The four political storylines that defined 2022 | Analysis

From the fight over abortion rights to nationally watched campaigns, these are the stories that set the tone for the year

By: - Monday December 26, 2022 6:30 am

The four political storylines that defined 2022 | Analysis

From the fight over abortion rights to nationally watched campaigns, these are the stories that set the tone for the year

By: - 6:30 am

The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

If you can count on one thing about Pennsylvania politics, it’s that they’re rarely dull. From a historical U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade and nationally watched races for U.S. Senate and the governor’s office to the ongoing battle for control of the state House and the impeachment of Philadelphia’s district attorney, the past year has been no exception.

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star turned to our readers to help us compile this list of the year’s top 5 biggest political stories. And while we haven’t yet officially closed the books on 2022, it already looks like 2023 is going to be an equally eventful year. 

Before that happens, though, here’s a look at the four political storylines that shaped 2022.

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 03: A pro-choice activist holds up a sign during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in response to the leaked Supreme Court draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade May 3, 2022 in Washington, DC. In a leaked initial draft majority opinion obtained by Politico and authenticated by Chief Justice John Roberts, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey should be overturned, which would end federal protection of abortion rights across the country. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The end of Roe v. Wade and the fight over reproductive rights

The stage was set in May for the year’s biggest story when a leaked draft opinion showed the nine-member U.S. Supreme court voting to strike down Roe. v Wade, the 1973 decision guaranteeing federal constitutional protections of abortion rights and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992, Pennsylvania-based decision further reaffirming the right. 

A formal ruling, written by Justice Samuel Alito, followed in June, in the case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, thrusting the fight over reproductive rights to the forefront of the 2022 midterm elections. 

It also sent the fight over reproductive rights back to the states, as states with Republican-controlled General Assemblies moved swiftly to restrict access to abortion

Abortion remained legal in Pennsylvania, but the issue animated both of the state’s marquee contests for U.S. Senate and governor, with the issue taking a particularly prominent role in the latter. 

There, Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state’s two-term elected attorney general, and an abortion rights supporter, faced Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, an abortion-access opponent who said he would sign an exception-free bill banning the procedure at as early as six weeks’ gestation. Shapiro went on to defeat Mastriano by double-digits, aided by voter anger over Mastriano’s extreme opposition. 

Republicans in the state Legislature, meanwhile, won approval for an omnibus constitutional amendment package that would, among other things, impose new voting restrictions while declaring that there is no constitutional right or abortion, nor to public funding for the procedure, in the state’s foundational document. 

Under state law, constitutional amendments must be approved in identical form in consecutive legislative sessions and then by voters in a statewide referendum.

The bill is expected to begin its second round of approvals in the legislative session that begins in January, which could send the amendment language to the voters as early as next spring’s primary election. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who leaves office in January, challenged the legality of the amendment package in state court, and the case is still ongoing.

FETTERMANPGHRALLY
In Pittsburgh, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman thanks supporters during an Election Day Eve rally on Monday, 11/7/22 (Capital-Star photo by Ethan Dodd).

John Fetterman gets elected to the U.S. Senate

In what turned out to be an unconventional and expectation-defying midterm cycle, few candidates on the fall 2022 ballot were as unconventional as Democrat John Fetterman.

Dr. Mehmet Oz waves to a supporter during a rally near Wilkes-Barre where former President Donald Trump spoke.

After suffering a stroke just days before the May primary, Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, nonetheless won his party’s nomination. He spent most of the summer recuperating while his Republican rival, the Trump-endorsed celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, barnstormed the state. 

The two were vying for the seat held by Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who announced his retirement in October 2020, lighting the fuse to a new campaign cycle, even as that year’s fight for the White House went into its acrimonious final weeks.

From the sidelines, Fetterman trolled Oz, who hailed from New Jersey, on social media over questions over his residency and his connection to Pennsylvania voters. Oz hit back with jibes over Fetterman’s health and his support for criminal justice reform issues as head of the state Pardons Board, as part of a broader GOP-spearheaded effort to paint Democrats as soft on crime. 

The two met for their one, and only debate, in October, where Fetterman who said he struggled with auditory processing issues, appeared to fumble as he answered questions put to him over closed-captioning.

With the U.S. House expected to fall into Republican hands, the Pennsylvania contest, along with one in Georgia, became pivotal to Democrats’ chances of retaining control of one chamber on Capitol Hill. Money poured into the race accordingly

Fetterman beat Oz on Election Day, 51-46 percent, with the Republican conceding the following morning. 

Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro speaks to supporters in Montgomery on Tuesday, 11/8/22 (screen capture)

Josh Shapiro gets elected governor

If the fight for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat was determinative, then the battle  between Shapiro and Mastriano to succeed the term-limited Wolf, a one-time Planned Parenthood volunteer who vetoed a trio of Republican-authored bills restricting abortion access was existential.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov-elect Austin Davis speaks to supporters in Montgomery County on Tuesday, 11/8/22 (screen capture)

Mastriano, a former Army colonel who represents the state’s deep red underbelly fused the Big Lie with a potent dose of Christian nationalism, taking extreme stands that stretched far beyond his avowed opposition to abortion rights.

He also came under fire for his ties to Gab, and its founder Andrew Torba, who has endorsed his candidacy. Mastriano paid the site for political advertising, according to City & State Pa. Now Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish and was been the target of anti-Semitic attacks on the site, launched ads hammering Mastriano for his ties to the site. 

If elected, Mastriano, who was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and later became the target of the U.S. House panel investigating the deadly attack, said he wanted to make every voter in the state re-register to vote and to decertify voting machines. If victorious, Mastriano also would have had the authority to appoint his own secretary of state, giving him broad latitude over the state’s election process.

At a rally in Philadelphia on the Saturday before Election Day, Shapiro, who went on to trounce Mastriano by 14 points, went on the attack, casting Mastriano as a danger to the state and its voters.

“He loves to talk a big game about freedom,” Shapiro told a crowd at Temple University. “But it’s not freedom to tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her body. It’s not freedom to tell our kids what books they can and can’t read … It sure as hell isn’t freedom to say that you can vote, but he gets to pick the winner.”

November’s gubernatorial contest also saw the election of state Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny, as the first Black person to hold the state’s second-ranking post.

Members of the Pennsylvania House applaud newly elected Speaker Bryan Cutler on June 22, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Whose House is it?

After 12 years out of power, House Democrats, empowered by both an energized electorate, and friendlier maps in the most recent round of legislative redistricting, won a narrow 102-101 majority in the state House last month.

House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, speaks during a news conference Wednesday where House Democrats called on Republican leaders to call a vote on a bill to give county election officials more time to prepare to count mail-in ballots.

Then thanks to three vacancies – one death, two from lawmakers winning higher offices – they promptly lost it, sparking a fight for control of the 203-member chamber that found visceral expression in games of political brinkmanship that saw both Democrats and Republicans nonetheless asserting that they were in the majority. 

House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, of Philadelphia, had herself quietly sworn in as the chamber’s majority leader, and called special elections for the vacant Allegheny County House seats that effectively wiped out the Dems’ numerical edge. Republicans accused Democrats of engaging in a “paperwork insurrection.”

House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler, of Lancaster County, followed suit days later, having himself sworn in as majority leader, and setting special elections for two of the vacant House seats for primary day in May. 

The two sides promptly went to court over the specials, one on Feb. 7 for the late Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Allegheny, who died in October, but was re-elected because it was too late to remove his name from the fall ballot, and for the primary day elections for Reps. Austin Davis and Summer Lee, also Allegheny County Democrats, who resigned after respectively winning election as lieutenant governor and the U.S. House.

House Democrats have accused the GOP of disenfranchising tens of thousands of Pittsburgh-area voters by leaving their seats open until May.

Political observers, meanwhile, have pointed out that Democrats likely will regain their slender majority sometime during the new legislative session that starts in January, since the three vacant seats all are in districts that favor Democrats. That reality, in turn, has prompted speculation that Republicans are trying to hang onto control of the House long enough to send that omnibus constitutional amendment package to the Senate, and, ultimately, to the voters.

“I think all of this has to be viewed through that prism,” elections lawyer Adam Bonin, of Philadelphia, told the Capital-Star. “If they have the gavel they’re going to try to put [it] on the ballot in May.

“It can’t be about legislation,” Bonin continued. “It’s about that power.”

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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