Traditional and social media have been riddled with public reaction to Donald Trump’s surprising and historic Presidential win. Here in the Keystone State it is the first time a Republican presidential candidate has won since 1988. However, this isn’t the only shake-up Pennsylvanians should be watching.
While state-wide elections saw Democrats hold on to all three row offices (Attorney General, Auditor General and Treasurer), this was their only glimmer of light. Not so for Republicans. The State Senate Republican Caucus upped its numbers, winning a “veto proof” majority of 34-16; and the State House GOP picked up three seats to best House Democrats 122-81; representing the lowest numbers for the minority party since 1957. For Pennsylvania, the General Election results represent a continuing shift in power away from the moderate southeast and towards the more conservative “T” (the central and northern regions of the Commonwealth) which could result in a more conservative policy agenda for the State.
What happened this week?
House and Senate caucuses have now convened in Harrisburg to choose leaders for the upcoming two-year session. Preferences for leadership tend to develop during the previous two-year session as incumbent leaders and potential would-be challengers demonstrate an ability to lead their caucuses on policy-specific initiatives. Equally important to strong caucus leadership is putting in place leadership teams that are influential at election time when securing seats is crucial. So, it is no surprise (after strong General Election results) that Pennsylvania House and Senate Republicans voted to retain their incumbent leadership teams with a single exception of a lower House seat.
Senate Republican Leadership: President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (Jefferson), Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (Centre), Senate Majority Whip John Gordner (Columbia), Senate Majority Appropriations Chair Pat Browne (Lehigh), Senate Majority Caucus Chair Bob Mensch (Montgomery), Senate Majority Caucus Secretary Rich Alloway (Franklin), Senate Majority Caucus Administrator Chuck McIlhinney (Bucks) and Senate Majority Policy Chair Dave Argall (Schuylkill).
House Republican Leadership: Speaker Mike Turzai (Allegheny), House Majority Leader Dave Reed (Indiana), and House Majority Whip Bryan Cutler (Lancaster). The caucus also filled the vacant seats of House Majority Appropriations Chair and House Majority Caucus Chair, following the retirements of Rep. Bill Adolph (Delaware) and Rep. Sandy Majors (Susquehanna), respectively. The new House Majority Caucus Chair is Rep. Marcy Toepel (Montgomery). And the much-coveted and powerful position of House Appropriations Chair has been filled by Rep. Stan Saylor (York). Finally, House Republican Administrator Brian Ellis (Butler) was unseated by Kurt Masser (Schuylkill).
What does this mean?
The veto-proof Senate Republican caucus, now more uniformly conservative than their counterparts in the House, should be able to stand strong on most issues. They now have the power to override a gubernatorial veto which offers greater negotiating prowess with the Wolf Administration. Still, any designs to override a Governor’s veto could be frustrated if the House Republicans are unable to unite, which could result in a Cold War-style “détente” between the Democratic Governor and the Republican controlled General Assembly.
House Republicans do not have a veto-proof majority like their Senate colleagues so conservatives will still need to work closely with their moderate counterparts (or conservative Democrats, of which few remain) to come to agreement on long-sought after pension reform, tax policy and the looming $3 billion plus structural budget deficit. Uniting a 122-member House Republican caucus that represents political ideologies ranging from ultra-conservative to increasingly moderate will be challenging.
Where do Democrats stand?
Senate Democratic Leadership: For Senate Democrats, the past six years have not been good. The caucus has seen a significant decrease in numbers, due to both redistricting and failures at the ballot box, resulting in perennial chatter of challenges to caucus leaders. An Election Day loss of three seats (producing an historic low of 16 members) leaves a minority caucus stretched very thin. At least six Senate Democrats will now have to Chair two or more of the chamber’s 22 standing committees; and most Democratic Senators will need to serve as a voting member on eight or more committees.
But where there’s smoke… there isn’t always a fire. Election Day losses did not prove to be too formidable a challenge as incumbent Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (Allegheny) and Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Vince Hughes (Philadelphia), both long-standing power brokers in their caucus, were retained by their colleagues. Also returning to the leadership team were Senate Democratic Whip Anthony Williams (Philadelphia), Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Wayne Fontana (Allegheny), Senate Democratic Caucus Secretary Larry Farnese (Philadelphia) and Senate Democratic Policy Chair Lisa Boscola (Northampton). At the time of publication, it had not yet been determined who would serve as the Caucus Administrator, an appointed position.
House Democratic Leadership: While facing similar challenge due to electoral losses last week, House Democratic Leaders also rose to the challenge and were fully retained by their colleagues. Returning for the new session will be: House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (Allegheny), House Democratic Whip Mike Hanna (Clinton), House Democratic Appropriations Chair Joe Markosek (Allegheny), House Democratic Caucus Chair Dan Frankel (Allegheny), House Democratic Caucus Secretary Rosita Youngblood (Philadelphia), House Democratic Caucus Administrator Neal Goodman (Schuylkill) and House Democratic Policy Committee Chair Mike Sturla (Lancaster).
What does the future hold?
Despite the emboldened Republican majorities, uncertainties still remain for the 2017/18 legislative session. Will a political Cold War overtake Harrisburg, along with ongoing budgetary and policy stalemates? Can leadership and consensus prevail, despite these great challenges? Will a gubernatorial election still two years away (but already drawing attention) cloud the way?
Only one thing is certain: the worst budgetary crisis in a generation, along with deep political divides within state government, have now presented the General Assembly and Governor Wolf with unprecedented challenges - challenges which will only be met with strong and effective bipartisan leadership.
Let the experienced lobbyists at Pugliese Associates help your company navigate Pennsylvania’s ever-changing political climate.