There’s a phrase to describe public servants like Butler County Republican state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe.
No, not jackass, although that’s a good guess; I was thinking of “unfortunately unbeatable.” He’s a far-right, uber-conservative Republican from Cranberry, and he’s been in the same seat since 1999. He’s also one of the most divisive legislators in Harrisburg, often putting his personal agenda above the needs of his constituents.
He’s known for pushing tired Tea Party wedge issues like voter-suppression acts, anti-LGBT measures and some of the most hateful anti-immigrant legislation in this country. He thinks climate change is a whole lot of hooey, and he holds a powerful committee chair that has kept a lot of good laws — like the Pa. Fairness Act, which prevents discrimination based on a person’s gender identification or sexual orientation — from ever getting a hearing.
Despite all of that, he has been re-elected nine times, and many think the 10th time is just two weeks away. But Christian Rieger, the Cranberry Township Democrat taking on Metcalfe Nov. 8, says not so fast.
“Daryl Metcalfe has burned a lot of bridges,” Rieger told City Paper during an Oct. 21 meeting at the office of Paul M. Daniels and Associates, where he practices bankruptcy and family law. “It started years ago as a spark, and he’s spent his career throwing a lot of gasoline on it. He’s neglected school funding for years and has ignored a lot of local issues in favor of these other issues that he spends his time on.”
One issue is the severe congestion on Route 228 through Mars and Seven Fields. Population has exploded in those areas and the road — a crucial connector between the turnpike and state Route 8 — can’t handle the traffic. Moreover, in 2011, when a group of citizens from Middlesex Township wanted to help restore Glade Run Lake, which was drained due to an unsafe dam, Metcalfe refused to lobby for funds for the project. The major infrastructure project that was estimated to bring in more than $1 million a year in tourism dollars didn’t rate his attention. The lake will open in 2017 in spite of Metcalfe.
Rieger says the district needs a legislator who will work for projects like this, and who recognizes what the district needs to handle its continued growth. For example, Rieger says a public-transit system for Southwest Butler County and its more than 30,000 residents should be examined. Rieger, whose wife is a teacher, also says Metcalfe is an enemy of proper funding for education.
While the idea of Metcalfe being replaced by a legislator who identifies himself as “left of center” in a predominantly Republican county seems too good to be true, Rieger says he sees a path to victory.
The first part of his plan starts with those 30,000 or so residents in Cranberry, Mars and Seven Fields. The area is filling with young professionals, white-collar voters who work in the city, and businesses that have sprouted up in the past decade. These voters care about social issues, and Rieger seems pretty progressive on social issues. He’s in favor of the fairness act; he supports LGBT rights; he’s pro-choice; and while he believes the right to own firearms for personal protection is guaranteed, he says it’s “not absolute.”
Rieger, a 32-year-old Allentown native, received an undergrad degree in political science from Pitt and his law degree from Duquesne University in 2009. In March, he decided to seek the Democratic spot on the ballot and take on Metcalfe, who once seemed unbeatable. But two years ago, Metcalfe nearly lost re-election to Republican Gordon Marburger, who was running as a write-in. Marburger lost by about 550 votes.
Rieger says Metcalfe’s lack of action on district matters and his narrow victory over Marburger is a sign that a realistic challenge can be mounted. For the past several months, Rieger has been on a “listening tour,” visiting township boards of supervisors across the district.
“I wanted to go out and meet the local policy-makers and see what their communities need,” Rieger says. “What I’ve discovered is they don’t feel like they have a partner in Harrisburg.”
The Democrat has also spent time knocking on doors, especially the doors of GOP voters who would be key to any victory. In 2014, Marburger got more than 5,300 write-in votes against Metcalfe running on a platform that Metcalfe wasn’t properly serving the district. Those votes, combined with a larger voter turnout in a presidential election year, could mean a win for Rieger.
“I’m out there every night knocking on doors and meeting constituents,” he says. “It’s not the most efficient strategy, but I think it’s the most effective.”