Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a tattooed 6-foot-8 Democrat considering a run for Senate next year, has sparked a free speech war at the Pennsylvania state Capitol after he hung the pro-legalization green leaf and LGBTQ rights flags from the balcony of his office, which overlooks the state Capitol’s front steps and much of downtown Harrisburg.
“The GOP collectively shrugged when a couple of its members were photographed down in D.C. on Jan. 6, but my pride and weed flags are a point of outrage for them?” Fetterman told NBC News, referring to the day of the deadly Capitol riot.
The Republican-controlled Legislature quietly inserted a provision to ban unauthorized flags on Capitol grounds into an omnibus budget bill that passed late last year.
After Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed it into law, state employees removed the flags from Fetterman’s balcony earlier this week and left them folded in his office.
Fetterman quickly replaced the flags in defiance of the law and says he’ll continue to do so if they’re taken down again until the state legalizes marijuana and outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Fetterman said the move is ironic at a time when conservatives are complaining about “cancel culture” and attacks on free speech.
“I was just making a statement. I never in a million years thought that they would actually write a law to ban them,” Fetterman said. “They can’t understand how ridiculous this looks. They’re all about free speech except when it’s speech they don’t like, apparently.”
Republicans say it’s merely an effort “to create some uniformity and decorum for what’s outside the Capitol,” according to Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for State House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff.
“Members of both parties have flags and posters that they’ve displayed internally, but that doesn’t have to do with the outside of the Capitol, which is a National Historic Landmark and the most visible building in Harrisburg,” Gottesman said.
Gottesman claims the bill had been negotiated with Wolf and that the facade of the Capitol should be used to promote nonpartisan causes.
But Fetterman believes the law is entirely about his flags, which triggered some public complaints from Republican lawmakers.
“It’s flattering to be living rent-free in their head like this,” he joked.
Fetterman noted that the state Legislature coincidentally voted down equal protection language for LGBTQ people on the same day it passed the budget bill with the flag provision.
NBC News notes that there are no clear penalties for Fetterman’s defiance since the new law states only that “the Department of General Services shall ensure that no flag other than the United States flag, the Pennsylvania flag or a flag authorized … shall be flown” on Capitol grounds.
“It’s out of our hands to enforce it,” Gottesman said. “We’d be hopeful that everybody would follow the law. It’d be a lot easier for everyone to just comply up front instead of making an issue out of it.”
I even had to rehang this one. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/NPuADtb1Lt
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) January 26, 2021