2017 Democratic Party

Dec 31, 2017
Penn Live
Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Tim Solobay abruptly resigns state post

Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Tim Solobay has abruptly resigned his position in Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.

Solobay’s resignation, which comes as PennLive has been attempting to reach Solobay about a sexual harassment allegation during his prior service as as a state senator, was apparently tendered this weekend and is effective immediately.

Wolf’s press secretary, J.J. Abbott, issued a statement confirming Solobay’s resignation. He did not comment on the reason, stating only that “I cannot comment further on specific details of a personnel matter.”

Solobay, a Democrat from Washington County, had been fire commissioner, a post which oversees the operation, state funding and training of fire services across the state, since the start of the Wolf’s term in 2015.

He had previously served in both the state House and state Senate.  Source

Dec 20, 2017
Washington Post

Virginia court tosses out one-vote victory that briefly ended GOP majority in House

Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds (Julia Rendleman/For The Washington Post)


December 20 at 3:36 PM

NEWPORT NEWS – A three- judge panel declined to certify the recount of a key House race today, saying that a questionable ballot should be counted in favor of the Republican and tying a race that Democrats had thought they had won by a single vote.“The court declares there is no winner in this election,” said Newport News Circuit Court Judge Bryant L. Sugg, after the judges deliberated for more than two hours.He said the ballot in question contained a mark for Democrat Shelly Simonds as well as a mark for Republican Del. David Yancey but that the voter had made another mark to strike out Simonds’ name.

Election officials presiding over the five-hour recount on Tuesday had discarded that ballot. But Republicans challenged that decision in court Wednesday, saying the voter had selected every other Republican on the ballot and intended to vote for Yancey.

 This is the ballot that was scrutinized in the race for the Virginia House of Delegates 94th District in Newport News, Va. (City of Newport News, Virginia)

The court’s decision leaves the race for the 94th District tied at 11,608 votes each for Yancey and Simonds.

And it leaves the balance of power in the state legislature at 50-49, in favor of Republicans – at least for now.

In the case of a tie in a House race, state law says the winner is chosen by lot – essentially, a coin toss.

James Alcorn, the chairman of the state board of elections, said the winner will likely be chosen by drawing a name out of a glass bowl. He said he is conferring with staff to figure out the date and method.

But it doesn’t end there. If the loser of the coin toss is unhappy with that result, he or she can seek a second recount.

News of the court decision pulsed through political circles that, just a day before, had been roiled by the notion that Simonds had taken the seat from Yancey by a single vote in the recount, ending 17 years of Republican control of the lower chamber.

Democrats challenged the results of three races Republicans narrowly won on Nov. 7 in the state legislature. This is what you need to know. 

Democrats are challenging the results of three races Republicans narrowly won on Nov. 7 in the state legislature. This is what you need to know. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

As he was leaving the courthouse Wednesday, Yancey said “the ruling today makes certain every vote in this historic election was counted.”

Republican leaders said they became aware of the suspect ballot after the recount had been completed Tuesday – and after both Republican and Democratic observers signed off on the process, and Republicans congratulated Simonds.

“During the recount, election officials were presented with an overvote,” said a statement from House GOP leaders Kirk Cox, Tim Hugo and Nick Rush. “One Republican official, and a recount observer, believed at the time the ballot was a clear vote for Delegate David Yancey. However, a Democratic official persuaded the Republican official to not count the ballot. This morning, the Republican official wrote a letter to the recount court explaining that he made the wrong decision yesterday, and that he believes the ballot should count for Delegate Yancey.”

“We asked the recount Court to consider this ballot,” they said. “After review, the recount court agreed to count the ballot for Delegate Yancey. The Court has confirmed the election result as a tie vote.”

“While it appeared yesterday that Shelly Simonds was elected, it’s obvious now that the result will remain unclear for a while longer,” they said.

Simonds, who appeared on national television as recently as Wednesday morning as the surprise victor of a tense recount that reset state politics, could not immediately be reached for comment.

It is not clear whether a final decision in the Simonds-Yancey matchup will settle control of the House of Delegates.

Even as the court was considering whether to certify Tuesday’s recount in the 94th House District, two other recounts are taking place this week – at least one of which may further reshuffle politics in Richmond.

On Wednesday, officials were recounting ballots cast in Richmond’s District 68, where the Democrat leads by 336 votes. And a recount is set for Thursday in Fredericksburg’s District 28, where the Republican leads by 82 votes. Democrats have challenged that race in federal court, where they are seeking a new election because more than 100 voters were mistakenly given ballots for the wrong legislative district.

This is a breaking news story that will be updated   Source

Dec 19, 2017
Pa. House Democrats pay $248K to settle sexual harassment complaint against 40-year lawmaker


State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D.,Berks) at a Capitol news conference in this 2008 Associated Press file photo.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania House Democrats spent nearly a quarter-million dollars in taxpayer money to secretly settle a sexual harassment complaint against a 40-year lawmaker, according to a document obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A payment of $248,000 went to resolve a complaint in 2015 against State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, a Democratic lawmaker from Berks County, by a longtime legislative staffer. The settlement included a nondisclosure agreement, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The year after the settlement, Caltagirone, a legislator since 1977, won reelection to his 21st two-year term; he was unopposed in the primary and the general election.

It was not clear whether Caltagirone, who faced a separate and widely publicized sexual harassment complaint in the mid-1990s, was disciplined or reprimanded after the 2015 payout. House Democrats would not discuss details of the case, and Caltagirone did not respond to requests for comment.

Hours after the Inquirer and Daily News reported the settlement on Tuesday, Gov. Wolf, a fellow Democrat, called on Caltagirone to resign, saying: “Verbal and physical harassment is flat-out wrong, whether towards an employee or any other person.”

The payout in Caltagirone’s case was in addition to $30,000 that House Democrats made in 2013 to end a sexual harassment lawsuit against former State Rep. Jewell Williams, now Philadelphia’s sheriff.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) this week declined to be interviewed about the settlement payouts, which were itemized in a document prepared by the state’s Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, and obtained by the newspapers. The bureau manages the state’s self-insurance programs, and investigates and pays tort claims and lawsuits against the state and its employees, including harassment suits.

In a statement Tuesday, Dermody said he could not discuss a case where the parties involved agreed to keep the terms confidential: “I don’t like it, and I wish I could disclose more of the specifics, but I have to follow the law.”

The document obtained by the newspapers is the first indication that Pennsylvania’s legislature has dipped into public funds multiple times to settle such claims — a practice that has received renewed scrutiny in recent weeks as a wave of sexual harassment cases roils statehouses across the country.

A group of female lawmakers is pushing a package of bills to strengthen Pennsylvania law on sexual harassment, including one by Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D., Delaware) that would ban nondisclosure agreements in legislative sexual harassment cases and prohibit lawmakers from using taxpayer money to settle such claims.

In all, the document shows that House Democrats paid $600,000 since 2007 to settle  four complaints against legislators: the two sexual harassment cases, as well as two cases involving claims by legislative staffers that they were improperly fired.

The document does not show payouts by House Republicans. Their spokesman, Steve Miskin, said that “as far as we know, we have not made any type of payout or payment” for sexual harassment claims.

Caltagirone, 75, for many years chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Messages were left at his district office and his home, and on his cellphone. He also did not respond to an email.

The woman paid as a result of her claim against Caltagirone declined to comment, referring questions to the lawyer who handled her case. The lawyer, Patricia Pierce of Greenblatt Pierce Funt & Flores in Philadelphia, did not return calls to her office.

The Inquirer and Daily News and the Post-Gazette are withholding the woman’s name, as her case involved allegations of verbal and physical harassment over several years. State records show that she worked for Caltagirone in his district office in Reading for a decade, starting in 2004, and earned about $63,000 a year when she left.

House Democrats authorized paying the woman $165,500 in February 2015, and her lawyer $82,500 that same month. The report does not give details about her case.

Mike Herzing, a spokesman for Dermody, would not say who authorized the payout.

But another document related to the Caltagirone case shows that Nora Winkelman, the top lawyer for House Democrats, wrote that the settlement was “in the best interests” of the institution because the woman’s threat to file an EEOC complaint and civil suit was “real and imminent,” and defending the claim over a long period would be costly.

Winkelman also wrote that the woman had initially asked for $1.5 million.

The disclosure on Caltagirone cames two days after the Inquirer and Daily News reported that State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat running for Congress, had crossed the line with sexual talk and inappropriate touching, according to interviews with former campaign and legislative staffers.

Leach, 56, denied that he inappropriately touched women. Several prominent Democrats, including Wolf, have since called for Leach to resign. On Monday, he announced that he would be “taking a step back” from his congressional campaign.

A ‘Need to Know’

Each caucus in the legislature has its own sexual harassment policy. The policy for House Democrats, updated earlier this year, prohibits “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” when it is made a condition of employment, is used as the basis for employment decisions, or creates an “intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”

The same policy states that if an employee makes a complaint, “a preliminary investigation will be conducted to determine the merits of the case and to seek a prompt resolution.” If a quick resolution can’t be reached, a formal investigation follows, including interviews and a review of personnel files and other relevant documents.

“Confidentiality is essential to the fair investigation and resolution of complaints under this policy. Only those individuals who have a ‘need to know’ about the investigation and resolution of the complaint will be entitled to the information,” according to the policy.

It does not provide any insight into how decisions are made about settlement payments or who authorizes them.

In Caltagirone’s case, it marked the second time he faced accusations of sexually harassing a subordinate.

Allegations, investigations and a truce

In 1994, a grand jury investigated claims by a contract worker in his office that the legislator demanded she have sex with him if she wanted to keep her job. The woman — the sister-in-law of Caltagirone’s ex-wife – also alleged that during an out-of-town trip with Caltagirone, she walked into a room and found him naked and that, when she fled that house, he chased her and at gunpoint ordered her into his car.

Caltagirone denied any wrongdoing. A grand jury concluded there was “more than enough evidence” to prosecute but then-acting Attorney General Walter Cohen announced that charges would not be filed in the case. Attorney General Tom Corbett later also declined to file charges, saying the woman, Marci Lynn Santoro, was credible but there was not enough evidence to win a conviction.

About a decade later, Santoro returned to work for Caltagirone. A source close to the legislator said at the time that the two had forgiven each other. She has since left state employment.

Dec 18, 2017
News & Opinion
Daylin Leach Responds (Poorly) to Accusations, “Steps Back” From Campaign
The Pennsylvania state senator just gave a master class on how not to respond to allegations of misconduct.

The past 72 hours haven’t been so great for Pennsylvania State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Temple grad who has represented parts of Montgomery and Delaware counties in the state legislature for nearly a decade and has his eyes on congressional seat.

It all started on Saturday morning, when The Inquirer first published a report detailing incidents of “questionable behavior” based on interviews with former staffers and associates. The accusations, which range from sexual joking to inappropriate touching, rocked the progressive Democrat, who has been hailed for his advocacy of women’s rights and support for efforts to legalize marijuana.

With some Leach constituents outraged and others supportive, Gov. Tom Wolf waded into the situation early Sunday to call for the senator’s resignation. Then things got weird …

Leach took to his personal Facebook page on mid-morning on Sunday to directly respond to his critics. At first, he offered an apology that seemed anything but, with flashes of victim-shaming, self-congratulation about his sense of humor, and an admission that he does go around touching people (though he specifically denied that two of the incidents in the newspaper’s report ever happened):

Read more

Dec 17, 2017
Ex-staffers: Sen. Daylin Leach crossed line with sex talk, inappropriate touching

On a bitterly cold night in February 2016, a woman named Emily met State Sen. Daylin Leach at a political fund-raiser in Harrisburg. She was 27, working as a temporary employee for the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC). He was a 55-year-old incumbent who chaired the committee.

Leach, a well-known Montgomery County progressive and longtime advocate for women’s rights, listened with interest as they talked, Emily said. At one point, she explained that she had once lived in Beirut, Lebanon, and could speak Arabic.

She recalled that during the conversation, Leach held on to her upper arm “for an uncomfortable amount of time,” maybe 10 seconds or so. It seemed harmless, but later that evening, she said, an email from Leach arrived in her inbox.

“Hey there,” read the subject line. Below was a short passage in Arabic. “How wonderful it was to talk to you today,” it began, according to a translation, before making a reference to some petitions.

The following morning, as Emily registered attendees at an SDCC breakfast in the lobby of the Harrisburg Hilton, Leach approached again. She was wearing a skirt and sitting at a table. She said Leach sat next to her, discussed his history of fighting for women, and suggested he might be able to help her find a job.

And then “he grabbed my thigh, almost to punctuate his point with a cruel irony,” said Emily, who spoke on the condition of her last name not being used. In the moments that followed, Emily said, she felt “frozen in fear and humiliation. I wrapped up the fund-raiser and went back to my hotel room and sobbed.”

Two members of the state Democratic Party confirmed that Emily sent them distraught text messages describing the encounter in the hours after it occurred.

The episode was among the starkest cited by former campaign and legislative staffers and advisers who say Leach, a legislator since 2003, has for years engaged in questionable behavior with young female staffers and volunteers, from highly sexualized jokes and comments to touching they deemed inappropriate. The behavior was all the more jarring, they said, given his reputation as a stalwart defender of women’s rights.

Leach, 56, who is now running for Congress, declined to be interviewed for this story and did not respond specifically to written questions from the Inquirer and Daily News. Instead, he provided a lengthy statement in which he blamed the accusations on an unnamed political opponent and denied ever inappropriately touching women. He noted that he sometimes does touch people when he is talking to them and that “some people subjectively find such touching unpleasant.”

“Politics is, sadly, an ugly business,” Leach wrote, adding: “I will go back to doing what I’ve always done, being a fierce fighter for women’s rights and trying to protect my family from the unfortunate consequences of the profession I’ve chosen.”

Leach, who is married and has children, referred specific questions to Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto, who in an interview last week added: “He’s not a predator. He’s not a hound dog. He is a very, very conscientious and decent public official that has not lost his sense of humor, despite his political career.”

After being alerted to concerns regarding Leach’s behavior, the Inquirer and Daily News interviewed nearly two dozen people about the senator’s conduct. Some women described him as a good boss, one who gave them wide latitude to make political and policy decisions in an office where hierarchy and job titles mattered little. They acknowledged he often made sophomoric comments and had a bawdy sense of humor, but said they were not bothered by it.

But eight women and three men recounted instances when Leach either put his hands on women or steered conversations with young, female subordinates into sexual territory, leaving them feeling upset and powerless to stop the behavior.

Aubrey Montgomery, a former finance director for Leach’s first campaign for Senate in 2008, said Leach has consistently supported policies that help women.

“But,” she said, “as great as his legislative record is for women globally, he can be awful to women individually.”

Accusations and a denial

Montgomery, a well-known fund-raiser who has worked for Leach and others, was among the few witnesses to his behavior willing to be publicly identified or quoted. Others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the nature of their encounters and Leach’s position as one of the region’s high-profile elected officials.

Among the incidents they described:

• A woman who worked for Senate Democrats in 2015 said Leach inappropriately touched her in a Senate office. At least one eyewitness reported the encounter and a human resources officer for the Senate interviewed the woman.

• On the opening night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Leach allegedly made inappropriate sexualized comments to a female intern in the Pennsylvania delegation, according to two delegation officials at the event. They said they were concerned and responded by directing interns to travel in pairs for the remainder of the convention.

• A woman who worked as a fund-raiser for Leach several years ago said he was prone to “inappropriate” touching. “He’d put his arm around me, and his hand would linger on the small of my back, and briefly graze my butt,” she said. “As a woman, you get that feeling that this isn’t right.”

• Two women who worked on Leach’s 2008 Senate campaign said he repeatedly discussed sex in front of young female staffers, including references to famous “women I’d like to f—.” They said Leach’s sexualized comments became so uncomfortable they tried to limit his time around interns and volunteers, and fretted over hiring attractive young women for fear of how he’d behave around them.

None of the women who described seeing or hearing questionable conduct by Leach told the Inquirer and Daily News that they had been assaulted, denied promotions, or had their careers threatened. Each said that he created and promoted a culture in his office that objectified women and that he often framed his comments as harmless jokes.

Leach, in his statement, said he never “intentionally or unintentionally touched” these women inappropriately. “It did not happen.” Although in the same statement he said of the two incidents: “I recall one not at all and one only vaguely.”

>> Read Sen. Daylin Leach’s statement on claims of inappropriate conduct

Senate Democratic officials declined to publicly discuss Leach and whether they knew of any complaints against him. Privately, one Senate officer acknowledged that Democratic leaders had fielded a 2015 complaint from a then-23-year-old staffer who said Leach inappropriately put his hands on her.

But the officer, along with others, also argued that other unnamed state legislators have engaged in far worse behavior.

In an interview this month, the former Senate staffer, who spoke on condition that she not be named, said she first met Leach at an after-party for the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit at the Federal Taphouse in Harrisburg in February 2015. At the time, she was working for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, the fund-raising arm that Leach then-chaired.

The woman said Leach asked her about the work she was doing for the committee, and then slid his hand down her back and “touched my butt.” She yelled at Leach, she said, only to be told by one of his top campaign aides that her response was inappropriate.

She said she encountered Leach again a month later, after she’d taken a job with the Senate. This time, she said, he approached her from behind and tickled her torso while she sat at her desk during a budget hearing luncheon in a Senate office, leaving her stunned.

A witness reported the incident to the woman’s boss, she said. During a subsequent meeting with a human resources administrator in the Senate, the woman said, she felt as if she had been discouraged from filing a formal written complaint about Leach’s conduct. Instead, she was assured that such behavior wouldn’t happen again.

“I’m more mad at the Senate for not doing anything,” she said of the episode. “It’s the culture up there that’s the problem.”

In a statement, Senate Democratic officials said they could neither acknowledge nor discuss any such incidents, citing confidentiality rules to protect victims of sexual harassment.

Brittany Crampsie, spokeswoman for the Senate Democratic caucus, said that typically, if an employee wants to report an incident, “he or she would go to their supervisor and/or the director of human resources. They would walk the individual through their options, one of which is making a formal complaint with the chief clerk’s office. That process involves a review by outside counsel, and then a report to Senate leadership.”

A high-ranking Senate Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a party leader did speak to Leach after the woman described their contact, and warned the legislator to watch his behavior. Asked if he had been given any such warning, Leach did not respond.

When a joke goes too far

Throughout his nearly 15 years in public office, Leach has been known as an unflinchingly liberal Democrat who sometimes aims an edgy, often-skewering sense of humor at staffers, fellow legislators, and even himself.  President Trump, whom Leach called a “fascist, loofah-faced shit-gibbon” in a tweet that went viral earlier this year, is also a frequent target.

Leach is seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, a Delaware County Republican, as Capitol Hill reels from a wave of sexual-harassment accusations against some prominent male politicians, leading to the recent announced resignations of Sen. Al Franken and Reps. John Conyers and Trent Franks.

Leach’s supporters have argued that allegations about his conduct are politically motivated, and aimed at derailing his congressional run. They have taken issue with reporting by the Inquirer and Daily News, noting that the papers have filed Right-to-Know requests for any harassment complaints, as well as the names of current and former staffers.

Earlier this month, Leach’s attorney sent reporters a letter demanding that they “cease and desist this fishing expedition.”  Bochetto elaborated during an interview in his Center City office last week. “You’ve undertaken a witch hunt,” he said. “And I think what you’ve done is come up with Easter eggs, for the most part.”

The women who spoke to the Inquirer and Daily News about Leach said they were all struck by the irony of feeling harassed by a man they believed was their ally.

In his tenure in the Capitol, the senator from Wayne has championed legislation to legalize medical marijuana, ban the shackling of female prisoners, increase the minimum wage, expand access to health care, and extend antidiscrimination protections to Pennsylvania’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. He has also been a fierce and vocal opponent of measures that seek to roll back women’s rights, including a recent bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Aubrey Montgomery was 24 when she joined Leach’s 2008 Senate campaign. She said she was offended by his sexualized tone in the office. Montgomery said she called him on his comments but felt as if the move backfired.

“When I expressed my discomfort, Daylin suggested I just didn’t get the joke, labeled me a prude and characterized me to my colleagues as the campaign’s wet blanket,” she said. “The more uncomfortable Daylin made me, the more he would dial up the intensity. The more I expressed my discomfort at his sexual and off-color humor, the funnier it was to him.”

Montgomery said she continued to support Leach because she backed his policy positions. In recent years, however, she has done compliance work for, and donated money to, Dan Muroff, who is running against Leach in the Democratic primary for Congress.

In his statement, Leach said he found it “a little strange” that Montgomery was offended by his humor. He noted that she had donated to his political campaigns and that she “came back to work for me again” after the 2008 race. Montgomery did political work for Senate Democrats in 2011 but not directly for Leach.

Meanwhile, another woman who worked on Leach’s 2008 campaign said he would talk about actresses he wanted to sleep with, and referenced wanting to hire a “full set” of secretaries: a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead — followed by a “bald chick.” He also referenced wanting to have his own “Charlie’s Angels.”

“I don’t subscribe to the belief that there is a sliding scale to marginalizing women in the workplace, that there is a gray area,” the woman said. “I feel really strongly that we shouldn’t have to put up with this stuff. That this is not appropriate in the workplace.”

Political campaigns, unlike government, have no human resources departments. They also often have no written policies guiding employee behavior.

The woman who worked as a fund-raiser for Leach and said he had grazed her behind with his hand several times said the senator is “very friendly, which you don’t mind. But as an elected official, you know where your hands should be.”

She added that she sometimes offered a simple warning to young women who were going to work with Leach: Don’t be alone with him in an elevator.

Emily, the temporary SDCC worker who encountered Leach last year in the  Harrisburg Hilton, said she was among the women who had been given that exact warning from the fund-raiser.

An imperfect process

The legislature has sexual-harassment policies in place, but the process for reporting such conduct is not clear-cut, and can be fraught with politics.

The Senate, for instance, has a “workplace harassment” policy that generally defines such harassment as “any repeated, deliberate, unwelcome comments, gesture, conduct or physical conduct of any nature.”

Employees who believe they have been harassed can make a complaint verbally, but the policy recommends following that up with a written statement that documents the nature, date, and time of the offense.

Violating the policy could lead to suspension, termination, or other sanctions, it says.

Though the policy states that complaints can be filed with an employee’s supervisor, or with the Senate’s chief clerk or secretary, there is no central clearinghouse. Nor does the policy state how to investigate and resolve them.

Instead, Democratic and Republican leaders in the chamber each select someone to investigate and manage personnel issues.

Depending on the type of complaint and whom it involves, that person could decide to handle it in-house or farm it out to an outside attorney, according to Senate lawyers.

Such protocols – particularly against the backdrop of a national wave of high-profile sexual-harassment allegations — have led a number of Pennsylvania legislators in recent weeks to propose measures to tighten the rules and prohibit confidential payouts and settlements.

Though bills aimed at cracking down on sexual harassment have been introduced, there has been no commitment to moving any quickly to a vote.

A harsher climate

Leach has faced scrutiny in the past over some of his risque comments.

The legislator shuttered the “Leach Vent,” a blog he wrote that mixed political satire with amateur sketch-comedy bits that were heavy on not-so-subtle sexual jokes, after the Inquirer wrote about it in 2005.

At the time, he argued his humor wasn’t offensive.

He still sometimes resorts to Leach Vent-like comments while weighing in on political matters. In March, Leach tweeted a photo of Vice President Pence and other Republican officials sitting at a long conference table. “Here, the EXPERTS on women’s bodies deciding what #healthcare they need,” he wrote. “For example, I bet they are all sure the female orgasm is a myth.”

The allegations against Leach have surfaced at a moment when elected officials in Harrisburg and beyond are demonstrating they have little interest in defending male colleagues accused of inappropriate behavior.

“We have to rid the Capitol of those who seek to take advantage of their position and power,” Gov. Wolf wrote in an editorial earlier this month about the #MeToo movement.

Last month, the House held a sexual-harassment awareness session for all of its members. A group of female lawmakers in the House and Senate have proposed measures that include banning nondisclosure agreements in sexual-harassment cases to shield the names of legislators and prohibiting the legislature from using taxpayer money to pay settlement costs.

No such policies were being mulled back in 2015, when the former Senate staffer said Leach twice put his hands on her in the space of two months. At that time, she said she felt the process could leave future female employees vulnerable.

She worried it “would just happen again to the next twenty-something-year-old woman,” she said. “That shouldn’t happen. Harrisburg should be a great place to work.”


Dec 12, 2017
The Hill
Jones wins Alabama Senate seat for Dems

MONTGOMERY, AL. — Democrat Doug Jones is projected to win Tuesday’s special Senate election in Alabama, dealing a huge blow to President Trump and becoming the first member of his party to win a Senate seat in the state since 1992.

Jones’s victory over Roy Moore comes after fellow Republicans abandoned the winner of their primary after multiple allegations surfaced that he had sexual relationships with underage girls when he was in his 30s.

The upset win by Jones means the GOP will have just a 51-49 edge in the Senate for the next year. A Democratic victory in a traditional Republican state will also doubtlessly have GOP lawmakers in both chambers worried about next fall’s midterms.

At the same time, the Jones victory may be somewhat of a relief to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and his fellow Republicans, who turned against Moore in droves after the allegations against him became public.

Republicans were worried that Moore’s election could damage the party’s image, and be used against GOP candidates next fall.

President Trump, in contrast, worked to help Moore in the campaign’s final weeks, holding a rally in Florida near the Alabama border and recording a robocall the day before the election.

Moore’s defeat is a significant loss for Trump, and for Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist and Breitbart News chief who campaigned for him over other Republicans’ objections.

Bannon’s critics wasted no time piling on him and framing his brand as toxic to the party’s chances at holding its congressional majority.

“This is a brutal reminder that candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running,” said Steven Law, who serves as the head of the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC and has emerged as one of Bannon’s chief detractors.

“Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the President of the United States into his fiasco,” he added.

Jones, a former federal prosecutor, will serve out the rest of the term formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions until January 2021.

Jones faced an uphill battle to winning the seat in Alabama, a state where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton last fall, 62 percent to 34 percent. But Democrats outpaced Republicans in turnout, a shocking display in such a red state.

Moore, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, has a loyal base of supporters who helped carry him defeat the establishment pick for the seat, Sen. Luther Strange, in late September.

Things changed when the Washington Post reported the first allegations against Moore in early November. The Republican’s standing in the polls plummeted and calls for him to step down echoed in Washington.

A handful of women came forward during the campaign to accuse Moore of pursuing them decades ago, while the women were teenagers and Moore was in his 30’s. One accused Moore of touching her sexually while she was only 14 years old, while another accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was 16 years old.

Moore has denied every allegation and called the Post story “fakes news.” But Republicans in Washington, including McConnell called on him to withdraw. Some floated the idea of expelling him if he won.

A slight majority of the electorate told exit pollsters they believed the accusations, but only 7 percent said the allegations were the most important factor in their decision.

Jones’s victory appears to have been propelled by strong voter turnout among African Americans. Early exit polls indicated that blacks would make up almost 30 percent of the electorate, even though black voters typically make up 25 percent of the electorate.

His strategy in the final days focused heavily on targeting African Americans. Jones, who gained recognition in the state for prosecuting two men who bombed a black church in Birmingham during the civil rights movement, campaigned with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Former NBA superstar Charles Barkley, an Alabama native showed up for a rally on the eve of the election.

To bring moderates onto his side, Jones’s campaign blanketed the radio waves with advertisement boosting comments made by senior Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R) during a Sunday interview on CNN, where he said he would not vote for Moore. Ultimately, Jones appears to have won 52 percent of the independent vote.

The Democratic campaign undertook a historic effort to search for votes in every nook and cranny of the state — logging 1.2 million voter phone calls and knocking on 300,000 doors — an effort made more notable because of the lack of any real Democratic infrastructure statewide.

State Rep. Anthony Daniels, the Democratic leader in the Alabama state House, applauded the Jones campaign’s operation in an interview with The Hill on Sunday, predicting he would outperform despite “no infrastructure on the party side.”

“Doug Jones has built the coalition that I dream for Democrats to go and make a comeback,” Daniels said.

“Voters are tired of not really getting any return on their investment from Republicans.”

Dec 10, 2017
Why Democrats win even if they lose in Alabama
The party will either pick up a seat in the Deep South — or have Roy Moore to campaign against in the midterms.

Democrats head into Tuesday’s Senate election in Alabama confident that they’ll come out on top no matter who wins.

And many Republicans agree with them.

If Doug Jones prevails, Democrats expect it will further excite their base, bolster candidate recruitment and fuel fundraising heading into 2018, coming off their near-sweep of last month’s elections. They will revel in picking up a Senate seat in the Deep South, especially in a state so central to President Donald Trump’s political rise and where he earlier backed the loser of the GOP primary. Practically, Republicans would have a 51-49 Senate majority, leaving them with a single vote to spare assuming Democrats stick together.

But the alternative won’t make for bad politics, either, Democrats say.

If Roy Moore wins, they’ll spend the next year yoking every Republican they can to the accused child predator and a president who welcomed him into the GOP fold. They’ll be quick to remind everyone of all the other comments Moore has made against Muslims and gays and in favor of Vladimir Putin’s view of America as evil, as well as his rosy view of slave-era America.

“He’ll be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats. If you’re running in 2018, Roy Moore’s going to be your new best friend. As a Republican, to think that you can win without the baggage of Roy Moore is pretty naive,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).  Read more

Dec 6, 2017
The Hill
Dems purging party of alleged abusers; GOP should follow suit

A group of Democratic senators have just come out urging Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign. Good for them. The time had come. Is it a coincidence that this move seemed to have been planned and orchestrated by a large group of Democratic women in the Senate? Not likely.

This proves that when a party has more women in positions of power, things happen. Republicans should try it sometime.

Even former Bush pollster-turned-independent Matthew Dowd tweeted: “Today, we are discovering that Dems are way more willing to hold the members of their team accountable than the GOP is. Stark clear contrast. GOP, it is your move, time to clean up your locker room.”

He is right, and I will admit that I wish Democrats had done this sooner. But with this call to have Sen. Franken resign, the forced retirement of Rep. Conyers (D-Mich.) and the calls for Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) to resign, Democrats are demonstrating that there is zero tolerance for this type of behavior.

Democrats are demonstrating that this will be a clear-cut issue in the 2018 elections. With Roy Moore, an accused child molester and Donald Trump, a self-professed and accused sexual harasser, leading the Republican party, there will be a harsh political moment of reckoning for the GOP for its total breakdown of so-called “family values.”

The Roy Moore-Doug Jones Senate race in Alabama is a lose-lose proposition for the Republican Party. In fact, to many Republicans who have not sacrificed their moral fortitude for political expediency, there’s hope that Doug Jones wins. They see it as a saving grace for the long-term health of their party.

If Doug Jones wins, Republicans will not be burdened with having to welcome an alleged child molester into the Senate chambers. Many commonsense Republicans who want to take their party back from the Trump/Bannon wing would breathe a sigh of relief.

It could happen. Polls are tight and within the margin of error in a deep red state that should have the Republican up by more than 20 points. This goes to show just how badly damaged Moore’s candidacy is.

But if Roy Moore prevails, as Mitt Romney has said, it will be a stain on the Republican Party and the nation. Although Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said repeatedly that if Moore is elected, he will face an Ethics Committee investigation and possible removal, how realistic will that be?

I say it’s poppycock. It will be almost impossible for Republicans to remove Moore once he is elected and seated. The people of Alabama will have spoken.

I suspect the little spine that Republican Party leadership has left will not be enough to go against Roy Moore’s supporters, Trump’s supporters, Steve Bannon followers and the powerful evangelical community that will have worked for Moore’s election.

It will also be a day of reckoning for those evangelicals who are up on their high horses espousing the “virtues” of Roy Moore as a Godly man, all the while turning their backs on the credible allegations from multiple women that Moore pursued relationships with them when he was in his 30s and they were mere teenagers.

The evangelical community that is supporting Moore will have a lot to reckon with on this one. This is a crowd that will scream holy hell if one of theirs is forced to bake a cake for a gay couple because that would go against everything they hold dear.

Yet, they are fine with electing someone like Roy Moore, an accused child predator who was allegedly banned from the mall for hanging out and stalking young teenage girls.

Is that the kind of morality the Republican Party wants to hang its hat on? Is that the legacy the evangelical movement wants to be known for?

In this day of the powerful #MeToo movement, there is hope for a real change in a culture that, up until now, has protected the abuser and villainized the abused.

That is, unless you belong to the Republican Party, where the self-proclaimed assaulters are rewarded by being elected president, and alleged child predators are rewarded by (possibly) being elected to the Senate.

The women of America will not stand for it. Whether they rise up next week in Alabama and choose country over party to elect a decent public servant in Doug Jones, or Democrats sweep the 2018 midterm elections, I am proud of women standing up everywhere and saying enough is enough!

Will Republicans find their moral compass? Will they start electing more women to positions of power and ensure that the voices of women are finally included in the urgent political debates of our time?

That remains to be seen. But nothing less than their political future depends on it. Source

Dec 6, 2017
The Hill
Report: Franken will resign Thursday

Democratic senators say Franken should resign

A source close to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Wednesday confirmed the senator will resign Thursday amid mounting allegations of sexual misconduct, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

A Democratic Party official who said they spoke to Franken ahead of the senator’s planned Thursday press conference told the station that Franken plans to announce his resignation at the event.

He added that Franken has traveled to D.C. to discuss his future with his family. The officials said that Franken’s staff confirmed his decision in separate conversations.

Franken’s staff pushed back with a tweet from the Senator’s official Twitter account.

“Not accurate, @mpr @Stowydad. No final decision has been made and the Senator is still talking with his family. Please update your story,” the tweet reads.

Dozens of Franken’s fellow Democratic senators called for his resignationearlier Wednesday after weeks of speculation about Franken’s future in the Senate.

New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand was the first of Franken’s colleagues to publicly call for his resignation after another woman came forwardWednesday accusing Franken of trying to forcibly kiss her in 2006.

“While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve,” Gillibrand said in a Facebook post.

Gillibrand’s statement was soon followed by nearly 30 other senators, a significant shift from weeks of refusals from Democrats to say whether the allegations against Franken were enough to force his ouster.

If Franken resigns, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) would have to appoint a successor. There would then be an election in 2018 for someone to serve out the remaining two years of his term.

Dec 5, 2017
Detroit News
New accuser: Conyers ran hand up thigh in church

Washington — Another woman who worked for longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers is accusing him of touching her inappropriately “by stroking and rubbing my thighs” and appearing naked before her.

Elisa Grubbs, who said she worked for Conyers from 2001-13, claims she also witnessed him touching and stroking the legs and buttocks of Marion Brown, Grubbs’ cousin, and other female employees of the congressman on “multiple occasions.”

“When Rep. Conyers would inappropriately touched me like this, my eyes would pop out and I would be stunned in disbelief,” Grubbs wrote in an affidavit posted on Twitter by Brown’s attorney, Lisa Bloom.

Conyers, the longest-serving member of the U.S. House, has repeatedly denied claims he mistreated staffers.

Calls for his resignation reached the highest levels of House leadership last week, as Brown and another accuser went public detailing his alleged misconduct.

Supporters held a rally in Detroit on Monday to call for Conyers to receive “due process” and for critics to stop pressuring him to step down.

Bloom said Grubbs’ affidavit is the first of several she will release describing allegations that Conyers sexually harassed employees and “covered up complaints.”

“My client Marion Brown asks only for an acknowledgment and apology,” Bloom said on Twitter.

Grubbs described a time that Conyers slid his hand up her skirt while she was sitting next to him in the front row of a church.

She said she was startled and jumped to her feet, exclaiming, “He just ran his hand up my thigh!” — an incident she said was witnessed by other staffers.

On another occasion, she was at Conyers’ home when he emerged from the bathroom naked, she said. Grubbs ran out of the house.

Grubbs said Conyers referred to her and Brown as “Big Girl Cousins” and would often say, “Those are some big girls.”

“Witnessing Rep. Conyers rub women’s thighs and buttocks and make comments about women’s physical attributes was a regular part of life while working in the office of Rep. Conyers,” Grubbs wrote.

Conyers’ lawyer, Arnold Reed, dismissed the new allegations late Monday.

“With regard to the latest #affidavit just released, this is nothing more than tomfoolery coming from the mouth of Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer and unworthy of further comment,” Reed tweeted.

Bloom had represented Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, against several claims of sexual harassment.

Brown broke a confidentiality agreement to go on NBC’s “Today Show” on Thursday, describing what led her to file a 2014 complaint against her boss, alleging she was fired for refusing his sexual advances.

Conyers settled Brown’s complaint for $27,000 using his taxpayer-funded office budget. Brown has offered to testify before the House Ethics Committee, which is investigating Conyers.

The Detroit News first reported last week that former staffer Deanna Maher said Conyers sexually harassed her, including inappropriately touching her, in three incidents spanning 1997 to 1999. And another former staffer filed a lawsuit in federal court this year alleging sexual harassment by Conyers but later withdrew the complaint to protect the congressman’s reputation.

Grubbs indicated in her affidavit that she’s also willing to testify under oath.

Grubbs attended a fundraiser with Conyers and Brown in 2005 at a Chicago hotel, where she overheard Conyers ask Brown to come to his hotel room because he needed her help with something, she said.

Grubbs said she later picked up her cousin, Brown, at the hotel and that she was “physically shaken and upset,” with red eyes.

“Ms. Brown then proceeded to tell me and my mother that, ‘That SOB just wanted me to have sex with him!” Grubb recalled.

Brown had said on NBC last week that Conyers had invited her to a hotel room in Chicago under the guise of discussing business but was in his underwear when she arrived.

“He asked me to satisfy him sexually,” Brown said. “He pointed to areas of, genital areas of his body, and asked me to, you know, touch it.”

Grubbs said Conyers regularly undressed in front of female employees and, at times, would call staffers in only to emerge from his private bathroom in his underwear.

Grubbs said she complained to Conyers’ chief of staff and to the staff director of the House Judiciary Committee on which Conyers serves.

“Despite my complaints, no action was taken and Rep. Conyers’ inappropriate conduct continued,” Grubbs wrote.  Source

Dec 4, 2017
The Incline
Is The Pennsylvania Society’s New York City gala creating a fault line among progressives?
The Democratic race for lieutenant governor says it all.

Saturday’s Pennsylvania Society dinner drew hundreds of politicians and business leaders from around the state to Manhattan’s Midtown Hilton. It was all part of a ritzy, days-long celebration of the Commonwealth and those who lead it — both before and behind the scenes.

But it’s also worth noting who didn’t attend this year — and why.

Aryanna Berringer, one of the half dozen Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, said of the event via email, “I won’t go. There is just too much work to be done in Pennsylvania: whether it’s figuring out our state budget, or what will happen to children who will lose their healthcare when Donald Trump kicks them off CHIP, or all the other Pennsylvanians who find themselves in need, hanging out in swanky New York City bars doesn’t seem like a good Progressive answer to me.”

Another progressive LG candidate, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, attended, but told The Incline, “it’s way off brand for me personally.”

“However,” he added, “it’s an invaluable networking opportunity, and running statewide, it’s an unparalleled opportunity to meet with elected and political leaders from all across Pennsylvania.”

Mayor John Fetterman at 2015's Pa. Society event in New York City.

Mayor John Fetterman at 2015’s Pa. Society event in New York City.


In progressive political circles, some see the Pa. Society gala as anathema for the reasons listed above by Berringer: It’s an opulent, indulgent and insider-driven enterprise, a celebration of the old guard (read: “establishment”) and elite political circles reviled by much of the state and, to be fair, the country. See also: “Drain the swamp.”

Others say it’s a political necessity, a fact of life for anyone in — or looking to be in — public office.

“… this is a tough reality for politicians from both parties,” said Kristin Kanthak, an associate professor with Pitt’s Department of Political Science. “You can’t win if you don’t raise money, but nobody likes it when politicians raise money.”

That seems to be a particularly acute dilemma for progressive candidates, like Fetterman and Berringer, whose shunning of political classism, power structures and norms is what many supporters prize most about them. Those supporters often see their progressive candidates as outsiders capable of squeezing the insiders for the greater good.

But ideologies affect little change from the sidelines, the thinking goes, and so the need to fundraise or network remains inescapable in terms of political ascendancy.

“I think progressive politics is caught in a really tight place right now when it comes to campaign finance,” Kanthak said.

When asked specifically about Fetterman, Kanthak added: “It doesn’t matter how good your message is if you don’t have money to deliver it to voters. Voters don’t pay enough attention to politics to hear a message with no money behind it. If Fetterman wants to be a serious candidate with a real chance of winning in our system, he has to raise money. If he asked me what the best way is to help the kinds of people he wants to help in the system we have, I’d advise him to go to New York.”

She concluded: “… he needs to raise money, and that’s what the Pa. Society has. He needs a lot more money than he had when he ran for the Senate, and so he needs to change strategies. From a strategic point of view, no one can beat him on his progressive bona fides if he has the most money to tout his progressive bona fides. That’s just how the system works.”

Fetterman is also fundraising online — sometimes with surprisingly rapid results. He also said he expects to make the majority of his campaign money through small, individual contributions. Fetterman raised $170,000 in two weeks during his failed 2016 U.S. Senate campaign. He raised $100,000 in the first week of his ongoing campaign for lieutenant governor.

So what of the other Democratic LG candidates and Pa. Society?

  • Current lieutenant governor Mike Stack attended Pa. Society 2017.
View image on Twitter
  • Chester County Commissioner and Democratic LG candidate Kathi Cozzone told The Inclineshe wouldn’t be attending following the sudden death of her friend and campaign manager Adam Swope in a November traffic collision.
  • Montgomery County State Representative Madeleine Dean, another Dem, planned to attend, per a spokesperson.
  • Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman said he didn’t attend this year and went to an event thrown by Adams County Democrats instead. “I’ve never been to Pennsylvania Society,” Lehman explained. “But if I’m successful in my bid to be elected lieutenant governor, I would certainly consider it next year.”

Stack’s estranged counterpart, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, also attended for the first time during his tenure in office. He’s up for re-election in 2018.

In years past, Wolf has eschewed the grandeur of the Pa. Society circuit in favor of serving clients at Harrisburg soup kitchens. His re-election campaign said he’ll be donating to charity this year. Wolf last attended Pa. Society as governor-elect.

If nothing else, his attendance confirms the event as conventionally unavoidable for those seeking election, re-election or — on the flip side of the coin — access to any of the winners. And for many, that’s part of the problem. In short, it’s a two way street — one bellini-splashed hand washing the other.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald also went to NYC, where they hosted a Pa. Society-related event on Friday. Some members of city council also attended, though it’s unclear exactly how many.

“No, I’m not [going],” outgoing Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak told The Incline last week. “It’s expensive, and I’m saving the little PAC money I have left for funding candidates and for my new project, Women for the Future Pittsburgh.”

Saturday’s Pa. Society dinner — the centerpiece in what amounts to a days-long festival of politics — costs $500 per plate. Rudiak added, “I would venture to say that most electeds use their PAC money to fund this trip.”

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said she wouldn’t attend either, adding that she never has and “likely never will.”

Councilman Dan Gilman declined to comment through a spokesperson, while Councilman Corey O’Connor said he attended this year, citing ongoing projects in his district and a local legislative initiative that he feels could benefit from a statewide audience. 

“With the Hazelwood site we broke ground [on] the other day, and a couple of other things we were working on — student loan funds and trying to cut those at the state level — I thought it’d be good to connect with people from across the state,” O’Connor told The Incline this morning.

O’Connor said he doesn’t attend every year and hasn’t for the last two years.

“It‘s a very old fashioned type of an event,” O’Connor added. “I don’t go to the dinner itself. I’m not into wearing a tuxedo for an extraordinarily long amount of time.” He opted instead for satellite events, where he said it’s easier to network.

The five other council members did not respond to inquiries.

Meanwhile, Pa. Society remains something of a double-edged sword for politicians navigating the populist wave building on either side of the partisan divide.

This may be particularly true in Democratic circles, though, as the party looks to repatriate the distanced or disappearing members of its fractured progressive wing ahead of next year’s elections. In fact, many in the party are counting on those members to be reenergized after a year under President Trump and able to sway outcomes in tight races if properly engaged.

There are also unrelated questions, like this one from Philly.com, about the future of the Pa. Society event itself and what appears to be a thinner dance card this year. This, after the event had to be moved from the Waldorf Astoria where it’s been held since 1899 and rescheduled to the week before its traditional calendar slot.

Also unclear is what the event falling out of political fashion could mean long term. While that may already be happening in certain circles, Pa. Society is still a long way from outliving its usefulness for candidates and those who want to know them. 

Organizers aren’t worried.

And they’re not planning on moving the event to Pennsylvania either. Regardless of where it’s held, the event will remain an inconvenient political truth for some and an indispensable part of the political machine for everyone else. It will also remain a prop of sorts, a means of declaring one’s opposition to everything that political machine entails.

Not that abstaining candidates like Berringer couldn’t find anything else to do this weekend.

Her campaign said she unloaded trucks for Toys-for-Tots and served meals to the homeless. There was also mention of a membership drive for the NAACP. (Berringer is a party activist and former congressional candidate from Westmoreland County.)

“It is time for us to remind everyone that Pennsylvania is a commonwealth in how we act and not just in name only,” she said in a statement. “Politicians in Pennsylvania must come to understand what is truly of value to the people they represent. It is time to break the old political ways and put forth a new generation of leaders.”  Source

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