HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — The battle over the majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives continued last week as party leaders still disagree on who should control the lower chamber for the 2023-24 legislative session.
In a private ceremony on Wednesday, House Democrats swore in their leader Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) as State Representative for the new session and then announced she would be the House majority leader- the first woman in Pennsylvania history to hold that position.
House Republicans call it an “Unprecedented Paperwork Insurrection.”
“It’s a complete power grab. It’s illegitimate and it’s nothing more than an improper takeover of the Pennsylvania House,” said House Republican Caucus spokesperson Jason Gottesman.
On November 8th, Democrats outpaced Republicans 102-101 House seats.
“102 Democrats were elected. There are 102 Democratic districts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and until an election changes that, that’s the case,” said House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) on Wednesday.
However, one of those seats belonged to long-time Democratic State Representative Tony DeLuca of Allegheny County, who was reelected after he passed away a few weeks before the election. Therefore, Republicans are adamant there is no House majority.
“The current membership is 101 to 101,” said House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) last week.
Cutler added that for a majority, representatives need to be “somebody who has been elected, who is alive, who has been sworn in and seated. Those are the four requirements that need to be met and we’re not meeting them,” Cutler added.
However, McClinton says Pennsylvania voters made it clear when they chose to elect 102 Democrats to the House on Nov. 8.
“That decision was for 102 Democrats to serve here in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,” said McClinton on Wednesday.
Shortly after her swearing in, the House Democratic Caucus said McClinton’s first action as majority leader was setting Feb. 7, 2023 as the date for special elections to fill the vacancies of Austin Davis, Summer Lee and DeLuca, all Democrats from Allegheny County. Davis, who will be the next Lieutenant Governor, resigned from the House on Wednesday, as did Summer Lee, who is expected to be sworn into Congress on Jan 3.
Republicans argue the move by Democrats is illegitimate and that they are alleging a “fake majority.”
“While admitting three vacancies exist by calling special elections in the 32nd, 34th and 35th districts, vacancies that gives Republicans a 101-99 majority in the House, Democrats are creating internal confusion by simultaneously speciously alleging they have a fake, gerrymandered majority that has the authority to conduct the business of the House,” said Cutler in a Wednesday press release.
Though the circumstances are unusual, some say the move by Democrats is just politics as usual.
“This is what you do, you won the election. They took the lower chamber,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bloodworth, Professor of History at Gannon University. “You seize the advantage, you set the date for the special elections, and then you sure as heck better win them if you’re the Democrats,” he added.
Dr. Bloodworth says it’s a smart, and perhaps the only move at this point for Democrats.
“I think it’s kind of the only move they could have made. This is just smart, hardball politics,” said Dr. Bloodworth.