State Sen. Steve Hershey Condemns “White Nationalist” Terrorism After El Paso Murders; Shows GOP Guts in Callout but Trumpers Shoot Back

August 7, 2019


The national shock and horror of last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH brought out the usual “thoughts and prayers” for the victims from a bipartisan roster of public officials, but that wasn’t good enough for State Sen. Steve Hershey (R-36), who represents Cecil County and three other Eastern Shore counties in Annapolis. Virtually alone among Maryland Republicans, Hershey has taken to Twitter for several days to call out racists and suggest that President Trump didn’t go far enough to address the root causes of the terrorism that targeted Hispanics in Texas.

“I’m done with the thoughts and prayers. I’m done with the phony outrage from scores of politicians. I’m angry. I’m horrified. I’m devastated. Our American culture is suffering. Let’s call this what it is: A white nationalist committed an act of terrorism.” Hershey wrote on Sunday 8/4/2019. Later, after President Trump and others insisted that mental illness was the cause, Hershey observed, “How many more times are we going to use “mental illness” as the standard response to a mass shooting? That crutch has been worn thin. Here’s what happened in El Paso: a guy drove hundreds of miles and committed an act of terrorism. This guy is a hateful white nationalist. Period.”

(Police in Texas have linked the shooter, who was taken into custody, with a racist online screed or “manifesto” that targeted Hispanics and echoed some of President Trump’s language attacking an alleged “invasion” of the US by Hispanic immigrants. Many of the shooting victims were US citizens of Hispanic heritage.)

And Hershey went on later in the day to observe, “Why are so many politicians afraid to call a spade a spade? White supremacy & white nationalism is on the rise in America. And now it has manifested into mass shootings. A pattern becomes a data point. We know the who, the what & the why; we have to prevent the next when & where.”

That comment drew a positive response from Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who observed: “Thank you Steve! The FBI shutdown the Klan in the ’70s they can do this to these groups now”. Rutherford, a Republican who is African-American, took the usual thoughts and prayers approach on his own social media postings, as did Gov. Larry Hogan in his own belated comments on the incidents.

Hershey’s initial, and subsequent, comments have been the most forceful among Maryland Republicans, although he has mostly been a toe-the-line Republican in Annapolis. Hershey, now the second-ranking Republican as the state Senate’s GOP Whip, first got to Annapolis with some bare-knuckle political tactics, including a surreptitiously obtained photo of his Delegate opponent napping in Annapolis. But, especially after winning appointment to and subsequent election to a Senate seat, he has focused on local as well as state issues without a lot of partisan grandstanding.

In particular, Hershey has been a relentless advocate for the Chestertown hospital, which owner University of Maryland Medical System initially targeted for conversion to an emergency-room only status. With advocacy by Hershey and the rest of the delegation, and key support from the influential former senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton, a Democrat, the hospital got a reprieve for a few years, a state commission on rural health needs study, and potential future designation as a special rural health facility with extra aid and protections.

But one of the ironies of Hershey’s new activism on a national issue is that he opposed a 2018 gun anti-violence bill in Annapolis, similar to legislation that national Republicans, including President Trump, and now advocating as a possible nationwide response to the recent mass shootings.

So-called “Red Flag” laws allow courts to order confiscation of guns from individuals who are determined by a judge to be mentally unfit or violence-prone. HB 1302 was passed in the final hours of the Maryland General Assembly 2018 session, but Hershey voted against it. Gov. Hogan signed the bill into state law.

Local legislative history aside, Hershey this week posted some shoutouts to Trump himself in broad terms, urging the President to “call it out” that there is a “white supremacy problem in America.” He also challenged Trump tweets blaming the media—the President’s catch-all enemy on any issue—for the terrorist attacks. “Unfair media coverage isn’t the culprit of mass shootings,” Hershey said. And he dismissed one of Trump’s claims that “video games” incited mass shooters: “Enough of these mealy-mouthed excuses. We have a cultural problem in America. I’m so tired of the intellectual dishonesty,” Hershey said.

On Wednesday 8/7/2019, after a conservative talk radio program posted a link about his comments, a torrent of attacks came in response, including several intellectually lofty and literate comments, such as “Who is this jack-off?” and “My advice to you sit dwn[sic] and stfu” and “your head is up your ass.”

Hershey posted on his own Twitter feed that such attacks, including calling him a RINO—Republican in Name Only—reflected “what I was talking about – the toxicity of politics.” He also said he would work with his critics and others “to ensure your families are safe from gun violence. I’m going to continue to fight for all responsible gun owners.”

In the not so distant past, conservative Republicans like the late Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY)—a former star quarterback for the Buffalo Bills as well as a politician who called himself a “bleeding heart” conservative—took civil rights and the fight against racism seriously while urging greater GOP engagement with the minority community. He also almost single-handedly pushed legislation to create a national Martin Luther King holiday through Congress and advocated for housing opportunities and ending discrimination against minorities while a Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Maryland has a long history of fighting against racism, as the first state below the Mason-Dixon line to pass laws outlawing racial discrimination in public accommodations—signed into law by a Republican governor: Spiro Agnew.

The sheer volume and range of Hershey’s recent Tweets suggest genuine concerns, but he may also be positioning himself as a post-Trump GOP leader in the state. Hogan’s current term ends in 2022 and he is term-limited from seeking another term. Maryland has a rising Hispanic population, especially in the Washington area suburbs that are increasingly a key factor in statewide elections.

But Hershey’s willingness to speak out now, at a time of national sorrow but politically constrained speech in the Trump-dominated GOP political landscape, still shows gumption and a penchant to steer an independent course.

[CECIL TIMES has tried to contact Sen. Hershey for a conversation on his comments but his voicemail is overloaded and not accepting messages.. We will post further on these issues if and when contact is made.]

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