Yesterday’s Special Elections to Fill Vacancies Lead to Democrat Majority in PA House
On election day in November, the House Democrats surprised most observers and won enough seats to take over the majority for the first time in a dozen years. However, three of those seats were won by incumbent legislators who will not be serving in the new session. Two resigned in December to take higher offices, and one, long-time Allegheny County Rep. Anthony DeLuca, passed away. This left the Dems back on the short end of the majority, though they did not concede that in the weeks that followed, and confusion ensued. In the absence of an elected Speaker, both Democrat Leader Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) and Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) claimed the majority leading up to the three special elections which were eventually held on February 7th. As expected the Democrat candidates swept all three seats in these heavily Democrat districts all within Allegheny County.
While the special elections give the Democrats a 102 seat majority out of the 203 seats in PA House, next steps are still unclear due to the surprise of Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) becoming Speaker on January 3, when the new General Assembly was sworn in. The House Republicans, who had 101 seats to the Democrats’ 99 at the time, ultimately, but not unanimously, chose Rep. Carl Metzgar (R-Somerset) to be their Speaker candidate during a closed door Caucus meeting. However, both Republican and Democrat caucuses were trying to work deals with potential “compromise” candidates from across the aisle, since it was unclear if Metzgar would have 101 votes to be elected Speaker – or perhaps it was clear that he didn’t. Metzgar reportedly had agreed to demands by the right wing “Freedom Caucus” to take certain actions.
Eventually a motion was made, to the surprise of many, by Republican Rep. Jim Gregory, that Berks County Democrat Rep. Mark Rozzi be elected Speaker. Also, probably to the surprise of many, Democrat Leader Joanna McClinton stood up and seconded the nomination. At least some of the Republicans, likely including the Freedom caucus members, were caught off guard, and attempted to still offer Metzgar. Rep. McClinton, who stated her goal to be speaker when the open seats are filled, did not offer herself of any other Dems. So, the votes were taken and Rozzi defeated Metzgar by a 115-85 vote.
Rozzi took the gavel and announced that he would serve as an “independent” Speaker and would not sit in either caucus. He also said his staff would come from both parties. Rozzi then cancelled the remaining scheduled session days in January. In the interim, Rozzi has appointed a six-member, bipartisan task force to develop a set of rules for conducting business in the House, a task normally performed by the majority party, with limited input from the minority. None of the members of the task force came from either party’s chosen leadership teams, apparently by design. Then, Rozzi and the task force announced a “listening tour”, traveling around the state to meet with the public to take “advice” on how to break the partisan logjams and get the people’s business done.
The three Allegheny County Special elections will likely be sworn in on likely on February 21st during recently announced session schedule (below). This will return the House to a Democrat majority, at 102-100, with an open REPUBLICAN seat, vacated by Rep. Lynda Culver, who won a special election on January 31 to succeed Sen. John Gordner who resigned to become Chief Council to the Senate Republicans. That will necessitate another special election in Northumberland County, to replace her, to be called by the Speaker of the House, at least 60 days after the vacancy is created.
February 21, 22, 23, 27, 28
March 1, 6, 7, 8
April 24, 25, 26
May 1, 2, 3, 22, 23, 24
June 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30
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