(The Center Square) — It’s still unclear which party controls the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and the courts may have to settle the question.
Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, arranged last week to be sworn in as House leader when it’s unclear who is legally the majority party. Over the weekend, Republicans filed a lawsuit to overturn McClinton’s scheduling of three special elections to fill House seats on Feb. 7.
Then, on Monday, Republican Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Quarryville, also arranged to be sworn in as House leader.
“As the Republican leader, I was sworn in as the Republican leader. It is the math that makes me the majority leader at 101–99 in light of the resignations and unfortunate and untimely death of our good friend Rep. DeLuca,” Cutler said.
Though the November elections gave Democrats 102 seats to Republicans’ 101, Rep. Tony DeLuca of Allegheny County died before election day, and couldn’t be removed from the ballot.
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That left the House tied at 101–101 between both parties until two Democrats, Austin Davis and Summer Lee, both of Allegheny County, resigned last week. Davis won election to Pennsylvania lieutenant governor and Lee was elected to a U.S. House seat, making the current Pennsylvania House split 101–99 in favor of the GOP.
Democrats are favored to win all three special elections, but until then, it’s unclear which party is in the majority. The Legislative Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan state agency, issued an advisory opinion that both Democrats and Republicans lack a majority in the House.
“The circumstances of today really were brought about by some of the really unprecedented actions by the Democrat leader in declaring a tie being a majority,” Cutler said. He previously cast doubt on the legality of McClinton being sworn in.
“Today’s illegitimate power grab by Rep. McClinton, who was sworn-in without notice and in complete secret, is a paperwork insurrection typical of a Democratic Party that is constantly displaying that their last two years of rhetoric on respect for institutions has been nothing but crocodile tears,” Cutler said in a press release last week.
House Democrats told City & State PA that Cutler’s swearing in was an effort “to delay and deny nearly 200,000 Pennsylvanians their basic right to representation.”
It is the math that makes me the majority leader at 101–99 in light of the resignations and unfortunate and untimely death of our good friend Rep. DeLuca.
The special elections could be held as late as May, which could give Republicans control of the House through the spring as opposed to an earlier election.
The Republican lawsuit to stop McClinton’s choice of election dates, argues that the authority of the election is in the hands of the Speaker of the House and, if the position is vacant, then the majority leader. Given the current makeup of the House, McClinton is not the speaker, nor the majority leader, and thus cannot set the date of an election.
Arguments from both parties may not be enough to settle the issue of who has authority. That is up to House members.
“The PA House of Representatives is governed by the votes of a majority of its members, duly seated and elected by the people of their districts as their representatives, not by any person claiming an indirect mandate based on an unprecedented partisan misinterpretation of the constitutional process,” said Steve Bloom, vice president of government affairs for the Commonwealth Foundation, and a former Republican member of the Pennsylvania House.
Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.