PENNLIVE — State Rep. Cris Dush said Gov. Tom Wolf’s lack of transparency in his management of the coronavirus crisis resembles a page out of a “socialist playbook.”
At Monday’s House State Government Committee, the Jefferson County Republican lawmaker criticized the governor’s reluctance to share information with the press or the public related to decisions his administration has made in response to the pandemic. Dush wants more transparency surrounding the number of COVID-19 patients who have recovered and the waiver application process related to the governor’s order to close businesses.
“More and more I go back to the German Democratic Nationalist Socialist Party, the Nazi party. I go to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR,” Dush said. “This is a socialist playbook.”
Rep. Kevin Boyle, the ranking Democrat on the committee, immediately interrupted him, calling on committee Chairman Garth Everett to cut Dush off.
“Chairman , this is outrageous,” said Boyle of Philadelphia. “Stop it with these Nazi references. It’s offensive and wrong. Stop it.”
Dush responded, “It’s a statement of history. It’s history. It’s history.”
Everett directed Dush to stay focused on the bill that the committee eventually approved that requires the administration to post online its decisions on business waiver requests.
“When you start hiding stuff 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,” Dush said. “This is a socialist playbook and I have to say it’s important for people of this state to start having access to this information rather than having it pulled off to the side and hidden for an agenda.”
Wolf spokeswoman Lindsay Kensinger responded to the statement urging more cooperation from lawmakers.
“In the last few days, House Republicans have shared fake reopening plans online and a rank and file member has compared the Administration to Nazis while Republican members have spent time moving legislation to reopen zoos during a global pandemic and rallied with activists who have made threats against the governor,” she said. “We badly need partners in the Legislature who will take the challenge before them seriously instead of using it to divide the commonwealth.”
Dush later apologized later on the House floor for the comment but that wasn’t soon enough for a coalition of Jewish-affiliated organizations across the state that condemned the representative’s invocation of the Nazi party in talking about the governor’s COVID-19 response.
“While we appreciate that Representative Dush did issue an apology on the House floor several hours later, we are deeply disappointed that he did not immediately retract his comments when the vice-chair of the committee requested that he do so, and that in his floor remarks he did not directly acknowledge what he had said and why it was wrong,” according to a coalition statement. “We are grateful for the House members who recognize that even in — especially in — heated political debate, this rhetoric is unacceptable. We fervently hope we will never hear such thoughtless language used by a Pennsylvania leader again.”
The governor as well as other administration officials have refuted claims they are withholding information although several of their departments say they are closed and are not processing requests filed under the state’s Right-to-Know Law.
About the patient recovery data, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has said hospitals don’t report information to the state when coronavirus patients are discharged.
As for the business waiver program, Wolf has declined to publicly provide a complete list of businesses that received waivers. He also has said it would be premature to release information regarding the decision-making process behind whether or not a business was granted an exemption to the closure order until all the waivers were processed.
Meanwhile, a state Senate committee issued a subpoena to the Wolf Administration demanding information about the waiver program be provided to it by May 8.
This step was taken on Thursday after finding the administration’s responses lacking to questions posed during a legislative hearing. Lawmakers sought to find clarity behind the methodology used to determine a “life sustaining” business that was exempt from the governor’s closure order.
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has agreed to perform an audit of the waiver program, which Wolf has said he welcomed.
More than 40,000 companies applied for waivers to reopen their doors. The waiver application period ended early this month.
About one-third of those who applied for waivers were denied, Wolf said in a conference call with news media on Thursday
“We actually did this in a way that was meant to be fair and honest,” Wolf said Thursday.
“Were some mistakes made? Maybe,” Wolf said. “And if they were, the folks in Pennsylvania have a right to know that.”
*This post was updated to include a statement from the governor’s spokeswoman and to include the statement from coalition of Jewish-affiliated organizations.
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