A state representative made a controversial statement May 4, claiming that Gov. Tom Wolf’s lack of transparency in releasing information on the state’s business waiver process was akin to a Nazi tactic.
The remark by Rep. Cris Dush (R-Jefferson) during a meeting of the House State Government Committee prompted a barrage of complaints and demands for an apology.
“Chairman, this is outrageous,” said State Rep. Kevin Boyle, a Philadelphian and the committee’s ranking Democrat, imploring the committee chairman to intercede. “Stop it with the Nazi references. It is offensive and wrong, stop this.”
Dush was complaining about the waiver process, a program that has allowed select businesses to reopen despite the statewide pandemic shutdown. During a discussion of the process, Dush compared the Wolf administration’s handling of public records to infamous Nazi and Soviet methods of suppressing information from the press and public.
“The press has been having a very difficult time … getting information out because this governor has repeatedly refused all sorts of information,” said Dush, a state representative since 2015. “More and more, I go back to the Democratic National Socialist Party (sic), the Nazi Party; I go to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR. This is a socialist playbook.”
According to state Rep. Jared Solomon, another Philadelphia Democrat who was present, Boyle’s interjection offered Dush a brief moment when he might have recanted.
Instead, he doubled down.
“It’s history,” Dush shot back. “This is a socialist playbook, and I have to say that it’s important for the people of this state to start having access to information, rather than having it blown off to the side and hidden for an agenda.”
Dush’s remarks didn’t sit well with the Jewish community.
“To reference the Nazi regime is to reference a specific moment in time that evokes very powerful emotional responses, specifically within the Jewish community,” said Solomon, who met with Dush the next day to convey the impact the analogy had on Jewish Pennsylvanians.
Dush tried to explain to Solomon that it had not been his intent to evoke Holocaust imagery. He’d only meant to analogize the present transparency concerns to the Nazis’ notorious suppression of information.
“(Dush’s) argument,” Solomon recalled, “was that whenever you talk about a lack of transparency, you have to think of the extremes, and that this could be the beginning of getting to a totalitarian state.”
That reasoning wasn’t persuasive to the Jewish groups that were upset by the comparison.
A coalition of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg, the Community Relations Council of Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley and the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition issued a joint statement about the remarks.
“Such rhetoric diminishes the horrific atrocities committed by the Nazis and is offensive and wrong,” the statement read. “While we appreciate that Rep. Dush did issue an apology on the House floor several hours later, we are deeply disappointed that he did not immediately retract his comments when the vice chair of the committee requested that he do so, and that in his floor remarks he did not directly acknowledge what he had said and why it was wrong. We are grateful for the House members who recognize that even in — especially in — heated political debate, this rhetoric is unacceptable. We fervently hope we will never hear such thoughtless language used by a Pennsylvania leader again.”
“It is deeply problematic that an elected official would use such inflammatory and offensive language that diminishes the horrors of the Holocaust,” added Arlene Fickler, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation. “It is absolutely unacceptable to compare the governor’s work … to the systemic murder of Jews by the Nazi regime.”