Hearing state Sen. Mike Folmer was charged with possessing child pornography, fellow Republican lawmaker Russ Diamond initially thought it must be ‘fake news’ from political opponents.
The he felt like he had taken “a gut punch.”
Mauree Gingrich, a former House member, felt a different kind of pain.
She thought about how Folmer, from Lebanon County, had backed a package of reforms aimed at child abuse, including one Gingrich had sponsored and discussed with him.
“He is a perpetuator of the crime. Of course I was shocked, but I was also completely revolted and disgusted,” said Gingrich, a Republican and former House member representing Lebanon County.
Folmer was arrested Tuesday. He is accused of downloading pornographic images involving children from a social media site. Authorities say they found two of the images on his cell phone. Folmer, 63, resigned a day later.
Gov. Tom Wolf released a statement this morning, saying state Sen. Mike Folmer, who is accused of possessing child pornography, should resign immediately. https://t.co/C9beYq5oGT pic.twitter.com/jt6PLrGY8j
— WGAL (@WGAL) September 18, 2019
Gingrich said she was greatly troubled that someone who expressed concern for abused children would turn out to be an alleged consumer of pornography, thereby adding to the market and incentive for child abuse.
“You are a participant. You are not just a voyeur,” she said. “Those children are victims.”
Diamond, a Republican state House member, said: “It was like a gut punch … I do not think I am alone in Lebanon County in my absolute shock over this.”
Upon learning of the arrest, leaders from both parties immediately called for Folmer to resign.
According to arrest documents, Folmer told investigators “he had been dealing with some personal problems/issues and that he received child pornography through his Tumblr blog.”
Diamond said he’d seen no signs Folmer was having significant personal problems. The two had been working together on measures to make sure people on parole and probation could still obtain medical marijuana.
“There was nothing to make me think: ‘Hey, something’s wrong with Mike.’” Diamond said. “It was just business as usual.”
Folmer for 12 years had held the seat representing Lebanon and parts of Dauphin and York counties. He was critical to Pennsylvania’s legalization of medical marijuana, with his support paving the way for many fellow Republicans to change their views.
His seniority gave him influence and he was chairman of the Senate State Government Committee.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has 10 days from Folmer’s resignation on Wednesday to decide when a special election will be held to fill Folmer’s seat. But it can’t held until at least 60 days after the resignation, which will prevent it from being held during the Nov. 5 general election.
Political analyst G. Terry Madonna said Folmer’s quick resignation spares his party from the political harm that can happen when a lawmaker is accused of a crime but refuses to resign, especially if party leaders stand behind the person.
He also noted there are plenty of examples of members of both parties being accused of sex-related crimes.
“I don’t think this has political overtones,” Madonna said. “He did the right thing by resigning.”
He also said the district is dominated by Republicans and he would be “stunned” if a Republican doesn’t win the special election. Moreover, senate Republicans hold enough of an advantage that the loss of a seat won’t harm them legislatively.
But Gingrich, who now lives in Dauphin County, said residents of the district lose an advocate who had been around long enough to understand the process and gain influence. They should be enjoying the benefits of that being applied to local issues.
“There were people who were counting on him. Now he’s gone and there’s a hole there,” she said.
Of his eventual replacement, she said “No matter who it is, it’s a freshman senator. It’s someone who does not know a lot, if anything, about the legislative process.”