What could Pa.'s shifting political landscape mean for York County?

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

The oft-predicted "red wave" didn't come to pass in the general election, and in Pennsylvania, Democrats will have more control over state government than they've had in more than a decade.

In addition to electing Democrats as governor and to the U.S. Senate, the party will control the state House of Representatives for the first time since 2010.

That's a significant change that will shift power dynamics in Harrisburg.

"If Democrats end up with a working majority in the [state] House," said political analyst G. Terry Madonna, "Republicans in the Senate won't be able to do anything that goes against what the Democrats really want to do."

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One obvious big-picture issue is abortion rights — an issue that arguably helped get many statewide Democrats elected, according to Chad Baker, York County Democratic chair.

"With the overturning of the Roe decision by the Supreme Court in June, the court put the responsibility back on the states to protect women’s health care," Baker said. "As an issue that many voters cited for getting them to the polls this year, this will be a top area of focus for the House as well."

York County Democratic Party Chairman Chad Baker speaks during the 2018 State of the County Committee Breakfast at Wisehaven Event Center in Windsor Township, Saturday, April 7, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York County heavily favored Republicans in the 2022 general election — the only Democrat to win election, state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, ran unopposed — and at least one Republican from York County will have power in the state Senate.

Meanwhile, several GOP lawmakers will take on influential caucus leadership posts in Harrisburg.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, has been named the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which is key during annual budget negotiations. He replaces former state Rep. Stan Saylor, who was ousted in this year's primary by a more conservative challenger.

Rep Seth Grove, seen here with Margo Davidson, plans to call a series of hearings to review rules and procedures for how legislators file expenses.

“As chairman," Grove said, "I will continue to loudly advocate for our caucus’s pledge of standing up for taxpayers, cutting costs and ensuring the people of Pennsylvania receive vital state government services in the most cost-effective manner possible."

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However, the shifting balance in the chamber mean that Grove may not be as influential as his predecessor. Democrats will likely take the majority of seats in the chamber following this month's election. However, several of the party's seats will be vacant due to the death of one member and the ascension of two others — Lt. Gov.-elect Austin Davis and U.S. Rep.-elect Summer Lee — to higher office.

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, who was recently named majority caucus chair, told The York Dispatch that she hopes to improve the caucus's digital resources.

Other priorities Baker listed included raising the minimum wage, supporting sustaining union jobs, establishing policies that make housing both accessible and affordable, creating programs to expand job training, focusing on issues surrounding homelessness and increased funding for education and job training.

But the divided General Assembly — Republicans still hold a majority in the state Senate — means all of that might not come to pass. Likewise, Madonna said Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro will have his own priorities that may not reflect those of legislative Democrats.

FILE - Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro speaks at an election night event, Nov. 8, 2022, in Oaks, Pa. Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro will take office with a decisive mandate from Pennsylvania voters, who overwhelmingly rejected a Republican drive to pare back abortion rights and voting laws in the premier battleground state. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Madonna noted that Shapiro is in favor of funding for police, which has been a sticking point for progressives.

That included a tweet in February urging Harrisburg to allocate an additional $28.5 million for law enforcement.

"Law enforcement puts their lives on the line every day to protect us — and they're asking for more funding from Harrisburg to keep us safe," Shapiro said. "We can't wait until the 911 lines are flooded or there isn't an officer available for an emergency — we need to act."

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There's also the matter of special elections that will need to be held in 2023 that will — at least temporarily — remove three Democratic votes in the state House. It means Democrats would need Republican support to elect a Democratic Speaker of the House. According to Spotlight PA, Democrats will nominate Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, for speaker.

It also means compromise will be important in 2023 and beyond.

During a Wednesday news conference, Shapiro said he would attempt to work across the aisle with Republicans and that he had spoken with Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, recently elected president pro tempore in the Senate.

"I'm convinced we'll find common ground," Shapiro said. "I've got a history of bringing Republicans and Democrats together to get things done and that mandate I have is not just an electoral mandate, but what I hear clearly from voters is they want us to get things done in this building."

Baker also noted the importance of compromise.

"In spite of being in the minority for years and as a result of being treated thusly, House Democrats know that leadership needs to come in a different form than what has been in place for years," Baker said.

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Phillips-Hill said she hopes to see commonsense changes to permitting and regulations in the next term.

"I am also hopeful we can move the needle on school property tax reform, which continues to be a major impediment to homeownership in Pennsylvania, especially in light of skyrocketing home prices and mortgage rates," she said.

Incumbent Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

For Republicans, Madonna said, it will be difficult to get certain initiatives and policies through the House, including any restrictions they may wish to place on abortion.

"I don't think we're going to see a big approach to cutting school funding," Madonna said. "I think if anything, it's likely to get increased."

That might rankle state Rep. Mike Jones, R-York Township, who said his priorities include eliminating school property tax and increasing funding for vocational education.

"We are in desperate need of nursing home and childcare workers," he said. "Meanwhile, we’re wasting taxpayer dollars sending too many kids to college."

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.