Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. January 10, 2023.
Editorial: Don’t let bipartisan experiment in Pa. House unravel
An experiment in bipartisan government in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is less than a week old, and cracks are beginning to appear. If the compromise falls apart, the chamber will be plunged into chaos.
Republican and Democratic leaders, at Speaker Mark Rozzi’s request, must find a way to move forward together, if they plan to serve the people of Pennsylvania this session. It’s time for Mr. Rozzi to honor the commitments he made in accepting the role of speaker, especially his pledge to change his registration from Democrat to Independent as a symbol of unity.
After last week’s display of mature bipartisanship in Harrisburg, this week had a rocky start. Outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf called for a special legislative session, beginning Monday, to pass Mr. Rozzi’s signature proposal: a constitutional amendment to allow victims of alleged sexual abuse a two-year window to seek civil damages. If passed, the proposal would go on the May 16 primary ballot, where a majority of voters could enshrine it in the state constitution.
But the first two days of the special session passed without action. By all available evidence, Mr. Rozzi, a five-term backbencher who had never been in House leadership, wasn’t quite ready to steer the chamber — especially while the parties are fighting over an ambiguous majority. It didn’t help that the special session opened less than a week after Mr. Rozzi took the helm, giving him almost no time to learn even the basics of the job.
Making matters worse, on Monday, Rep. Jim Gregory, R.-Blair, who had nominated Mr. Rozzi for the speakership, blasted him for saying publicly that he was only considering changing his party registration. Mr. Gregory believed Mr. Rozzi had fully committed to becoming an Independent, and supported his bid for speaker on that basis. Both men were sexually abused as children, and had worked together to move the civil damages window through the legislature.
Amid this explosion of personal and partisan strife, Mr. Rozzi smartly suggested that he would create a six-member “working group” — three Republicans and three Democrats — to propose compromises on rules and legislation. This represents a new way of doing business in Harrisburg, but so is having an independent speaker. The experiment will depend entirely on representatives from both parties building mutual trust by negotiating in good faith.
First, however, Mr. Rozzi must keep his word about changing party registration. This is no time for second thoughts. If he can’t keep this comparatively small promise, his broader commitment to non-partisan leadership is practically worthless.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. January 15, 2023.
Editorial: Special elections are set now, right?
The special elections for three Pennsylvania state House of Representatives seats will be held Feb. 7.
That’s what a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel said Friday.
As of now, the three Allegheny County seats that are up for grabs will be put before their district voters on the same day. Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, wanted to have the seats of former colleagues and now-U.S. Rep. Summer Lee and Lt. Gov. Austin Davis wait until May while the late Tony DeLuca’s seat would be filled more quickly.
But if you are skeptical about whether that’s where it ends and whether that’s when ballots will be cast, you are forgiven for your lack of faith. The political climate fosters that kind of confusion.
After all, how many times did a court hand down a ruling about the counting of ballots that didn’t have properly dated outer envelopes? They came after the 2020 election. They came surrounding the 2022 primary. They continued right up to the 2022 general election.
In 2019, a case about the Marsy’s Law victim rights amendment on the ballot came down to the wire. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided Nov. 4 that votes on the issue would not be counted because the law didn’t follow the state’s requirement that a ballot question be about a single issue. Voters went to the polls Nov. 5, many of them voting on the question that was already included on the ballot.
Pennsylvanians have become accustomed to court cases regarding elections being a tennis match, with lawsuits and rulings and appeals and reversed decisions flying back and forth so often that it’s hard to know where everything stands.
But on an issue like this, about the simple act of showing up and making a choice about who will represent them in Harrisburg, voters deserve something cut and dried. They should have confidence in something as basic as the date the special election will happen.
The people of these three districts need to have someone in the House speaking on their behalf. It should happen as expediently as possible, with no one from the Legislature or the courts putting a thumb on the scale. It is hard enough to get people to participate in elections. If they are willing to step up and do their part, the process should be as easy as possible to facilitate that participation.
This ruling says that should happen within about a month. But if you don’t want to hold your breath, that’s understandable.
Scranton Times-Tribune. January 13, 2023.
Editorial: Shapiro tries bipartisan diversity
The state House of Representatives pleasantly surprised battle-weary Pennsylvanians recently when it raised the possibility that it would attend to business rather than political theater.
Republicans have a narrow and likely temporary 101-99 advantage in the chamber, even though Democrats won 102 of 203 seats in the November general election. Democrats are likely to restore that majority following Feb. 7 special elections to fill vacancies in three heavily Democratic Allegheny County districts.
In a rare bipartisan compromise, the House elected Democratic Rep. Mark Rozzi of Berks County as speaker. He vowed to operate as an independent.
Then, the chamber quickly returned to form. Rozzi, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, conducted a special session on allowing adult victims of such abuse a two-year window to sue their tormentors. But that went nowhere, prompting Rozzi to call an indefinite recess.
Now, two weeks after the surprise deal, 200 lawmakers whom taxpayers pay a base salary of more than $100,000 a year, are doing... pretty much nothing.
Ideally, Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro will have a better result after he assumes office Tuesday. He, too, has vowed diverse bipartisanship in terms of personnel and policy. So far he has exercised it, embracing right-leaning policy such as school choice and nominating a demographically and politically diverse Cabinet.
He named two Republicans to major positions — former Philadelphia elections commissioner Al Schmidt as state secretary of state, and former state Sen. Pat Browne of the Lehigh Valley as secretary of revenue.
Shapiro’s nominees from both parties tend to be from the middle, rather than either end, of the ideological spectrum. Democratic former state Rep. Mike Carroll of Avoca, nominated as secretary of transportation, and Democrat Jason Kavulich, Lackawanna County’s director of the Area Agency on Aging, nominated as secretary of aging, both are known for attending to the practical aspects of governance.
Shapiro faced an extremist ideological flamethrower, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, in the general election. His vow to seek consensus and govern pragmatically clearly appealed to moderate Republicans. His Cabinet selections thus far indicate that his vow was governance strategy rather than political strategy alone. Here’s hoping that it produces better results than those, so far, in the House.
Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. January 17, 2023.
Editorial: Legislature new; but improved?
If contempt truly arises from familiarity, there should be far less of it this year in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, particularly in the House.
Six new senators have been seated, 12% of the 50-member chamber. But change is even more pronounced in the House, which will have 49 new members, nearly 25% of the 203-member chamber.
And the freshman delegation is not only new, but newly diverse.
Largely because of the state’s first non-gerrymandered redistricting in modern times, many older lawmakers from previously “safe” districts retired, creating open seats in more competitive districts.
The House Black Caucus, which also includes Latino and Asian American members, has grown by seven to 38, even with the departure of two members for higher office — Austin Davis, who today will become the state’s first Black lieutenant governor; and Summer Lee, the state’s first Black woman to be elected to Congress.
And the 253-member General Assembly includes 80 women, the highest number ever.
The new class is more diverse in other ways. Rep. Bridget Kozierowski of Lackawanna County, for example, no longer is the House’s only nurse. She is joined by freshman Rep. Tarik Khan, a nurse practitioner from Philadelphia.
And Arvin Venkat, an Allegheny County Democrat, is the House’s first Indian American member and the first physician to serve there in six decades.
Ideally, the new faces will represent new perspectives on effective governance, rather simply fill slots and maintain the divisiveness and scant progress that has marked the General Assembly over the past decade.