By Peter N. Calcara, vice president – government relations
While voters in Pennsylvania went to the polls Nov. 6 to elect their governor as well as representatives to both Congress and the state General Assembly, there was another recent election that went mostly unnoticed outside of Harrisburg. Last week, state lawmakers elected the people who will lead their respective caucuses going into the 2019-2020 legislative session.
Legislative leadership elections are a kind of “sausage making” that few people see up close and personal. They are often like family squabbles where outsiders are not welcomed, but they do play a significant role in the governance of our state legislature. Caucus leaders are the generals and lieutenants who control the halls of the Pennsylvania Capitol. Certainly, they are the ones who look over committee chairs and assignments, which bills move forward or don’t, and office and parking space assignments, but they are also the ones who devise and implement legislative strategies, negotiate the annual budget, and generally keep the process moving (or not). Leadership elections are a big deal.
In the state House, Republicans still hold a sizeable majority (110-93), and two vacancies will exist when the new session begins Jan. 1. Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich (D-Lackawanna) died last month, and Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D-Philadelphia) was convicted of violating state conflict of interest laws and accepting bribes. Special election dates for these seats will be selected by the speaker in January. While the Republicans’ majority narrowed after the general election, the political divide between the two parties has grown, and is more significant than a handful of seats.
The Republicans reelected Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) to be speaker and elected Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) to be the majority leader. Turzai has completed two terms as speaker, and was majority leader for two sessions previously. Cutler, who was first elected whip in 2015, replaces retiring Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), who did not seek reelection to his House seat. Cutler has earned his stripes by being the Republicans' top vote counter for the past four years.
Rounding out the House Republican leadership team are Reps. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) as the new whip; Stan Saylor (R-York), Appropriations Committee chair; Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery), caucus chair; Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland), caucus secretary; Kurt Masser (R-Northumberland), caucus administrator; and Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion), policy committee chair.
House Democrats have several new faces joining their leadership team. Rep. Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) returns as leader, but his chief deputies are all new. Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) takes the reigns as the new Democratic whip, and Rep. Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) will take over as Democratic chair of the Appropriations Committee, a seat vacated by the retirement of longtime chair Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny). Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) is the first African-American female to serve as caucus chair. Others returning to the Democratic leadership team include Reps. Rosita Youngblood (D-Philadelphia), caucus secretary; Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill), caucus administrator; and Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), policy chair.
In the state Senate, despite losing five seats, Republicans still hold a 29-21 majority going into the 2019-2020 session. Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) is the nominee for Senate president pro tempore, and his nomination will be voted on by the full Senate in January. He has held the position since 2006. Joining Scarnati on the Senate Republican leadership team will be Sens. Jake Corman (R-Centre), majority leader; PICPA member Pat Browne, CPA (R-Lehigh), Appropriations Committee chair; John Gordner (R-Columbia), whip; Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery), caucus chair; Rich Alloway (R-Franklin), caucus secretary; and David Argall (R-Schuylkill), policy committee chair. The caucus administrator is vacant due to the retirement of Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), but the position will be filled by Scarnati in January.
There have been no changes to the Senate Democratic leadership team. Senate Democrats reelected Sens. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) as minority leader; Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) as whip; Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), minority Appropriations Committee chair; Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), caucus chair; Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), caucus secretary; Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh, Northampton), policy committee chair; and John Blake (D-Lackawanna), caucus administrator.
Now that leadership spots have been filled, the appointment of House and Senate committee chairs is the next step in the process. With so many retirements there are some significant chairmanships that the PICPA is watching. These include majority chairs of the House Finance and House Professional Licensure committees.
Swearing-in day in Harrisburg is Jan. 1, 2019.