Pennsylvania state Sen. Mike Folmer resigns after child pornography charge

State Sen. Mike Folmer

Pennsylvania state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, has resigned from the General Assembly one day after he was charged with possession of child pornography, Republican leaders announced Wednesday.

“We are sickened and disturbed by the charges brought against Mike Folmer yesterday,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said in an emailed statement shortly after noon on Wednesday.

“We have reviewed the criminal complaint and spoke with Mike Folmer early this morning to insist on his resignation from the Senate. We are in receipt of his letter of resignation and the 48th Senatorial District seat is now vacant.”

Scarnati and Corman stripped Folmer of his chairmanship on the Senate State Government Committee and removed him from other committee assignments on Tuesday night after Pennsylvania Attorney Josh Shapiro announced the charges.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and members of Folmer’s caucus called publicly for his resignation Tuesday and Wednesday.

Folmer leaves office with nearly two years left in his term, which expires in 2022. That will require Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to call a special election later this year to fill the seat representing the 48th Senate district, which includes all of Lebanon and parts of York and Dauphin counties.

The Republican Party of Pennsylvania, which will preside over the selection meeting to choose a nominee for Folmer’s empty seat, endorsed the senator’s resignation in a statement Wednesday.

“There is nothing partisan about protecting children who are the most vulnerable among us,” the statement reads. “The shocking and utterly reprehensible allegations against Senator Folmer necessitated his immediate removal from the Pennsylvania Senate and we are glad that he has resigned accordingly.”

Shapiro announced late Tuesday night that his office had charged Folmer with possession of child pornography and criminal use of a communication facility — both felonies — after executing search warrants of the senator’s Lebanon residence and cell phone.

The searches on Tuesday revealed images of child pornography on Folmer’s cell phone, Shapiro said.

Shapiro’s office launched its investigation after the blogging platform Tumblr submitted a tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, saying that one of its users uploaded an image that appeared to be child pornography to its platform.

Investigators found that the email address and cell phone number associated with the Tumblr account belonged to Folmer, according to charging documents.

Folmer was interviewed by representatives of Homeland Security and the Attorney General’s office after his home was searched, according to a criminal complaint. He waived his right to have an attorney present and admitted that the Tumblr account belonged to him.

A member of the state Senate since 2006, Folmer was instrumental in crafting Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law, which Wolf signed into law in 2015. He also oversaw legislation related to legislative redistricting and election reform as the former chair of the Senate State Government Committee.

His absence loomed over a Wednesday hearing of the House State Government Committee on redistricting.

Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, chair of the committee, said after Wednesday’s hearing that he hasn’t “been able to digest” the news.

Everett and Folmer sat next to each other at a joint chamber hearing on Monday on voting reforms, which focused on no-excuse absentee ballot voting. 

“Now he’s gone, and I’m here,” Everett said. “We were going to try and do this together, and now I have to get with whoever the new chairman’s gonna be and see if we can move forward on these issues without missing too many steps.”

Folmer was also considered one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly.

He was one of just two state senators in Pennsylvania to receive an “Award of Excellence” in 2018 from the American Conservative Union Foundation, which reviews lawmakers’ voting records in an annual ranking exercise.

The organization said that Folmer voted 92 percent of the time during the 2017-18 legislative session for bills that would reduce government spending and regulations, including one bill, ultimately vetoed by Wolf, to implement work requirements for Medicaid.

Folmer also voted with all but two members of his caucus this June to eliminate Pennsylvania’s General Assistance program, which provided small sums of cash to disabled adults and people seeking treatment for drug addiction.

Capital-Star reporter Stephen Caruso contributed to this story. 

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