Pa. House Loses a Liberal Voice


Twenty years ago, Larry Ceisler challenged State Rep. Babette Josephs (D-District 182) in a primary. He lost, joining a long list of Democrats who tried over the years to unseat the Center City lawmaker.

Though Ceisler, a well-known political and communications strategist had once been an opponent of Josephs, he grew to appreciate her style of politics. He described her as possibly the most liberal representative in the 203-member House. She's someone who he described as too principled to engage in the wheeling and dealing often required by Harrisburg, he said.

Now that she's been defeated after 27 years in office, Ceisler said the House just won't be the same without her.

"She was this lone voice of progressive politics in Harrisburg," said Ceisler. "She was ideologically principled. She was different — she was this Jewish grandmother type who carried a backpack and who was sort of throwback to the '60s."

Attorney Brian Simms defeated Josephs with 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent, receiving 3,661 votes to Josephs' 3,428, according to unofficial results. With victory in November virtually assured, Simms is poised to become the first openly gay member of either the Pennsylvania House or Senate.

Simms had raised more money than previous opponents and was able to mount a vigorous campaign.

Josephs is leaving office in the same manner in which she came to it. In 1984, in her mid-40s, she defeated State. Rep. Samuel Rappaport, Jewish incumbent, in a hard-fought primary decided by a little more than 400 votes.

Josephs could not be reached for comment after her defeat.

Before being elected, she had served as the director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League PA. Once in office, she championed the issue of choice. She was a proponent of gay rights and, in recent years, had pushed to have sexual orientation covered under Pennsylvania's 2002 hate crimes law.

(Gays and lesbians were originally covered under the law, but the portion of the bill extending protections to gays and lesbians was thrown out under a 2008 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision.)

Josephs had also introduced legislation, which was never passed, that would have ensured the right of mothers to breast feed in public.

Hank Butler, director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, which lobbies on behalf of Jewish communities across the state, worked with Josephs on a number of issues.

"She has been a champion for her constituents and for the Jewish community since she came to office," he said. "Hopefully, she'll still be pushing her agenda."

He said that he's looking forward to working with Simms but said it's unfortunate that Simms' gain had to come about through Josephs' loss.

In 2001, she became the Democratic chair of the influential State Government Committee and, starting in 2007, she enjoyed a four-year stint as overall chair of the committee when Democrats were a majority in the House.

During that time, she used her sway to help push through a law forcing Pennsylvania's pension funds to divest from companies doing business with terrorist-sponsoring states such as Iran and Sudan. Josephs spoke out often about the genocide taking place in Darfur and often invoked the Holocaust and the need to prevent atrocities today.

When she lost her post as majority chair of the committee, she often clashed bitterly with the current chair, Republican lawmaker Daryl Metcalfe. Josephs often criticized Metcalfe's harsh language concerning undocumented immigrants.

In the end, she had few major legislative achievements to her name, but according to Ceisler, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Her time in office will be remembered more for the issues she championed and the constituents she helped than the bills she sent to the governor's desk.

"It is the rare few who are able to get something done in Harrisburg," he said. "You have to have everything: You have to be in the majority, you have to be well-liked, you have to be non-controversial, you have to know how to make deals and trade."


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