Will voters break Pa.'s gridlock? Maybe not

Greg Gross
  • Of the seven Pa. House seats in York County, only two are contested this election
  • One of two state Senate seats in the county that'll appear on the ballot is also contested

With the gridlock over Pennsylvania’s budget breaking a record every day, one might think frustrated voters would swoop in this year and settle the matter decisively in favor of one side or the other.

But with a dearth of candidates and so many incumbents ensconced in safe districts, it’s not at all clear that Gov. Tom Wolf and his fellow Democrats or the Republicans controlling the General Assembly will pay a heavy price at the polls.

The deep political divide actually might have kept some people from running for the state House or Senate, according to Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township.

"I'm under the opinion right now that it is difficult, it is tough, (the) bit of divisiveness and separation in government. Do people want to run and get involved in that?" he said. "At this point, I'd say it's tough times, and people don't want to throw their hat in the ring."

For the first time in his four-term tenure in the General Assembly, Grove will not face a challenger this year. And he's not alone.

Of York County’s nine House and Senate seats that will be up for grabs in November, only three races are contested, and only one pits a challenger against an incumbent.

A minor party candidate still could crop up in any of the races, and anyone could launch a write-in campaign, but those challenges are typically longshots.

Locally: Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, the only York County Democrat in the House, is poised to face Republican challenger Joel Sears of Spring Garden Township.

Schreiber contends the election will be a litmus test to rate the jobs of Wolf and the Legislature in general.

"I think we're going to see a report card back from the voters," he said.

Rep. Stan Saylor, R- Windsor Township, who isn't facing a challenger, said other factors, such as embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane and national politics, will also be on voters' minds.

But how Harrisburg is being run will be the focal point, he predicted.

"This election will turn on the kind of governing we've seen," he said.

Why is Schreiber the only York County incumbent facing a challenge?

He points to the 2012 redistricting, which opponents argue favored of Republicans and made it difficult for Democrats to win additional seats in the House and Senate.

“That has created safer GOP seats,” Schreiber said.

The other two contested House or Senate races in the county involve candidates, all of whom are Republicans, vying for open seats.

In the 92nd House District, three candidates — Dawn Keefer, of Franklin Township; Kraig Bruder of Newberry Township; and Anthony Pugliese, of Fairview Township — hope to fill a seat being vacated by Rep. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, who's running for state Sen. Pat Vance's seat.

Vance, R-York and Cumberland counties, announced late last year that she won't seek re-election. Regan, dentist Brice Arndt, Former NFLer Jon Ritchie and attorney Scott Harper are running for her seat.

Both races could be decided in the primary since there aren't any Democrats running.

York's political parties gear up for primary

Statewide: York County isn't an anomaly when it comes to the lack of candidates.

All 203 House seats and half of the 50 Senate seats will appear on the ballot this year but 55 Republicans and 29 Democrats are in uncontested House races, according to Pennsylvania Department of State data.

In the Senate, 11 of 25 races are uncontested. Of those, four involve Democrats and the remaining seven involve Republicans, data shows.

Nonetheless, there are enough contested races that both chambers could conceivably receive a shakeup during the November election.

Voters could either give Republicans an even larger, so-called supermajority or transfer some seats to the Democrats.

House Republicans already hold a 118-member majority, but they could gain the coveted supermajority of at least 136 members.

Another possibility is the Democrats could not only cut into the majority and but take over the House based on the number of contested races statewide, according to Pennsylvania Department of State data.

But one political expert said neither scenario is likely.

Unlikely: If anything, the Republicans will likely increase their majority in the House, possibly picking up two or three additional seats, said Terry Madonna, a political affairs professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, adding it's highly unlikely the GOP will gain a supermajority.

Democrats could ride the momentum of their presidential candidate, depending on whom voters select as the nominee, picking up a few seats of their own.

But that, Madonna said, is a longshot.

In the Senate, the Republicans are all but guaranteed to retain their majority and could gain a supermajority. The Democrats haven't put up enough candidates to cut into the 30-member GOP majority, according to the Department of State.

Statewide, there are only 20 to 25 House and Senate races that will be competitive, Madonna said. That's out of 228 races.

"The Democrats don't seem to have fielded enough candidates to make any inroads," he said. "I think it's going to be very hard for the Democrats to take over the House. It's almost inconceivable that the House changes" hands.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.