On Tuesday, Democratic candidates for three open seats in the Pennsylvania State House announced their victories in special elections held in Allegheny County. Unofficial election results suggest that the Democratic Party will take a slim majority in the House of Representatives, giving them control of the chamber for the first time in almost a decade.
House Democratic Leader and Philadelphia Democrat Joanne McClinton stated,
“When you think about the coming days, the coming weeks, the coming legislative session in Harrisburg our caucus is excited,”
Even though just mail-in ballot results had been posted by 10 p.m. in Allegheny County, Democratic candidates still fared better than Republican ones. Joe McAndrew of Penn Hills, a former legislative staffer and the chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, defeated Republican Clay Walker of Verona, a pastor and customer service specialist, to take the seat of the late Rep.
Anthony DeLuca in the 32nd Legislative District. DeLuca passed away around election time but was re-elected. Abigail Salisbury, a lawyer, and member of the Swissvale borough council defeated former Democratic Rep. Summer Lee in the 34th Congressional District. Her Republican opponent in Wilkins Township was Robert Pagane, a retired cop and kickboxing instructor.
McKeesport native Matthew Gergely was elected to fill the seat of 35th District Representative Austin Davis, who together with Governor Josh Shapiro, was elected to run the state’s executive branch. Republican Don Nevills of Clairton, a U.S. Navy veteran, and small business owner, ran against Davis last year but lost.
“I think what we’ve seen tonight and what Pennsylvania wants, it’s the support of Josh Shapiro’s agenda and how we’re moving forward under this governor. And so that’s my top priority … to understand what he would like to see and how we can improve,”
When asked how she plans to follow in the footsteps of Lee, the first Black congresswoman from the state, Salisbury responded that she hopes to focus on environmental issues.
“Everybody puts their own flavor on what it is that they do. So I always say, you can’t fix every single problem in an area. It’s just not possible to do everything, but you just have to chip away best as you can, little by little, and do everything you can,”
Despite the election results giving the Democrats a two-vote majority, how the chamber will operate, and who will lead it, remains to be seen when the session returns on February 27 after nearly two months of inaction. There looked to be insufficient votes for either party to pick a speaker on January 3rd, the day of the inauguration.
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Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), who campaigned on a platform of independence from both parties, was elected as speaker of the House in a deal that surprised everyone. But Rozzi still votes Democratic, which has angered his Republican base. Democrats have shown an interest in replacing Rozzi with McClinton.
Assistant professor of public policy and administration at Penn State Harrisburg Dan Mallinson said that would require Rozzi to vote for his own dismissal or for the Republican allies he lost to vote for McClinton. Rozzi has declared he intends to remain on the speaker’s rostrum.
“The math is tough in terms of ousting him. It might not be if the Republicans want to sow a lot of chaos,”
“It’s very messy and hard to predict what happens next.”
Rozzi, along with six other Republican and Democratic members, has gone on a listening tour since the House was adjourned to hear from constituents about the type of government they would like to see in place. Mallinson stated that a common sentiment expressed throughout the sessions has been a desire for political unity.
He warned that if the party standoff persists, it might further undermine public confidence in state government. Two Democrats in the House are seeking higher office this year, so there is a chance that the majority will switch hands again in the House before the year is out.
“It’s going to be a really tough legislative environment for two years, no doubt,”
Even though the Allegheny County districts include some of Pittsburgh’s most racially and economically diverse neighborhoods, they did not have a high voter turnout because of the political drama in Harrisburg. By Tuesday lunchtime, poll workers at Oakmont United Methodist Church reported a “sad” in-person turnout with fewer than 50 votes cast in one of the precincts, but that there were still many mail-in ballots to be counted.
McAndrew, who could be reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon, predicted that the final tally of mail-in votes would make the election’s outcome clear shortly after polls closed.
“While we don’t know the exact number of mail-in votes, we know that approximately 5,200 Democrats voted by mail, to 1,100 Republicans,”
McAndrew also noted that a last-minute push to encourage people to vote on Tuesday morning had an impact on turnout.
“We’ve gotten several calls with people questioning that there’s an election, and we verified it with them and they said they were going to go vote,”
Patty Bencivenga, 68, a resident of Wilkinsburg in Pennsylvania’s 34th Congressional District, reported that she was only the 43rd voter to cast a ballot at her polling location on election day. Bencivenga, a retired nurse, had voted for Lee before, but said she voted for Salisbury because she can continue Lee’s policies.
“First of all, she’s progressive, she does community service, and she’s pro-choice. That’s a biggie for me,”
Her mom was a nurse, so she saw a lot of ladies who had abortions in the back alleys before Roe v. Wade was passed.
“She said, if you ever saw how a woman suffers, you would never want that to happen to another woman again. And I carry that on,”
Oakmont resident June Luciana said she voted Republican on Tuesday, as she has every election since she was 18.
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