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‘Dems for Florio’ Target Muth Over Allegations of Abuse, Transphobia

Attack ads are hitting mailboxes in the state Senate District 44 contest between incumbent Democrat Katie Muth and her Republican challenger Jessica Florio. One stands out because it is an intraparty crossfire: The call is coming from inside the house.

“Democrats for Jessica Florio” sent mailers in the last week attacking Muth for recent reports that she fostered a hostile, bullying work environment in her Senate office and that she made a transphobic remark about Admiral Rachel Levine, a transgender woman who was previously the state’s health secretary.

Muth’s seat is considered one of the closest Senate races this midterm. The district, based mainly in Chester County but also touching parts of Montgomery and Berks, is evenly split between registered Republicans and Democrats. Muth won in 2018 by a 52-48 margin in a Democrat wave year.

The front side of the mailer says Muth “is an abusive employer,” and that she is “transphobic,” and concludes the argument on the flip side with “Bigotry is not progressive.”

“I’ve been a loyal party operator my entire life,” said Adrienne Redd, a Montgomery County Democrat who has run for office in the past. Asked why she was part of the Democrats for Florio effort, Redd said it’s because of her values. “Humanity and kindness are my highest values. and I am a pragmatic progressive with impeccable credentials.”

The mailer references two previous reports from Broad + Liberty, an online-only news and opinion site based in Philadelphia. Its opinion content features mainly right-of-center voices.

In the first report, Broad + Liberty used employment data from the Pennsylvania Senate to show Muth, still in her first term, had quickly cycled through numerous staffers, including four chiefs of staff and four communications directors. The report said her office witnessed 200 percent turnover, and no other Senate office came close to approaching that figure.

The report also included a Facebook quote from a former staffer who alleged Muth fostered a hostile work environment.

“All you have to do is check the public records to see that she’s had the highest turnover of chief of staff and everybody all the way down of any legislator ever in the history of the state of Pennsylvania.” And, Redd said, some of those staffers sought mental health treatment after their experience, including for PTSD.

Adrienne Redd

Muth did not deny the high turnover rate at the time, arguing  that her political mission “requires that I hold myself and my team to high-performance standards.” But in a statement to DVJournal, Muth now rejects the allegations as a “personal vendetta” against her from disgruntled Democrats.

“Personal vendettas have no place in government or in politics,” Muth said. “This election should be about issues and the ability to make an impact for our constituents and for all Pennsylvania residents. Since the beginning of this campaign, I have been subjected to outright lies, deceptive mailers paid for by dark money, and solicited, libelous articles in sham online publications like Broad and Liberty.”

[Muth’s entire statement to DVJournal can be found here.]

The mailer also references a second story about an official transcript of unsworn testimony from a former Air Force Major General who said Muth had called then-Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine a “mess in a dress.”

The former major general, Eric Weller, had previously been the second in charge of Pennsylvania’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and had some oversight of the Southeastern Veterans Center, a long-term care facility in Muth’s district that saw a higher-than-average death rate, especially in the earliest weeks of the pandemic.

Muth pushed out two of the top administrators at the SEVC, with the support of some upset families of residents. Weller believes those administrators were scapegoated as he theorized that culpability would either fall on the pandemic response of Gov. Wolf’s administration, or it could depend on the mid-level administrators.

Once again, Muth did not confirm or refute Weller’s claim about the Levine comment at the time of the first story. Today she is calling Weller a liar.

“Not only is Major General Eric Weller lying in his testimony, but he should be ashamed considering he was forced to retire due to his poor leadership, which resulted in dozens of veterans dying in the state-run veteran’s homes that he oversaw,” Muth said.

Muth also claimed that former state senator Daylin Leach was behind the attack ad.

“The recent PAC that was created was done so to smear my reputation by a group of individuals loyal to Leach, who lost his bid for re-election in 2020 after losing nearly all of the support from the Democratic Party and the district that he served,” Muth said.

“Not surprisingly, my opponent has accepted their help in a last-ditch effort to salvage her campaign,” Muth added.

Even when she was a candidate for the Senate, Muth, a rape victim, signaled she intended to try and push Leach out for alleged sexual improprieties. The Senate Democratic caucus did eventually force him to resign.

The mailer alleges that ethics complaints have been filed against Muth, but no evidence in the public arena exists to substantiate that idea.

Michael Straw, who runs the Pennsylvania Republican Senatorial Committee, says it is time for Democrats to dump Muth.

“Katie Muth has spent the last four years abusing and bullying her staff. No one deserves that. Democrats should be distancing themselves from Sen. Muth.”

Even some Chester County Democrats admit off the record Muth’s defensive reaction isn’t helpful.

“The old saying in politics is ‘if you’re explaining, you’re losing,’ said one local political insider. “But this isn’t just ‘losing.’ She’s ‘losing it.’”

Making the Cut: More PA GOP Women Running for Office

For many years, Springfield resident Nichole Missino was a nonpolitical person who registered as an independent and only voted in presidential election years.

“I thought my vote didn’t matter,” she said.

The 2020 pandemic changed that.

Missino owns Giovanni’s Media Barber Shop, which she named for her son, now 13.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, we had to shut down,” Missino said. She wanted to access relief funding so that the people who worked at the barber shop, who are independent contractors, could pay their bills.

She asked state Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-Springfield) for help but got nowhere.

“The state did not open that portal until the end of April,” said Missino, so her workers had no income starting when the Wolf administration ordered her to shut down in March.

“There was no real help from my Democratic legislator,” she said.

“I felt I could do better than she does,” said Missino, now a Republican and running against O’Mara. “I just want to help people.”

Jessica Florio

Missino is one of many Republican women running for office in 2022. Some 45 percent of the Pennsylvania Republican state Senate candidates are women, and 30 percent of the GOP House candidates are women.

“The state legislative candidates nominated by Pennsylvania Republicans are a true testament to the Republican Party’s commitment to electing more women leaders to public office who reflect their respected communities,” said RSLC Deputy Communications Director Mason DiPalma. “These candidates will act as a strong line of defense against Joe Biden’s destructive agenda. The only way to defend and expand our majorities is to elect diverse candidates like these so we can get our country back on track. We are excited and confident that these candidates will be successful in pushing back against Pennsylvania Democrats in Harrisburg.”

Jessica Florio is running for the state Senate, challenging Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery).

“As a special education teacher, Honey Brook Borough Council president, volunteer, and leader in my community, I have seen the good that can be accomplished when we work together and put aside the political differences that separate us,” said Florio. “I decided to run for state Senate because too many people in Harrisburg, including my opponent, choose politics over doing what is right for their constituents. It is partisan and divisive when she should be finding common ground.

“Currently, the residents of the 44th District are facing the very same issues that have deeply concerned persons throughout the country: wallet-crushing inflation, a stagnating economy, rising crime, and an education system that could, and should, be doing more for our children.

“I believe in the promise of America, and I believe Pennsylvania is a great state in which to live, work and raise a family,” said Florio. “The solutions to these issues won’t be found in partisan bickering but will be found through a leader who carefully listens to and works with those on both sides of the aisle to develop solutions that address the problems we all face.

“As state Senator, I will prioritize the needs of families, small businesses, and workers trying to make ends meet and will support legislation that will improve the lives of all Pennsylvanians,” she said.

Rep. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Harleysville) is another woman with her eye on a state Senate seat. Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Bucks/Berks/Montgomery) is retiring and endorsed Pennycuick.

Rep. Tracy Pennycuick

She said that she loves being in the legislature and serving her constituents. An Army combat veteran, she initially enlisted as a medic. Pennycuick earned a degree in business and a commission in the U.S. Army. She served as a Blackhawk pilot, including three combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Desert Storm, where she was awarded the bronze star.

Pennycuick retired as a lieutenant colonel after 26 years of service. She was a platoon leader, operations officer, company commander, aviation group safety officer, brigade human resources officer, executive officer, Department of Defense efficiency expert, and foreign liaison to the UK Ministry of Defence.

Pennycuick and her husband, Rick, who also served in the armed forces, settled in Harleysville when he was in command of the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) Philadelphia. The couple has four grown children, three serving in the military, and two grandchildren.

In the House, she has focused on education, as well as “providing our frontline heroes, families, seniors, workers, and small businesses with the support they need through the pandemic while also pushing forward important legislation that protects some of our most vulnerable populations and vital government reform.”

Missino is also a fighter.

In early May, she was going to reopen her barber shop but received threats from the police and state. So she held a rally outside it to call on the state to allow small businesses to reopen.

She put up Plexiglas dividers, stocked up on personal protective equipment (PPE), and decided to reopen her shop on May 20. The Media police chief told her he would pull her occupancy permit. She did anyway, and when a state inspector came to check out Giovanni’s, he found that she had gone over and above the state rules.

“I’ve never been on unemployment,” she said. “I’ve always been a worker.”

Missino was also active in the school district, attending board meetings to oppose requiring students to wear masks. She spoke at school board meetings and ran for the school board in Springfield as a write-in candidate.

“I’ve gotten help from the Republican Party,” she said about her run for state representative.

DiPalma said, “The diverse slate of state legislative candidates nominated by Republicans in Pennsylvania embodies the mission of the RSLC’s Right Leaders Network. Through the RSLC’s Right Women Right Now and Future Majority Project initiatives, the committee over the past decade has recruited, trained, supported, and elected thousands of diverse state Republicans across the country, many of whom went on to serve in statewide and federal offices.”

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Sen. Muth Hit With Ethics Complaint Over Social Media

Jessica Florio, the Republican candidate running against state Sen. Katie Muth, has filed an ethics complaint against the incumbent Democrat alleging misuse of her official state social media account.

Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery) sent tweets on her official taxpayer-funded account to organizations and individuals that appear to be related to campaigns for other Democrats, rather than official communications with constituents. For example, she used her official account to forward a tweet from Robert Zeigler, who is running against GOP House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff.



Zeigler describes himself as the “progressive, working-class candidate for PA State House to represent the 171st district.”

Muth also re-tweeted at least two messages from the far-Left activist group

Muth has since removed her retweet of the tweet.

“Clearly, Sen. Katie Muth believes the rules do not apply to her,” Pennsylvania Senate Republican Campaign Committee Communications Director Michael Straw said. “As a senator, she is entitled to utilize her taxpayer-funded social media accounts to spread her own radical opinions and bad policy positions. However, Sen. Muth crossed the line on June 29 and June 30 when she used her official social media account to prop up fellow Democrat campaigns on the taxpayer dime. Pennsylvanians send their hard-earned tax dollars to Harrisburg to improve infrastructure, fund our schools, and keep our streets safe, not to prop up Muth and her radical allies. Katie Muth knows better, and the people of Pennsylvania deserve better.”

Jessica Florio

Muth did not respond to a request for comment.

The Florio campaign released this statement: “Sen. Muth, who refers to the State Capitol as the ‘Dome of Corruption,’ is always quick to point out when someone doesn’t follow the rules, and she should be held to the same standard. There is a long list of elected officials who have resigned, and in some cases been charged, for having staff members do campaign work during official hours.

“The complaint is not so much about the result as it is about the message: if you are going to accuse others of wrongdoing and ethical violations, you should make sure your own house is in order.  The purpose of this complaint is to stick up for the taxpayers of the 44th Senate District; something Sen. Muth struggles to do time and again,” the campaign stated.

Muth was elected to the Senate in 2018 and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in athletic training. A Royersford resident, she got her start in politics through Indivisible Mid Montco, a progressive grassroots action network.

According to her website, Muth is “focused on helping those struggling to find affordable health care, ensuring equal pay for equal work, promoting a livable wage and paid family medical leave. In addition, the senator is focused on aiding students who are overburdened by heavy student loans.”

Florio served as president of the Honey Brook Borough Council, chair of the Route 322 Transportation Committee, and served as president of the Honey Brook Community Library Board of Trustees.

A teacher for 15 years, Florio has worked as a special education teacher for 12 years.

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