By: Rocco Pugliese
Several months ago, a number of folks asked me why so many legislators have announced retirement at the end of their current terms. My initial response was: “It is not abnormal for legislators to decide that it is time to call it quits”.
That was then and this is now. WOW! I can’t remember a time when such a large number of legislators made the decision to retire before the elections rather than waiting for a possible involuntary retirement pending an election loss outcome. Even more surprising – the legislators leaving/retiring are not just rank and file but committee chairs. Why?
The politically correct answer would be that they just want to move on; or perhaps for some, their health or family is the cause or concern behind the decision. Still, when you consider the list of legislators who are retiring, you find there are more republicans than democrats. On the surface, this may appear somewhat peculiar since the republicans have strong majorities in both chambers of the PA General Assembly. Consequently, this majority status affords republican legislators more leverage in moving their issues through the legislative process. So why retire and potentially give up that majority in the next election cycle? Here is a quick extent of retirements – out of the four (4) senators not seeking re-election, all 4 are republicans. In the House, out of 25 legislators not seeking re-election, 20 are republicans.
Some pundits may cite a knee-jerk reason by saying that due to history, the party in control of the White House loses seats in Congress and this possibility may just permeate into state and local elections. Although there may be some merit to this, the bottom line is that while there is certainly no one answer as to why so many Pennsylvania State legislators are leaving office, I do believe there is something significant behind this stream of retirements, and that the answer may be more specific.
In conversations with a number of House and Senate members who are leaving, there seems to be one constant theme or reason cited. Individuals who came into the political arena to “do good things” realized that accomplishing “good things” has become very difficult in an increasingly polarized, political environment. To make a personal investment as a legislator means: leaving your family for session and district meetings; dealing with a much more critical/cynical constituency; constant fundraising for the next election; and staying on top of social media 24/7. For some, it really isn’t worth the personal investment when it becomes such a struggle to get things done.
In addition, from the “inside game” perspective, legislators who now witness a legislative caucus that is so fractured (when it used to be more cohesive) cannot help but question their purpose in remaining in office. When caucus members are emboldened to challenge their leadership, causing a political environment that can, at times, be rudderless; many legislators strongly feel that the time is ripe to leave “the mess” in Harrisburg behind.
I’m not here to opine on the “good, the bad and the ugly” of the political process here in Harrisburg (that I have witnessed over the past 40 years). Rather I am just sharing my real and experienced perspective as to why so many legislators are calling it quits. I believe, primarily, it is because some good legislators are just tired of dealing with the current dysfunctions of government and have decided it is not worth the personal offset of their time. I think that we will see some people leave the process entirely while others will seek a way to invest their time in a new direction in order to produce tangible results. I certainly hope that the individuals who replace the retiring legislators will educate themselves thoroughly on issues, tirelessly work to continue the effort to “do good things,” and shape the political environment into one that nurtures ideas and solutions for the good of the Commonwealth.