By Katie Dotto,
The country watched closely on Tuesday, April 26 as Pennsylvania voters went to the polls to vote for the presidential nominees for their parties. While the presidential race always holds a position of importance in dictating the political tenor of our country, we need to remember that most politics are local and that elections further on down the ballot impact us all more closely.
This year, all 203 State House seats are up for election, as are half of the 50 State Senate seats. Yet, even in a time of political gridlock, public disenchantment with government, and anti-establishment candidates, there were just a few legislative districts where an incumbent was unseated by a challenger in the 2016 Pennsylvania primary election.
An Unsettled Landscape
Even though Franklin & Marshall published a poll earlier this year indicating that 67% of voters had lost faith in state government, we still won’t likely see a high turnover in incumbent seats. With the budget impasse of 2015-2016 bringing attention to the political discord within the Capitol, public outcry for compromise and a swift resolution to settling the Commonwealth’s fiscal affairs still went unanswered. The impasse continued well into 2016, resulting in the near-closure of several public school districts among other things.
The Primary’s Biggest Winners: Incumbents
Yet, even with public confidence in state government waning, the vast majority of our elected officials handily retained their seats in the primary. This is a clear indicator that constituents’ faith in their own local elected officials remained steady, while faith in the system as a whole is lacking. In essence, people feel like their representative and/or senator to the General Assembly isn’t the problem – it’s either the administration, the “other side of the aisle” or someone else.
It should also be noted that since the last round of redistricted maps were approved by the State Supreme Court, many districts have become competitive only during the primary election. The result is a map filled with seats that have, for the most part, become safely democrat or republican. Gone are the days when two candidates from opposing parties faced off in November; instead, the vast majority of legislative districts in Pennsylvania are secured in April.
Noteworthy House Changes
The proof is in the election results. In the State House, long time State Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) was unseated by challenger Jared Solomon. In Lackawanna County, Rep. Frank Farina (D-Lackawanna), was unseated by former State Rep. Kevin Haggarty (D-Lackawanna). Haggarty and Farina’s districts were merged into one during the most recent redistricting process and the two faced off against each other in 2014. Other incumbents who faced challengers but came out on top were: Margo Davidson (D-Delaware), Darryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), and Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon).
Noteworthy Senate Changes
In the Senate, incumbent Sen. John Sabatina (D-Philadelphia) faced a challenge from State Rep. Kevin Boyle, but was able to squeak out a victory by a slim margin. Rep. Tom Killion (R-Delaware) won a special election to fill the seat of former State Senator Dominic Pileggi; County Commissioner Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) edged out his republican competition to vie for the seat vacated by Sen. Lloyd Smucker who is now running for Congress; and Mike Regan (R-York/Cumberland) won a contested four-way battle to replace retiring Sen. Pat Vance.
It is safe to say that while anti-establishment presidential nominees are garnering a great deal of support throughout the state and even the country, it appears that our locally elected officials are not subject to the same anti-establishment sentiment.
For complete election results please visit the PA State Department.