Democratic Pennsylvania State Rep. Babette Josephs is falsely claiming Brian Sims will disenfranchise voters, demand mandatory ultrasounds before abortion, and make drastic cuts to education.
Some people have the Super Bowl, the Oscars, or the Tonys as the night they pack friends and family around the television and anxiously await the results. I have election returns. When the Dems took both houses of Congress in 2006, I had champagne on ice in anticipation of the win. Furthermore, in the week leading up to an election, you will find me in front of my computer for hours, sample ballot and pen in hand, comparing each candidate to endorsement lists from progressive organizations, scouring their campaign sites, and Googling their voting records.
All of that said, the decision to support my friend Brian Sims in his historic run for the Pennsylvania House was an easy one. As excited as I’ve been to see Brian put down individual policy points on paper, including the detailed jobs plan for his district, I had done work side by side with him while he was the Board President of Equality Pennsylvania, and in doing so I came to deeply respect not only his values, but especially his unimpeachable integrity both as an activist and as a human being. So when Brian said it was time for new, more effective leadership in PA’s 182nd district I didn’t need to spend hours researching; I smiled, wished him luck, and stood by until my support was called upon.
And called upon I was, starting last December, with the primary being over five months away at the time. Despite my longstanding love of politics, his campaign has, in fact, been my first experience actually canvassing, talking to voters, handing out campaign literature, and stuffing envelopes. Volunteering for the campaign has been an overwhelmingly positive experience of what American democracy in action looks like. So when I arrived at the campaign office Sunday morning to see a vicious and deceitful mailer sent by the incumbent, it was like a kick square in the gut.
The front cover (above) alone was offensive enough to send me through the roof. Bold text stated “Lost in Compromise Starring Brian Sims and Tom Corbett,” with the rest of the page covered with the phrases “disenfranchising minority voters,” “mandatory ultrasounds before abortion” and “drastic cuts to public education.” The incumbent, Rep. Babette Josephs, actually had the gall to compare Pennsylvania’s extraordinarily conservative Republican Governor Tom Corbett, who advocates for and signs legislation doing all of these things, to Brian Sims, a candidate whose tireless work as a civil rights attorney, and whose stated positions on these issues refute these allegations, and demonstrate that he is a compassionate, powerful, and effective voice for progressive issues in Pennsylvania.
In response to the attack, Sims’ campaign manager, Matt Goldfine, stated “Brian Sims is Tom Corbett’s nightmare: a progressive, gay, Philadelphian who fights for public education, a woman’s fundamental right to choice and minority rights.”
As if this smear weren’t despicable enough, the back of the mailer goes on to read “Danger Philadelphia, Danger! Brian Sims says he will work with Harrisburg Republicans!” Of course, with Republican control of the House having no end in sight, it might more accurately say “Get excited Philadelphia! Fresh leadership in the 182nd district will mean the first attempt at bipartisanship in decades!” Despite being a Democratic Representative, Josephs pulled a tactic right from the Karl Rove playbook, attempting to use Brian’s strengths against him.
To put side by side Brian Sims and Governor Corbett, and to tie him to racist, sexist laws the way Josephs did, is not only to make a vicious personal attack, but it is to make one that is patently false. It is beneath the dignity of her office as State Representative, and it is an abuse of the trust that Joesphs’ constituents place in her as their voice in government. However progressive her past voting record, whatever her accomplishments in the legislature, she has undermined them by demonstrating herself to be a person operating without integrity. If there is an upside to this unconscionable character assault, it is the numerous voters that I talked with while canvassing on Sunday. Previously undecided or even supporting Josephs, they were as appalled as I was, and will now be helping to elect Brian Sims this April 24.
Call it schadenfreude, but it gives me no small pleasure that Josephs effectively spent thousands of dollars to stuff mailboxes in her district with baseless vitriol, only to win Brian countless new supporters in the process.
At the end of the day, while Josephs’ odious lies may have fired me up, it isn’t the anger that keeps me going. It isn’t imagining how we will all celebrate our hard work when Brian wins on April 24, and volunteers and campaign staff stand around cheering and hugging and congratulating one another on a job well done. It isn’t even knowing how proud I will be when Brian is sworn in as first openly gay Representative in the history of our state, possibly with five other LGBT freshman Reps, or how profoundly that might affect the outlook of a young LGBTQ child in Pennsylvania who never before imagined — dared to dream — growing up with dignity, equality, and a voice at the table. What gives me the passion and the energy to keep showing up at campaign headquarters, grabbing a clipboard and pen, and heading out to hit the streets in Philadelphia’s 182nd District, is knowing the kind of Representative Brian Sims will be.
Freshman or not, Brian will not just be one more voice in a sea of two hundred and three Representative voices. Why not? Because Brian didn’t just complete a rigorous Fellowship with the Center for Progressive Leadership; he stood out as a leader among leaders, and was invited to return and serve as faculty the following year. Brian didn’t just serve as Board President for Equality PA for two years; he saw the non-profit through a reorganization which transitioned them from primarily providing legal services to robust, statewide advocacy for LGBT equality. Directly as a result of this work, Equality PA has had the resources to lobby for non-discrimination ordinances across the state, playing an instrumental role in many of the twenty eight towns and cities where they have passed. It is because of Brian’s exceptional leadership that tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who previously could have legally been evicted and fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity go to sleep safer in their homes and wake up more secure in their jobs. On day one as a Representative, Brian Sims will take the floor with a resume that lesser men couldn’t build in three lifetimes, a powerful voice that speaks out for those who need it most, and a proven track record of getting things done for Pennsylvanians.
This has been a grassroots campaign from the start, with 99% of the funds being raised from individual donors, and there is one last contribution I would ask people to consider making in.
Whether in the Philadelphia area or not, people can mobilize and help with the final get out the vote efforts. Locals can stuff envelopes, make calls from the campaign office, or hit the streets to canvass; indeed we are training new canvassers every day. Online signup is easy. Those unable to work in Philadelphia can get in touch with the office to get set up to do phone banking from their own home or mobile phone. Supporters can also donate online. We can only hope that this recent attack was the only one Josephs had up her sleeve, or at least that any more will backfire as grandly as this one did, but in the final days of this campaign, every last volunteer or donation will make a real difference in the outcome of this historic race.
J. Rudy Flesher, a Philadelphia based actor and author, holds a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from The College of New Jersey, and is an award-winning feminist scholar. Ze blogs here and at The Pistol in Bed Thirteen, works with PhinLi Bookings to connect LGBTQ and sex positive talent with audiences, and is currently writing hir first book, an essay collection on the daily experiences of a genderqueer life. Ze will also be published in the forthcoming anthology “Beyond Masculinity.”
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