2013 will mark the first time since 1985 that progressive firebrand Babette Josephs has not represented Center City’s 182nd House District in Harrisburg. She lost to Brian Sims, the first openly gay person ever elected to the state legislature, in April’s Democratic primary. The race turned ugly fast: Sims challenged Josephs just two years after serving as her campaign treasurer; Josephs sent out a flier accusing Sims of being a toady-in-the-making for Gov. Tom Corbett.
I am optimistic that Harrisburg has gained a new voice for justice and equality, but I am certain that it has lost one of its loudest and most persistent.
Babette, most often called by just her first name, was the ranking Democrat on the House State Government Committee. She was at her finest going toe-to-toe with Republican committee chairman Daryl Metcalfe, the legislature’s most profoundly right-wing creature. Babette was, by contrast, less hostile to compromise than her caricature. Unlike Metcalfe, she gave the other party’s bills a hearing when Democrats ruled the House, and won plaudits from her committee’s minority chairman, Centre County Republican Rep. Kerry Benninghoff. He calls Babette a friend. “She was pretty tolerant of questions, and even questions when she knew they were filibustering,” Benninghoff told me. “Her respect for process supersedes her partisan viewpoint.”
Metcalfe has ushered in a new reign of partisan hostility, going so far as to ask the sergeant-at-arms to eject Babette from a committee meeting. In October, Metcalfe goaded her to lead the committee in the Pledge of Allegiance. She bravely declined, citing her First Amendment rights and “the fact that I really think it’s a prayer. I don’t pray in public.” Babette never says the Pledge, noting that the words “under God” were added only in 1954 at the height of McCarthyite anti-Communist hysteria. The story, picked up by Glenn Beck’s site, went viral.
“I’m glad that she’s retiring,” Metcalfe told Har-risburg’s ABC 27. I trust that Sims, though different in temperament, will make Metcalfe eat his words.
The problem with Pennsylvania Republicans — as with the GOP at large — is not that they’re loud, but that they are often wrong. When Democrats are in the right, they need to make their case loud and clear. Babette has never forgotten that.
You’ll hear more from Babette, who is exploring the idea of building bipartisan rural-urban alliances around food and farm issues. And she hasn’t ruled out running for office again either. “Don’t stick a fork in me,” she told me on Monday. “I am not done.”