Repub­li­cans poised to main­tain their con­trol of Leg­is­la­ture

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro

Democrats will put their re­cent statewide elec­tion win­ning streak on the line Nov. 8, but have a tough fight to chip into Repub­li­can dom­i­na­tion of the Leg­is­la­ture that il­lus­trates why Penn­syl­va­nia is known as a swing state.

De­spite trail­ing by about a mil­lion votes in party regis­tra­tion and hav­ing lost the gov­er­nor­ship two years ago, Repub­li­cans hold solid mar­gins of 31-19 in the Se­nate and 119-84 in the House.

Those ma­jori­ties, wide even by his­tor­i­cal stan­dards, mean party con­trol is un­likely to change this year.

Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf could well end up with an­other two years of work­ing with a Gen­eral As­sem­bly that has a po­lit­i­cal and fis­cal agenda much dif­fer­ent than his own.

As is usu­ally the case, about half the state’s in­cum­bent law­mak­ers have no op­po­nents and will re­turn when the two-year ses­sion starts back up in Jan­uary. That’s true for 13 of the 25 Se­nate seats that are up this year, and for 82 mem­bers of the 203-district House.

The Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion that be­gan along with Wolf’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in Jan­uary 2015 was dom­i­nated by a bud­get stale­mate be­tween the gov­er­nor and the Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties that dragged on for well over a year, al­though the process this sum­mer was far more or­derly and nearly made the July 1 fis­cal year dead­line.

Law­mak­ers and Wolf were able to loosen the state’s sys­tem of wine sales but could not reach agree­ment on changes to the large pub­lic-sec­tor pen­sion plans, a process that ended with­out votes in ei­ther cham­ber just a few days ago. They were also able to en­act a new for­mula to dis­tri­bu­tion pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion money, and in­creased the state’s share of those costs.

Many Repub­li­cans would also point to their suc­cess in largely beat­ing back Wolf’s tax in­crease pro­pos­als, a stand that has left gov­ern­ment on a shaky fis­cal foot­ing but spared tax­pay­ers what could have been a siz­able hit to the wal­let.

Four sen­a­tors are re­tir­ing this year: Repub­li­cans Pat Vance, of Cum­ber­land County, and Lloyd Smucker, of Lan­caster County, along with Democrats John Woz­niak, of Cam­bria County and Shirley Kitchen, of Philadel­phia. Woz­niak’s seat in the John­stown area is de­mo­graph­i­cally the most com­pet­i­tive, as western Penn­syl­va­nia has grad­u­ally been vot­ing more and more Repub­li­can.

Repub­li­cans have sunk mil­lions in try­ing to ex­tend their mar­gin, and see strong sup­port in Woz­niak’s district for GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump.

“It’s hands-down Trump, and that’s hav­ing a huge ef­fect on voter turnout and the ticket there,” said Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore Joe Scar­nati, R-Jefferson, a top cam­paign strate­gist.

Six­teen House mem­bers are hang­ing it up, in­clud­ing Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, whose de­par­ture opens up the much cov­eted chair­man­ship of the pow­er­ful Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

Demo­cratic Reps. Mark Cohen, of Philadel­phia, and Pete Da­ley II, of Wash­ing­ton County, among the Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s long­est-serv­ing mem­bers, are both re­tir­ing.

Three in­cum­bents are run­ning for Congress rather than seek re-elec­tion to Har­ris­burg: Demo­cratic Reps. Dwight Evans of Philadel­phia and Steve San­tar­siero of Bucks County, and Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lan­caster. Rep. Mike Re­gan, R-York, is pur­su­ing Vance’s Se­nate spot, while Sen. John Raf­ferty, R-Mont­gomery, is run­ning for at­tor­ney gen­eral. If Raf­ferty wins, his va­cancy would pre­sum­ably be filled next year by spe­cial elec­tion.

Rep. Lyn­wood Sav­age and Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Ar­tis, both Philadel­phia Democrats, are about the wrap up very brief stints in Har­ris­burg. They both pre­vailed in March spe­cial elec­tions but fol­lowed their wins by los­ing pri­maries the very next month. The woman who beat Sav­age, Mor­gan Cephas, is un­op­posed. There’s a con­tested race this fall for Cook-Ar­tis’ district, and for the seat held by Rep. Frank Fa­rina, D-Lack­awanna, who also lost in the pri­mary.

Hotly con­tested races for pres­i­dent and U.S. Se­nate in Penn­syl­va­nia will un­doubt­edly have im­pli­ca­tions for the leg­isla­tive races, with Democrats see­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign driv­ing up their num­bers around Philadel­phia and Pitts­burgh, and Repub­li­cans pre­dict­ing that Trump’s sup­port in western Penn­syl­va­nia, the Scran­ton area and ru­ral re­gions will bode well for their state­house can­di­dates.

In the south­east, Repub­li­cans have to de­fend open seats in po­ten­tial swing dis­tricts be­ing va­cated by Adolph, Rep. Mike Vereb of Mont­gomery County and Rep. Chris Ross of Ch­ester County. Repub­li­cans like their hopes in western Penn­syl­va­nia dis­tricts open­ing up be­cause of the re­tire­ments of Da­ley and Rep. Ted Harhai, D-West­more­land.

Rep. Nick Kotik, a mod­er­ate Demo­crat from Al­legheny County, says it’s been tough be­ing on the los­ing side of so many bat­tles. He is re­tir­ing af­ter 14 years.

“The ma­jor­ity party just votes you down, day af­ter day, week af­ter week, month af­ter month,” Kotik said. “And it’s not likely to change, not for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

Four in­cum­bents, all Democrats, are seek­ing re­elec­tion de­spite fac­ing crim­i­nal charges or hav­ing been con­victed, and three of them are un­op­posed: Sen. Larry Far­nese and Reps. Vanessa Low­ery Brown and Les­lie Acosta, all from Philadel­phia. The fourth law­maker, Rep. Marc Gergely, of Al­legheny County, faces trial in De­cem­ber on al­le­ga­tions he helped run an il­le­gal video gam­bling op­er­a­tion.

Far­nese awaits trial on fed­eral mail and wire fraud charges for al­legedly us­ing cam­paign money to bribe a Demo­cratic Party ward com­mit­tee­woman in Philadel­phia by pay­ing for her daugh­ter’s col­lege costs. Brown is charged with bribery and other of­fenses for al­legedly tak­ing cash from a man pos­ing as a lob­by­ist, and not re­port­ing it as cam­paign do­na­tions or gifts. Acosta se­cretly pleaded guilty ear­lier this year to a fed­eral felony charge that she helped a mem­ber of a po­lit­i­cally con­nected fam­ily em­bez­zle money from a health clinic.

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