo)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Free speech advocates are fond of dropping an aphorism coined by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides when they talk about efforts by others to silence the speech they don’t like.

“This is slavery, not to speak one’s thoughts,” Euripides wrote in his play “The Phoenician Women,” which deals with the rather icky fallout from the earlier play “Oedipus Rex.”

But what happens when the guy dropping the reference is state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, who has a history of sharing anti-Muslim memes on social media? And when it’s happening amidst both a massive right-wing fit over cancel culture and Black History Month?

If you’re state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, you see it as a barely disguised racist dog whistle from one of the Legislature’s most high-profile “Stop the Steal” advocates and an outspoken critic of Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 shutdown orders.

“Why would somebody, during Black History Month, talk about free speech and then [start] talking about slavery, right?” Williams told the Capital-Star on Tuesday.  “And it’s in context. And it’s not hard to draw a connection.

Doug Mastriano is, for all intents and purposes, a perfect example of what I call a a clock-watcher, Williams continued. “He wants to turn the clock back on history.”

After the jump — some context and further details.

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, speaks with attendees on the Capital steps of a rally for gun rights on September 29, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Last week, Mastriano set Twitter alight when he circulated a memo seeking support for a bill he’s co-sponsoring with Sen. Scott E. Hutchinson, R-Venango, that would give social media companies 30 days to give users a written explanation of why their accounts were banned or disabled, and then offer them a recourse to restore their accounts.

“There is no doubt that freedom of thought and speech are fundamental rights for both individuals and a functional healthy society, and the growing tendency of Big Tech to limit or censor speech is gravely concerning,” Mastriano and Hutchinson wrote, waving an enormous red flag in the direction of well-heeled white men everywhere with access to multi-million dollar communications operations who feel their free-speech rights are being constrained, when, in fact, the field is undergoing some badly needed leveling.

Online wags immediately set upon Mastriano’s proposal, wondering out loud, how a lawmaker, who proclaimed, without offering evidence, that “there is election fraud in Pennsylvania and denying it won’t make it go away,” intended to pass, let alone enforce, a bill that likely runs afoul of the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause.

And they’re right. There’s zero chance of this bill getting signed into law, even if, by some miracle, it gets through the House and Senate. That’s because it has the advantage of being both litigation and veto-bait.

But if we know one thing about Mastriano, that’s more than half the point. Just like such conspiracy-minded compatriots as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.Mastriano appears as content to be seen doing things as actually doing things.

State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, speaks during a news conference in the state Capitol on Oct. 21, 2019

Since winning his south-central Pennsylvania seat in a 2019 special election, the Republican has become an expert at attaching his name to high-profile right-wing causes that tend to generate plenty of headlines, but not much legislative success.

Last session, Mastriano teamed up with Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, on a so-called ‘heartbeat abortion’ ban bill that went exactly nowhere in the General Assembly.

During a very noisy press conference, the two lawmakers vowed to keep up the fight across legislative sessions until they won passage. This session, Mastriano, with considerably less fanfare, has partnered with Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, on the proposal. That bill seems destined for the same fate — at least as long as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is in the top spot.

Yes, he’s also scored some wins: At least four bills that Mastriano has sponsored or co-sponsored that make changes around the edges of state statute have been signed into law in one form or another.

But the top spot is where Mastriano, who was unable to be reached for comment, is training his sights.

He’s already being mentioned as a likely 2022 candidate for governor. And the steps he’s taken so far, from the ‘ReOpen rallies‘ to the fantastical claims of election fraud, are clearly intended to position him as Donald Trump’s heir apparent in Pennsylvania. And it appears to be working. Mastriano’s Facebook page boasts 128,000 likes. And his frequent Facebook lives are must-see TV for the hard right.

And unlike other hard-right lawmakers in the General Assembly with a penchant for headline-grabbing, Mastriano has taken hold in a way they have not. For that credit his expert mix of performative conservatism, military bona fides (he’s a retired colonel) obvious ambition, and everyman demeanor.

Which brings us back to Williams. Was Mastriano race-baiting, or engaging just some next-level trolling, when he dropped a slavery reference in the middle of Black History Month? As odious as it is, the actual answer might not matter.

Mastriano is a fool,” state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, quipped in a text message. “And as my elders would say, ‘Never argue with a fool.'”

Maybe, maybe not. But people are talking about Doug Mastriano again. And that’s mostly the point.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
The state Health Department has launched a new, online ‘Your Turn’ tool to help folks figure out when … it’s their turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine, your humble newsletter author reports, with a more than able assist from Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso. Also on Tuesday, the Wolf administration announced a new joint COVID-19 task force it’s launched with members of the state House and Senate.

A bill intended to keep bicyclists safe as they share the streets with motorists has been named for a Pittsburgh woman who perished in a 2015 accident with a car, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a High Point University scholar explains why a 50-year-old shootout between members of the Black Panthers and police continues to resonate. And opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz says the San Francisco school board made the wrong call when it voted to strip the names of dead white guys from school buildings.

Former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor speaks during the opening day of Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday, 2/9/21 (Screen Capture)

Bruce Castor’s
 appearance before the U.S. Senate did not go at all well. The Inquirer has the details.
Speaking of things that aren’t going well: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is again defending his decision to pull a gun on a Black jogger in 2013, PennLive reports.
The state Department of Environmental Protection declined to take public comment on dozens of applications to store wastewater from Marcellus shale natural gas drilling operations, the Post-Gazette reports.
A Pennsylvania pheasant hunter who named the birds he shot after Democrats has been arrested for participating in the Capitol siege, the Morning Call reports.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis has ended months of speculation, announcing Tuesday that she’s resigning to run for Luzerne County judge, the Citizens-Voice reports.
The York Daily Record explains why the Eastern Hellbender, the official state amphibian, is an environmental canary in the coal mine.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Philly ♥‿♥ (@phillyfeeling)

Shocking no one, the former president isn’t happy with his defense team’s performance, WHYY-FM reports.
A first of its kind Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court case is challenging the fate of inmates serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, WESA-FM reports.
A 1,600-acre solar installation is being planned for the Erie regionGoErie reports.
Former Democratic state Rep. Luke Ravenstahl, of Allegheny County, has been hired as an assistant township manager in suburban Pittsburgh, PoliticsPA reports.
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a House manager, got Tuesday’s impeachment proceedings off to an emotional start, telling a gut-wrenching story about his family’s experience in the Capitol during the riotRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House Democratic Policy Committee holds an 11 a.m. public hearing in G50 Irvis on the pandemic and its impact on maternal health.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to our old pal, Eric Heisler, of the Bravo Group, who celebrates today. Congrats and enjoy the day, sir.

Heavy Rotation.
Mary Wilson, a founding member of The Supremesdied Tuesday, aged 76. The Motown group were singularly responsible for some of the greatest pop songs of their era. Here’s just one of them: ‘You Can’t Hurry Love.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Calgary spoiled Pierre-Luc Dubois’s debut with Winnipeg on Tuesday night, as the Flames downed the Jets 3-2.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.