Pennsylvania Democrats won a trio of state House special elections Tuesday night, giving them a clear majority.
The victories give Democrats the upper hand in a chamber that has wavered in control since the November election, resulting in a bipartisan arrangement of «independent» speakers that quickly fell apart. But with Tuesday’s victories, the Democratic Party is now in a stronger position to block GOP-led initiatives, including a potential anti-abortion ballot measure.
Democrats carried three districts, according to projections by The Associated Press:
- District 32: Democrat Joe McAndrew defeated Republican Clay Walker. The seat became vacant following the October death of Anthony DeLuca, a Democrat who had served in office for nearly four decades.
- District 34: Democrat Abigail Salisbury defeated Republican Robert Pagane. The seat’s previous incumbent, Democrat Summer Lee, resigned after winning congressional elections in November.
- District 35: Democrat Matthew Gergely defeated Republican Don Nevills. Democrat Austin Davis resigned after being elected lieutenant governor in November.
The three districts encompass the Pittsburgh suburbs and other areas of Allegheny County, in the southwestern part of the state. President Joe Biden took the three districts in the 2020 elections by at least 16 percentage points.
The three Democrats who had previously held the seats technically won re-election in November (DeLuca, who defeated his opponent, could not be removed from the ticket because he died within weeks of the election), giving Democrats a 102-101 temporary. majority in the chamber for the first time in more than a decade. But due to the death of DeLuca and the resignations of Lee and Davis in December, the Republican Party achieved the current majority, with 101 seats to the Democrats’ 99.
That sparked arguments over who should lead the chamber, a dispute that led a group of Democrats and Republicans to come together to endorse state Rep. Mark Rozzi, a moderate grassroots Democrat who has vowed to operate as an independent, as a leader.
The arrangement, however, is off to a rocky start.
Some Republicans who had supported Rozzi have now asked him to resign — alleging that he failed to fulfill a commitment to register as an independent.
Meanwhile, the chamber has been at a standstill since Rozzi was sworn in (no votes have been taken, no rules or committee assignments passed), leading to speculation that Democrats would nominate another speaker (most likely Democratic leader Joanna McClinton) if they regained a majority.
Tuesday’s three Democratic victories moved the party back to a majority in the House, albeit narrowly. Democrats hold the governorship (Josh Shapiro was elected in November) and Republicans control the Senate.
With a slim majority in the House, Democrats will now be in a stronger position to block Republican legislation. Among the most important measures is a constitutional amendment backed by the Republican Party that affirms that there is no constitutional right to abortion in the state.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly approved the proposed amendment last year as part of a larger program bus bill in a process that disregarded the Democratic Governor.
However, in Pennsylvania, proposed amendments can be placed on the ballot only if they are passed in consecutive sessions. That puts Democrats in a better position to block such a result in the current session.