GOP Raps Sturla For STD Remark

Lancaster Online

In retrospect, the state representative from Lancaster city said, he regrets his use of the word “womenfolk” to describe Pennsylvania’s female population.

Rep. Mike Sturla, a Democrat, is drawing flack from the state GOP for remarks — described by Republican Party leaders Wednesday as “stupid,” “insensitive” and “sexist” — on the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling.

“I don’t know what is more offensive, Sturla’s reference to Pennsylvania women as ‘womenfolk’ or his assertion that we are promiscuous?” state GOP vice chairwoman Joyce Haas said in a statement Wednesday.

“Talk about wrong-headed, misinformed, archaic and just shocking,” Rep. Sandra Major, a Republican from northeastern Pennsylvania, told Capitolwire, an online Harrisburg-based news service.

House Republican spokesman Steven Miskin called the remark chauvinistic and a “wrong direction for policy discussion.”

The controversy arose from an email Tuesday from Sturla to Capitolwire, a Harrisburg news service.

“Aside from building roads so their trucks can get to drill sites and doing a little stream work to mitigate damage from their road building, exactly what are all those things the drillers are doing for the local communities?” Sturla wrote.

“Patronizing the bars at night? Driving up the cost of rental housing? Spreading sexually transmitted disease amongst the womenfolk? Really community oriented stuff.”

Sturla on Wednesday defended his comments, which he said were lifted from a message of general concern about the impact of drilling in Pennsylvania.

He was responding, Sturla said, to statements by state Secretary of Community & Economic Development C. Alan Walker.

“Walker has called for drilling in all state forests in the state of Pennsylvania,” Sturla said.

Sturla wants a severance tax — a tax imposed when nonrenewable natural resources are removed from a region — on the industry. He also favors a property tax “that recognizes the value of the gas under the ground.”

Pennsylvania law prohibits counting underground resources as part of a property’s taxable value, Sturla said.

Texas, on the other hand, collected about $2 billion in revenues last year by taxing the value of underground resources. Sturla said Pennsylvania should impose a similar tax and funnel the revenue into the state budget.

Walker opposes additional taxes or impact fees on the drilling industry, Sturla said, “because it would generate less than the drillers already voluntarily give to the communities.”

Sturla countered by listing several concerns, ranging from fragmentation of Pennsylvania’s remaining deep forests and the extinction of deep-forest flora and fauna to the danger posed to schoolchildren along routes with heavy truck traffic.

His concerns also include increased alcohol abuse, as cited in state police reports from the drilling region, and a rise in sexually transmitted diseases among women in those communities, as identified by state and local health agencies, Sturla said.

“Was ‘womenfolk’ an insensitive term? Perhaps,” Sturla said. “But what I was referring to is my characterization of how I believe the out-of-state drillers view women in Pennsylvania.

“Other than the fact that it’s a rather archaic term … it was probably insensitive in that it might have some paternalistic connotation. But I think anyone who knows my record revolving around women’s issues in Pennsylvania knows I’ve been a leader in that area.”

The GOP’s outrage over the use of the word “womenfolk,” Sturla said, “is a great way to deflect the real issue here, which is that the secretary of the Department of Community & Economic Development in this state suggested that we drill on every acre of forestland in this state, which would devastate the deep forests.”

Beyond the environmental impact, Sturla said, the social problems being generated by the influx of industry workers cannot be denied.

Sturla referred to a May 10 report from the Troy Community Hospital in Bradford County — where a lot of drilling is being done — that indicated an increase in sexually transmitted diseases among women there.

A Penn State study has also indicated an increase of STDs in the drilling area, he said.

There has also been an increase in law enforcement costs in the region due to drug and alcohol offenses, fighting and unregistered weapons violations, Sturla said.

“We have drilling company employees who have been convicted of sexual assaults in other states coming here who don’t register as required by Megan’s Law,” he said.

“That does not mean I do not believe we should be drilling in the state of Pennsylvania. But there is a downside to this.”

State GOP chairman Rob Gleason, in a statement Wednesday, argued that “it’s a simple, inarguable fact that natural gas drilling has generated billions in revenue and supports nearly 140,000 jobs” in Pennsylvania.

“That’s 140,000 men and women who are making an honest living and supporting their families due to the growing drilling industry,” Gleason said. “I don’t care which party you belong to — these numbers are great for Pennsylvania, especially considering the troubling economic times facing our nation.”

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