Due to popular outrage over Roe v. Wade’s overturn, Democrats in Pennsylvania captured the majority of seats in the state House this past election.
But it’s unclear which party will really hold the speaker’s gavel when next year rolls around.
A high-stakes contest for control of the House has begun as a result of Democrats’ narrow triumph, a few open seats, the hardball political climate in the state capital, and a few vacancies.
The dispute centres on which party should be allowed to call the special elections to fill the seats left vacant after two Democratic state House members resigned to run for higher office and another passed away. Democrats want to schedule the elections as soon as possible so they can claim the majority the next year. They are predicted to win. In the meantime, GOP lawmakers seek to delay the deadline for an additional three months, maintaining their majority in the process. One Republican has even declared a run for speaker, expecting to benefit from the expected brief period when the partisan balance of power is tipped in favour of her party.
Both sides view the impending conflict as involving not only political power but also democratic government and the rule of law. They worry in secret that the coming weeks could bring the state to previously unheard-of levels of instability.
If GOP lawmakers are successful, they may use their time in office to propose constitutional changes limiting abortion rights, easing the rollback of regulations, and requiring voter identification. A state constitution amendment was approved during the previous session, and if it is approved in two more sessions, it will be placed on the ballot for voters to decide without the Democratic governor-elect Josh Shapiro’s signature.
Democrats contend that such a move would amount to a flouting of the results of the election in November after anti-abortion, Trump-allied Republicans were decisively defeated at the polls in this year’s midterm elections.
Democratic state representative Malcolm Kenyatta claimed, “On January 6, we witnessed [a] revolution with actual violence.” “On January 3, we’ll witness an effort to carry out a new form of rejection of the will of the American people, but it’s just as risky,” said the expert.
In response, Republicans claim that it is their rivals who are plotting a paperwork coup. House Republican leader Bryan Cutler claimed this month that his Democratic counterpart, Joanna McClinton, had engaged in a “unprecedented, illegitimate, and illegal power grab” when she took an oath as majority leader in a private ceremony and tried to call special elections to fill the vacancies in early February.
Few people from either party would have predicted this result before election day. Republicans were anticipated to maintain control of the state House even though their candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano, was widely projected to lose. Instead, for the first time in a decade, Democrats won a slim majority of seats, 102 to 101.
Their joy, however, was fleeting. Summer Lee and Austin Davis, two Democratic state House members, resigned after being elected to higher offices. Rep. Tony DeLuca, another Democrat, passed away just before the election. At the start of the following year, Democrats were expected to hold 99 seats to Republicans’ 101.
On the same day Lee and Davis announced their resignations, McClinton was sworn in as president by a county court. After that, McClintock’s proposed dates for the three special elections to be held on February 7 were approved by the acting secretary of state, who had been chosen by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.
However, soon after McClinton’s decision, Cutler attempted to schedule the Lee and Davis special elections for the end of May after being ceremoniously sworn in as majority leader by another county court. Cutler and Clinton have decided to hold the DeLuca seat election on February 7.
Cutler filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State at the same time claiming that McClinton lacked the authority to call the special elections and that the Commonwealth Court should now decide who has the authority to call them.
In an interview, McClintock asserted that she is legitimately in charge of the majority because “102 districts elected Democrats to represent them, to represent their values, to speak on their behalf, and they rejected the extremism and the election denialism of the Republican caucus in a significant way.”
The data “speaks for itself,” according to Cutler’s spokesperson Jason Gottesman, who also said that Democrats are trying to “redefine the term’majority’ to somehow say that a 99-seat minority gives them the power.”
Politicians are fighting over who will be the House Speaker the following year in this unstable situation. On January 3, lawmakers are expected to be sworn in and elect the position. McClinton, who recently claimed the position of Majority Leader, is running for Speaker, but Cutler has stated he is not. Rep. Valerie Gaydos, a fellow Republican, recently sent a letter to her colleagues announcing her candidature for Speaker.
Republicans have no room for error even if they have the votes to choose a Speaker in January if they remain together. Democrats are committed to preventing it from occurring. When questioned about whether she was attempting to recruit a few Republicans to her campaign, McClinton responded, “People of our leadership team are talking to members in the Republican caucus about really just developing a great and beneficial relationship throughout the next term.”
The fact that a Republican state House member is competing for a vacant state Senate seat that will be filled in January only serves to muddle matters further. As a result, there might be only 100 Republicans left in the House. Both parties might wind up with 100 state House seats for a while if Democrats take the DeLuca seat as expected and the court decides to hold the other two special elections in May.
In the event the Republicans take the speakership, it will probably not last long. Whenever the three special elections are held, Democrats are expected to win all of them. Republicans did not even file a challenger to Lee; Davis and DeLuca won their state House districts by double digits.
We are “sailing in new seas” in Harrisburg, according to Charlie Gerow, vice chair of the Conservative Political Action Coalition in Pennsylvania, and there is a “possibility for surgetprises,” including a compromise speaker.
While acknowledging that the “abortion one will be a little bit more challenging,” he predicted that House Republicans will pass certain proposed modifications to the state constitution next year, calling voter ID “sort of a layup.” Other Republicans have stated that the backlash from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in the election makes it unlikely that the abortion proposal, which would declare that the procedure is not protected in the state constitution, will be brought up in the House.
Republicans successfully pushed through voter ID, abortion-related, and other proposed constitutional amendments earlier this year, so if they are successful again the next year, the measures may be put to a vote as early as May 2023.
Shapiro faces additional difficulties during his early tenure in office due to the struggle for control of the state House.
The next governor, who won by over 15 percentage points, has a track of of cooperating with opposing parties. During his campaign, he garnered the backing of various current and former Republican officials, and he included some of them on his transition team. However, attempts at bipartisanship may be hampered by the uncertainty surrounding the state House.
According to Larry Ceisler, a longtime state political analyst who works in public relations, “if you want to strike the ground running in sort of the legendary first 100 days, I think it poses a hurdle at least in terms of passing legislation.” And of course, if the Republicans win and begin introducing constitutional modifications, that might breed resentment and mistrust.