A state House committee discussion of legislation to make gubernatorial decisions more transparent opened the door for remarks by a local lawmaker who later was compelled to apologize for them.
In the House State Government Committee on Monday, as Rep. Cris Dush, R-Brookville, later told his colleagues on the House floor, “we were discussing the transparency bill and I wanted to put history into context.”
The context Dush used made reference to the former Soviet Union as well as Nazi Germany, calling what Gov. Tom Wolf has been doing “a socialist playbook.”
House Bill 2465, as introduced by Rep. Brett R. Miller, R-Lancaster, with 32 co-sponsors, none from the Indiana County area, would require, “if the Governor declares a disaster emergency (that) includes an executive order affecting the operations of private businesses … the Governor must post all records directly related to the granting of a waiver or the issuance of a denial, an exclusion or other exception on a publicly accessible Internet website” within 24 hours of that decision.
The bill would be retroactive to March 16, when Wolf extended to all 67 counties restrictions meant to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. It was sent to the House floor by a 16-9 vote, with all Republicans in favor and all but one Democrat voting against.
Dush said the press has had a difficult time fulfilling its responsibilities to the public “because this governor has repeatedly refused all sorts of information,” adding, “when you start hiding things from the public, when you start hiding things from the press, and not allowing it to come out, there is a genuine reason for concern.”
He then said he had to go back to “the German Democratic Nationalist Socialist Party, the Nazi Party,” as well as the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,
It prompted an angry reaction from committee Democratic Chairman Kevin J. Boyle, D-Philadelphia.
“This is outrageous, stop it,” Boyle said. “It is offensive and wrong, stop it.”
Dush, whose 66th District seat represents northern Indiana County, sought to argue “that it is important for the people of this state to have access to information, rather than having it pulled off to the side and hidden for an agenda,” but later apologized to the entire House.
“This was in no way meant to reflect that our governor or anybody else would do the atrocities that were done by any of those regimes,” Dush said. “I’d also like to amend and say if somebody was under that impression that that is where I was going, I apologize, that in no way was reflecting on that.”
His apology did not satisfy the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
“It is an absolute shame that in the middle of a global pandemic, Harrisburg Republicans keep forcing us to address their outrageous comments and contempt for both scientific and historical fact,” Democratic Party spokesman Brendan Welch said. “Rep. Dush’s remarks were offensive to our Jewish community and offensive to the sensibilities of every Pennsylvanian. His colleagues must condemn them.”
Dush is a co-signer of a letter sent by 46 state lawmakers to the U.S. Department of Justice, asking for a federal investigation of actions by the Wolf administration during the pandemic. Other area co-signers include Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph B. Scarnati, R-Brockway; House Majority Leader Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion; and Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield Township.
They applauded a memorandum U.S. Attorney General William Barr recently issued, directing U.S. attorneys to “be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”
Despite requests by the Gazette for comment, the governor’s office has not responded to that letter.