Last November, Democrats won a majority in the Pennsylvania House for the first time in twelve years. The margin was slim — just one seat.
But because of temporary vacancies, Republicans would still hold a numerical majority for a few weeks. And with it, the GOP had the chance to pass critical reforms, including highly popular voter ID.
Unfortunately, as several lawmakers have confirmed to Commonwealth Partners, one Republican — Rep. Tom Mehaffie of Dauphin County — upended it all.
Mehaffie handed Democrats the majority weeks before they earned it and, in so doing, blocked a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment from heading to voters on the May 16 primary ballot.
Here’s what happened:
Shortly before Election Day, Democrat state Rep. Tony DeLuca passed away. The timing of his death was such that there was no time to remove his name from the ballot. So, he was re-elected posthumously. His seat then became vacant.
This means that although Democrats won a 102-101 majority, they actually were tied with Republicans at 101 seats each.
Then, on Dec. 7, Democrat Reps. Summer Lee and Austin Davis resigned their seats for higher office. Lee headed to the U.S. Congress, while Davis would become our new Lieutenant Governor.
As a result, when the Legislature reconvened on Jan. 3 to elect a Speaker, Republicans held 101 seats, while Democrats had 99. With this vote tally advantage, GOP lawmakers should have been able to elect a Republican Speaker, who could then usher through voter ID and other measures including regulatory reform and relief for victims of child sexual abuse.
Instead, according to several Republican members of the House, Mehaffie thwarted their efforts to elect a Republican speaker. Specifically, these members noted that Mehaffie said that he would not vote for a Republican — except himself — for House Speaker.
All wished to stay off the record. But the allegation has been in the public sphere elsewhere, so Commonwealth Partners put the question to Mehaffie.
Mehaffie disputed the claim, writing in an email:
“Clearly, your sources are wrong. I never said that I wouldn’t support and vote for a republican candidate for Speaker. To be clear, I told many of my republican colleagues the republican Speaker candidates I was willing to vote for and support. When the first Speaker vote happened on January 3rd, I joined with 16 of my fellow republican colleagues (including every member of our republican leadership team) in voting for our preferred choice.”
This “preferred choice” was not a Republican but rather Democrat Mark Rozzi.
By now, the fallout is well-known. On Jan. 3, Democrat Rep. Mark Rozzi struck a deal with Republican leadership, pledging to become an Independent if he were elected speaker and would run voter ID and regulatory reform amendments. GOP leaders agreed. Rozzi became Speaker, reneged on his promise, and promptly recessed the House without doing anything. For the next eight weeks, the chamber was without operating rules, unable to organize committees, hold votes, or advance legislation.
Notably, Mehaffie was the only Republican to vote on Jan. 3 with Rozzi and all Democrats to adjourn the House until Feb. 27. And he was the only Republican who refused to sign onto a letter seeking to force the House to get back to work.
It’s not the first time Mehaffie has allied with Democrats.
First elected in 2016, Mehaffie bears the Republican label but has sided against free-market priorities on numerous occasions.
- In 2017, Mehaffie sided with Democrats in opposing legislation that would have prevented taxpayer resources from being used to collect government unions’ political campaign contributions. These unions give heavily to Democrats and, not coincidentally, to Mehaffie.
- In 2018, Mehaffie sponsored legislation that would have stripped workers of the right to a secret ballot in union organizing elections. In essence, this bill would have empowered unions to intimidate workers into voting to unionize.
- And in 2022, Mehaffie sided with Democrats in voting against Lifeline Scholarships, which would help children escape failing and even violent schools to access a quality (and safe) education.
Fast forward to 2023, and although the Senate passed voter ID, regulatory reform, and relief for victims of child sexual abuse on January 11, the measures languished under the Democrat-controlled House—thanks to Rep. Mehaffie.
Had Mehaffie joined with Republicans to elect a Republican Speaker, the House would have quickly passed these measures—which enjoy widespread support among Pennsylvanians—and voters would be preparing to weigh in on them in the May 16 primary election.
Instead, Mehaffie handed Democrats the House majority and blocked voter ID and other critical measures from reaching voters.
The “R” after Mehaffie’s name may have served him well in getting elected in a Republican district. But perhaps if GOP voters knew they were voting for Democrats’ favorite Republican, they’d think twice before handing Rep. Tom Mehaffie another term.
Jeremy Baker is Political Director for Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, nonpartisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania.
10 thoughts on “Jeremy Baker: Meet the Republican who gave Dems the House — and blocked voter ID”
somewhere there is a reason. but where?
Complete disgust with the entire political process. While I would never vote for a Dem there are now too many RINOs. Still, we would have hoped that the longer term members would have known of Mehaffie’s former favor with the Dems and not given him a chance.
There we go. Anyone who wants compromise is a “RINO”. Are they “woke” too? lol. This is exactly why Republicans lost the Senate and why the people of Pennsylvania chose Dems for the state house by an ENORMOUS 380,000 person margin!
Hopefully, Dauphin Co. voters will better vet their candidates next time around. Better late than never!
Before assuming voters want a better Republican, can we see demographics for his district? His district includes 2 heavily unionized industrial areas (Hershey and Middletown), plus the outskirts of Elizabethtown College.
Perhaps the GOP can field a better elected official there. More importantly, PA should have more free-market oriented elected officials across the state, so that this one guy would have less effect.
Better candidates who are more in tune with ALL of their constituents. What a novel idea. Sadly it seems that Republicans just want to double down on the radical fringe politics that alienated so many Americans and led to their TERRIBLE performance in 2022.
The GOP Committee is to blame for this. Which is why principled conservatives need to retake the Committee, reach out to a broader coalition, and remove the establishment RINO and neo-con garbage permanently.
lol. Do you think that doubling down on the extremist “anyone who wants to compromise is a RINO” rhetoric is going to help win elections? Do you not see how badly that backfired for Republicans nationwide in 2022? Do you realize how turned off most Pennsylvanians (and Americans) are by the radicalization of the Republican Party?
He didn’t “give Dems the house”. The people of PA gave Dems the house. Even with extreme gerrymandering the people of PA (by a HUGE 380,000 voter majority!) stood up to special interests, lobbyists, and liars. Sorry if you can’t handle losing.
Cicero is lying here: the REPUBLICANS carried the statewide House vote by 380,000 and the DEMOCRATIC gerrymander turned that into a Dem majority.