HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Tensions are high among House Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg, with no signs of easing before the holidays.
After winning a majority of seats in the Nov. 8 General Election, Democrats are currently down three due to two resignations and one death. The vacancies are the cause of litigation and debate over who controls the House and who sets the dates for the special elections to fill them.
When looking at the 2023-24 legislative session, so far, the relationship between House Democrats and Republicans is off to a rocky start.
“Democrats hid their swearing in ceremony and have been hiding from the truth ever since. Don’t fall for their distractions,” said Republican House Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster).
Cutler believes communication, transparency and trust are key to a strong and productive relationship. But after the private swearing in of Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia), the ongoing debate over the majority, as well as who has the ability to call special elections, trust issues seem to be brewing in the halls of the State Capitol.
“When you hold secret swearing in ceremonies, you issue writs without discussing them – under dubious legal powers for a position of 99, which is a minority of 200 – that does a lot to destroy the trust,” said Cutler.
After winning 102 seats on Nov. 8, Democrats say House control belongs to them and that Republicans are playing political games with the votes of Pennsylvanians.
“Nothing’s worse than a sore loser,” said House Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizarro (D-Erie). “The fact that the Republicans are playing these political games and trying to once again silence the voice of Pennsylvanians – who elected 102 Democrats to the legislature – is completely shameful,” Bizzarro added.
Bizzarro says Democrats want to continue their track record of helping Pennsylvanians, but adds that Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to prevent that from happening.
“They know at the end of the day that we’re going to have 102 members and we’re going to have the majority in this body. They are trying to do everything they can to prolong the inevitable,” said Bizzarro.
The 2023-24 legislative session is set to be in full swing in just a few weeks, however a lot is still unknown and undecided. Ongoing litigation in state courts, dates for special elections, a House Speaker, and of course a majority, are all still up in the air with no signs of reconciling or compromising before the New Year. If there isn’t a plan soon, experts warn this bad blood may get in the way of good government.
“If on January 3, this is where we still are, then man it’s going to be ugly I think,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bloodworth, Professor of History and Co-Director at Gannon University’s School of Public Service and Global Affairs.
If lawmakers can’t get their House in order sooner than later, Bloodworth says taxpayers may bear the brunt.
“Taxpayers should be angry. This is the people’s business,” said Bloodworth. “I mean, this is serious stuff – you need to get appropriations bills to the committees, you need to have hearings, you need to start marking this stuff up. You need to have the gears move,” he added.
Even though the three Democratic vacancies give Republicans more House members for the time being- at least until the special elections – Bloodworth says Republicans should accept the results from Nov. 8 and move on.
“These are kind of odd circumstances, but look, the Democrats won the majority. Get your concessions, organize the House and get to work,” said Bloodworth. “If this goes on, if we’re talking about this on January 4, people should be really upset,” he added.