With election results unresolved, General Assembly delays internal leadership elections

Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso).

With a number of key legislative races still undecided amid the slow count of mail-in ballots, some of the internal elections to decide who will lead the four partisan caucuses in the House and Senate have been delayed.

A week after each election, state lawmakers traditionally return to the Capitol to pick which of their colleagues will manage internal affairs ranging from, staffing to parking spaces, as well as dictate policy and strategy for the next two years. These votes are held in private.

But elections for House and Senate Democrats, as well as Senate Republicans, have been pushed back until at least Thursday to give time for winners to be decided in a half dozen or so races and join their colleagues in picking leadership. House Republicans still intend to move ahead with their elections on Tuesday.

The biggest question marks are among the House Democrats, whose longtime leader is among the races still uncalled. 

For the last decade, Democrats’ leader in the House was Rep. Frank Dermody, of Allegheny County. He’s survived a number of close electoral calls in his district northwest of Pittsburgh. But Democratic sources have indicated that Dermody’s path to victory appears slim this time around.

If Dermody loses, House Democrats would then have to choose a new leader as recriminations linger over an overall poor electoral showing., On Election Day, Democrats went from expecting to, maybe, win the majority to potentially losing up to three seats.

The likely replacements for Dermody would be the next two highest-ranking Democrats — Whip Jordan Harris, of Philadelphia, and ranking Appropriations Committee Democrat Matt Bradford, of Montgomery County.

Either move would create a cascade effect to fill out the rest of leadership slots, including two lower-level positions — caucus secretary and administrator —  positions that have opened up because of retirements.

Among the names mentioned as interested to run for these open positions are Reps. Dan Miller, Ed Gainey and Austin Davis, of Allegheny County; Ryan Bizzarro, of Erie; Kevin Boyle, Chris Rabb, and Elizabeth Fiedler, of Philadelphia; Patty Kim, of Dauphin County;; Leanne Krueger and Margo Davidson, of Delaware County, and Mike Schlossberg, of Lehigh County.

The current Democratic Policy Committee Chairman, Rep Mike Sturla, of Lancaster County, and Caucus Chairperson, Joanna McClinton, of Philadelphia, are both also expected to run for their current positions.

Whomever Democrats — or Republicans — elevate to leadership this week will have to lead their colleagues through a pandemic-inspired budget shortfall this year. 

They will also be charged with managing redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of political lines for both congressional representatives and state lawmakers.

Such tenuous circumstances, combined with the unexpected losses, could lead House Democrats to be skeptical of colleagues with only a few years’ experience in Harrisburg. 

But that hasn’t stopped fresh-faced progressives, such as Rabb and Fiedler, from throwing their hats in the ring.

“With us remaining in the minority for another two years, we will have to dust ourselves off and shake things up,” Rabb wrote in an email to his colleagues, seen by the Capital-Star, announcing his run for caucus secretary. “But one thing we cannot do is continue to do the same things and expect different outcomes!”

Democratic lawmakers cautioned that anything could happen in leadership races, as many lawmakers will throw their names out for contention.

“Nobody is settled on anything,” Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, told the Capital-Star. “This is just part of the stew-making process.”

There is also some brewing drama in the state Senate among the chamber’s Republican majority. Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, is challenging Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, to become the chamber’s next President Pro Tempore after the retirement of Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson. 

As reported by the Caucus, Yaw took a veiled swipe at Corman’s connections with Harrisburg lobbying firms, and promised to be a transparent and member-focused leader.

Meanwhile, Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, and Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, are seen as potential candidates to replace Corman if he gets the promotion.

The only caucus still expecting to vote on leadership Tuesday is House Republicans. The mid-year retirement of former Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, with Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, means most top spots are currently filled.

Current House Republican Caucus Secretary Mike Reese is expected to be promoted to Caucus Chair. Meanwhile, Reps. Jonathan Fritz, of Wayne County, Martina White, of Philadelphia, and Jerry Knowles, of Schuylkill, are expected to run to replace Reese as secretary. Also, Rep. Gregr Rothman, R-Cumberland, is challenging Rep. Martin Causer, as House Republican Policy Chair.

Among Senate Democrats, there is just one opening, for Caucus Secretary, after Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, lost his primary election. Sen. Maria Collett, of Montgomery County, and Sen. John Blake, of Lackawanna County, are expected to run for the position.