Since the start of the new legislative session at the beginning of the year Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives has been, to be charitable, dysfunctional. To be accurate, it has been a dumpster fire. The elections last November yielded a one-seat majority for Democrats who, like the dog which caught a car, don’t quite know what to do with it.
The slimness of their majority has created a quandary for House Democrats which has pitted their rhetoric and professed principles against their lust for power. This has played out in two issue areas: the opening of a window for survivors of child sexual abuse to sue, and the allegations of sexual harassment leveled against one of their members.
Democrats pontificate about enacting a state constitutional amendment opening a window to allow victims of child sexual abuse to retroactively sue their abuser. The abhorrence of child sexual abuse is, of course, universal, so legislative Democrats have cloaked the issue in high-minded moral terms portraying anyone who raises questions about the unintended consequences of such an amendment as being somehow morally deficient.
Despite those concerns Republicans in the state Senate made passage of the amendment their top priority and as one of its first orders of business the Senate passed legislation that would have placed it on the May ballot for voter approval.
That is where House Democrats’ moral superiority and adherence to principal was trumped by their political agenda. Senate Republicans included two other amendments in the legislation that reflected their priorities: an amendment requiring photo voter identification; and an amendment that would rein in regulatory over-reach.
Despite polls which show overwhelming public support for photo voter ID the electoral safeguard is strongly opposed by Democrats who apparently see some sort of an advantage in its absence. Rather than concur with the Senate bill, House Democrats passed a separate measure that did not include the other two amendments.
Thus House Democrats this very day could have what they have been morally expounding on for years – a constitutional amendment opening a window for the victims of child sexual abuse to sue – ready to go to voters for approval. Instead, the amendment is likely to die solely because House Democrats placed politics above principle. Senate Republicans are unlikely to revisit the issue because they say – correctly – they have already addressed it.
We often hear platitudes about the need for lawmakers to compromise and for the two parties to come together to get things done. That is what Senate Republicans did – gave Democrats their priority, but also included Republican priorities. Such is the essence of compromise: each side gets something they want, and something they didn’t.
Having thus sold out the victims, Democrats have once again taken to their podiums to blame Republicans. The fact is they still have the Senate-passed bill before them and if they truly wanted their amendment they would pass it forthwith. But that would require placing principle above politics and therefore is unlikely to happen.
Another area where House Democrats morally remonstrate is on the issue of sexual harassment. They claim it is one of their top concerns – until it involves one of their own.
Recently a labor union lobbyist accused a Democratic member of the state House of harassment. Keep in mind the brave accuser works for a labor union, not some business or conservative group. That gives her allegations instant credibility. In the #MeToo era she must immediately be believed and the accused canceled.
Like in an episode of the television series Cheers, everybody knows his name, but it has not yet been made public. We do know he is a Democrat and with a one-seat majority House Democrats can ill afford to force his resignation. Were he a Republican, you can bet the wayward lawmaker would be kicked out onto State Street in a flash.
Once again House Democrats have placed their lust for political power above their principles. Republicans have pressured Democrats to take action against the offending member. But Democrats have stonewalled the issue taking no official action to even investigate the abuse charges.
If House Democrats truly believed their own rhetoric and professed moral concerns they would immediately do two things: pass Senate Bill 1 which would send the constitutional amendment for child sex abuse survivors to voters for approval; and expel or at least suspend the member who stands credibly accused of sexual harassment.
To do neither would be to further victimize the victims.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal and Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.