(208) November 16, 2014 – Republicans were clear winners in the 2014 general election contests for Pennsylvania legislature seats.
The GOP went into the election with a 27-23 edge in the PA Senate, boosting that margin to 30-20. That party won eight more seats in the House where the Republican majority is 119-84, the largest in 58 years.
This past week, both parties elected legislative leaders who will guide their respective caucuses in the next two years, beginning January.
On the Republican side of the House, their lawmakers elevated Mike Turzai from Majority Leader to Speaker of the House, succeeding retiring Sam Smith.
Turzai is not only a conservative Republican. He is also very partisan. Two years ago, Republicans rammed through a very restrictive voter suppression bill that the courts later struck down. In the interim Turzai made national “boob” of the news channels when he was caught whispering to Mitt Romney that the new law would guarantee Pennsylvania in his electoral vote column.
On the Senate side, this same political party booted Senate Majority leader Dominic Pileggi and replace him with Doyle Corman, the first such “un-gracious” change of leadership in that chamber in four decades. Many Republican senators believe Pileggi refused to release critical legislation that was injurious to organized labor.
Democrat leadership elections sent a decidedly different message.
Despite how poorly they did at the polls, Democrat legislators re-elected the same leadership.
Jay Costa was re-elected Senate Minority Leader with no opposition. Costa was the architect of the failed strategy that was expected to at least create a tie in the Senate. Democrats were so certain this outcome was in play that Senator Mike Stack, expected to be elected Lt. Governor with new Governor Tom Wolf, was openly speculating whether he should hold both seats.
There was a precedence for Costa’s poor campaign performance. Ex-senator Bob Mellow was the campaign chair for Senate Democrat candidates in 2006. General elections that year were among the most overwhelming for Democrats ever. Of the 98 legislative chambers throughout the U.S., Democrats only lost seats in one in 2006 – the Pennsylvania Senate.
In the 2014, state senate elections Costa made a poor gamble, taking his party down the drain. Republicans who had often been favorable to Democrat legislative priorities held three Senate seats in Philadelphia suburbs. This was a major reason why outgoing Governor Tom Corbett failed to deliver on much of his legislative agenda. Even with both chambers under control of his own party, Corbett successes were rare.
Costa spent as much as $2 million in campaign funds attempting to defeat those moderate GOP senators. He not only lost all three of these elections but also lost three more seats held by Democrats. Despite Democrat incumbency, Republicans outspent Dems in overturning these seats.
House minority leader, incumbent Democrat Frank Dermody held off a challenge to get re-elected. In the gerrymandering of district boundaries two years ago, Dermody actually voted with the Republicans for the plan that was later overturned in the Courts.
Summing this all up.
What is wrong with this picture?
Republicans have pushed their doctrine a bit more to the right in the state legislature. Democrats have maintained the status quo, which will be grossly inept in attempts to help Tom Wolf fulfill his legislative agenda.
We may know early if this prognosis will turn into reality.
The new Governor takes office in late January. New legislators take their seats January 2. This creates a three-week window when Corbett will still be governor with a more right-wing legislature. These two branches of government – in the past – would spend this three weeks doing ceremonial business.
That was during a time when both parties were known to work collaboratively.
Bottom Line: During those three weeks, think privatizing state stores. Think changing the electoral vote system for presidential campaigns from winner-take-all to one vote for each senatorial district. Think additional voter suppression techniques, business tax cuts, etc.