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Lawmaker defends mailing

| Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008

Political opinion is divided on whether State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, did the right thing this summer when he used taxpayers' money to pay for a district-wide mailing defending his character.

According to the State House Republican Caucus, which paid for the mailing, Metcalfe spent $5,562.17 on the one-page letter.

The letter assured his constituents that, while Metcalfe is a conservative Christian, he wants no part of the White Christian Nation -- an apparently fraudulent white supremacist group in Erie -- nor the "White Christian Soldier Award" it purported to offer him.

Investigators from the Butler County District Attorney's office could not locate the group or prove it existed.

Attempts by the Valley News Dispatch to contact the group by mail were not answered -- and their post office boxes don't exist, according to the Erie post office.

Metcalfe says that by sending the letter, he was fulfilling the responsibilities of his office -- and that he received an "overwhelming" positive feedback from his constituents.

"They were glad that we actually informed them of it," he said. "I think the main point is that this was a legislative mailing ... It had everything to do with an attack on my legislative work."

Nonetheless, he has long said that the attack was politically motivated, and that it was intended to take him out of office and stifle his political views.

"When you're in office, everything's political," Metcalfe said. "It's all part of politics. These people coming after me, it was an attack."

According to Steven Miskin, a spokesman for the caucus, Metcalfe "was not being attacked as a candidate," but as a legislator -- therefore, the expenditure was justified.

Some political experts feel the public purpose of the mailing is somewhat murky.

But others, including some of Metcalfe's colleagues, say his actions were legitimate.

State Rep. Ron Buxton, D-Harrisburg, who chairs the House Ethics Committee, did not return a call for comment.

Joseph DiSarro, who is chairman of the Department of Political Science at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, is a self-described Libertarian who supports many of Metcalfe's legislative decisions.

But this mailing wasn't one of them.

"To respond to a group that may not exist is an error," he said. "That's number one. I think it's inappropriate to respond to a fictitious group with funds that are governmental funds, with people's money. This should be done with campaign funds, or personal funds. It's inappropriate. This is throwing good money away."

Legislative mailings are supposed to be for public information, but "I don't see the public purpose here," DiSarro said. "I think he should've just ignored it."

On the other hand, there are numerous famous instances in which "ignoring it" wrecked someone's political career, DiSarro said.

On the national level, former Democratic presidential candidates have learned that lesson hard, DiSarro said: John Kerry should have responded more strongly to the Swift Boat accusations maligning his military service and Michael Dukakis could have protested against George H.W. Bush's "Willie Horton" stump speeches, which helped sink the Dukakis campaign.

On a local level, Republican District 4 Congresswoman Melissa Hart -- one of DiSarro's former students -- should have responded to Democratic now-Congressman Jason Altmire's insinuations during the 2006 election that she had stolen money from taxpayers, DiSarro said. Instead, he said, she stayed relatively quiet -- and Altmire took her seat.

If DiSarro had been Metcalfe's legal advisor, he would have recommended that Metcalfe get his message across "through surrogates," whose endorsement might sound more convincing anyway, DiSarro said.

Besides, tactics like this are used in elections all the time, he said: "In politics, the issues are simply not enough to unseat a candidate. Everybody knows that."

State Rep. John Pallone, D-New Kensington, said he would not describe himself as Metcalfe's "number one fan," nor does he agree with most of Metcalfe's political positions -- but "I would think that Daryl is sophisticated enough not to use state funds for political gain."

Although Pallone has not seen the mailing, he said it sounds like an appropriate use of legislative mailing funds.

"To offer an explanation on an event like that, I think, could be perceived by most to be nonpolitical and purely professional," Pallone said. "He wasn't being offered this false award in a political environment...Unless his response is blatantly political, I don't see how you can deem it to be a political response."

Pallone spends about $6,000 on his district-wide mailings too, he said.

On Nov. 4, Metcalfe faces Democrat John Olesnevich, a retired steel equipment worker and substitute teacher from Middlesex Township.

Olesnevich said he thinks that since Metcalfe has characterized the attacks on him as politically motivated, the mailing should've been treated as a political mailer -- and paid for as one.

"You can't have it both ways," Olesnevich said.

Capitol correspondent Brad Bumsted contributed to this report.

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