An inter-chamber squabble has opened up between House and Senate Republicans over a second-term lawmaker in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Citing misogynistic language and insufficient representation, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, told the Observer-Reporter, of Washington, Pa., that she was backing a primary challenger against Rep. Bud Cook, R-Washington.
In the article, Bartolotta said “there is a real problem with how [Cook] treats women,” and accused him of calling her “Senator Skirt.”
Cook, first elected in 2016, represents the 49th House District, a formerly blue stronghold that includes parts of the Monongahela Valley south of Pittsburgh. Cook had ran and lost against the incumbent Democrat, former Rep. Peter Daley, in 2014, before winning the seat when Daley retired two years later.
Cook’s seat, which includes California, Charleoi, and Donora boroughs, partially overlaps with Bartolotta’s 46th Senate District — which includes all of Greene, most of Washington, and parts of Beaver counties.
When the Capital-Star approached Cook in the Capitol, the southwestern lawmaker declined to comment on the allegations or any of their specifics.
He later replied in an emailed statement that did not specifically address the allegations.
“My parents taught me the golden rule, treat others as you want to be treated,” Cook said. “That is how I’ve always conducted myself and will continue to do so, and why I’m so appreciative for the support that local residents have shown me.”
Bartolotta told the Capital-Star she has put up with Cook’s words “for years,” but that his treatment of her wasn’t motivating the primary challenge.
“I don’t care about name-calling, that’s not the major point here. It is [the] disrespect of the office, and his disrespect for many, many, many other elected officials,” Bartolotta said.
Bartolotta, who lives in Cook’s district, said she has been getting phone calls for years from mayors, council people and teachers union representatives complaining about him. She did not offer specifics of the complaints.
Bartolotta has thrown her support to Tony Bottino, who’s the president of a local chamber of commerce. Bartolotta said Bottino’s “expertise, ability, charisma and stick-to-itiveness” would make him a solid lawmaker.
Cook has kept a low profile in Harrisburg. In this year’s legislative session, he’s the prime sponsor of just one bill, according to the Legislature’s website. The bill would rename a bridge in his district.
The looming challenge has already caused rumblings among rank-and-file Republican House lawmakers, who see it as an unwelcome attack on one of their colleagues.
Bartolotta, for her part, knows that “feathers are ruffled a bit” because of the primary. “But I know my district,” she said.
While the House and Senate GOP do cooperate, their relationships can be strained at times, both inside and outside of Harrisburg.
Republicans control both chambers of the General Assembly. But bills often pass the House or Senate, and then are never taken up by their party allies across the Capitol.
Primaries in one chamber backed by a sitting lawmaker in another are not unprecedented either. In 2008, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, supported a challenger to Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren. The run was unsuccessful.
“What happens outside this building shouldn’t affect what happens inside,” Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, the chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, told the Capital-Star.
It’s Rothman’s job to protect sitting House Republicans and elect new GOP representatives.
Bartolotta, chairwoman of the Senate’s campaign committee, told Rothman ahead of time that she was backing Bottino. It hasn’t changed Rothman’s stance.
“We are committed to Bud Cook getting reelected in the primary and the general,” he said.
But pointing to Cook’s most recent reelection, Bartolotta laid out high stakes.
In 2018, Cook faced a challenge from former Washington County District Attorney Steve Toprani, who ran as a Democrat despite serving as a Republican DA. Cook won reelection by 11 votes.
While the Monongahela Valley may be rapidly turning red, Bartolotta did not want to take a chance that the district could fall back on its old Democratic ways with Cook on the ballot.
“We did a really good job turning Washington County red,” she said. “And I think without a challenger in a primary, that seat will go blue.”