HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — An outspoken and conservative Pennsylvania state lawmaker has stirred calls to resign or be demoted after he interrupted a committee meeting to accost his Democratic counterpart for touching his arm and suggest the man might be gay.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday called Rep. Daryl Metcalfe's comments offensive and discriminatory, and said it is "part of a disturbing pattern of behavior."
Wolf does not think Metcalfe should chair a committee that has authority over legislation to expand gay and transgender rights, his spokesman said.
House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, declined to discuss the issue Wednesday. Turzai, who is running to challenge Wolf's re-election bid next year, declined to discuss the subject Wednesday.
The state Democratic Party called for Metcalfe to resign, while a gay and transgender rights group and a health care workers' labor union asked Turzai to strip Metcalfe of his committee chairmanship.
Metcalfe, R-Butler, chairs the State Government Committee, and his comments and committee meetings routinely stoke anger from Democrats. Democrats say he regularly shuts down their questions or comments and uses his committee as an ideological weapon. The hostility occasionally spills onto the House floor.
In Tuesday's meeting on a bill about landlocked easements and roads, Metcalfe interrupted Democratic Rep. Matt Bradford — seated next to him — after Bradford placed his hand on Metcalfe's forearm while speaking.
"Representative Bradford, look, I'm a heterosexual, I have a wife, I love my wife, I don't like men, as you might, but stop touching me all the time," Metcalfe said. "It's like, keep your hands to yourself. Like, if you want to touch somebody, you have people on your side of the aisle that might like it, I don't."
A visibly stunned Bradford laughed and said the meeting was "officially off the rails."
"My intent was just to beg for your permission for about 30 seconds," Bradford said.
"Then beg," Metcalfe responded, "don't touch."
Bradford — who has a wife and four children — later said he had simply sought to stop Metcalfe from interrupting him.
"The chairman can be volatile," Bradford, D-Montgomery, said. "I have strong views of my own, but I don't think that's an excuse to go into a diatribe. ... It's not isolated, it's not a singular incident, it's not because someone touched his arm."
Metcalfe told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Bradford, for months, has been continually touching him and that he has asked him to stop.
"If someone touches another person, and they say, 'stop touching me,' and they don't stop, that's serious business," Metcalfe told the Inquirer.
Metcalfe's committee meetings often erupt in rancor.
In one incident, Metcalfe pressed legislation to make English the official language of Pennsylvania and invited someone he identified as a "white nationalist" to testify in favor of it. He has pressed immigration legislation to stem what he called the "illegal alien invasion" and clashed several times with an openly gay lawmaker.
Bottled up in his committee is legislation banning discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in employment, housing and public services.