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EDITORIAL: Pa. Republicans face hard choice — work with Wolf or against him

York Dispatch
  • Pennsylvania Republicans saw their state legislative majorities decrease in the 2018 election.
  • Republicans expect to have a 29-21 Senate majority and a 110-93 House advantage.
  • That's down from 34-16 in the Senate and 121-82 in the House.
  • Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, meanwhile, won re-election by 17 points.

The Republican members in the Pennsylvania Legislature have a collective decision to make.

What they decide could ultimately determine whether or not they are still in the majority after the 2020 elections.

Demorcatic Gov. Tom Wolf, a man the Republicans fought against tooth and nail for the past four years, just captured a dominating 17-point triumph over Scott Wagner to earn another four years in office.

The Republicans, meanwhile, saw their majorities in the state Legislature take a pretty good hit.

Republicans expect to have a 29-21 Senate majority and a 110-93 House advantage — down from 34-16 in the Senate and 121-82 in the House — when the counties finish tabulating votes.

Given those results, you would think that the Republicans might be more willing to work with, not against, a governor who has proven to be widely popular with the state’s voters.

You would probably be wrong, however.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf was recently re-elected to four more years, beating Scott Wagner by 17 points. FILE PHOTO

Fewer, but more conservative, GOP caucus: There's good reason for that expectation. Even though there are fewer Republicans holding state office, the Republicans who are still in power are generally more conservative.

Many of the Republicans who were defeated earlier this month were largely moderates.

Since there will be relatively few moderate voices left among the state Republicans, their more conservative brethren likely will see it as their civic duty to fight against all of Wolf’s progressive priorities, such as more money for education, raising the minimum wage, expanding background checks on firearms purchases and imposing a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production.

Saylor weighs in: One of the York County members of the Republican caucus, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, seemed to indicate that would be the case. Saylor recently said a smaller Republican majority will demand that members fall in line with leadership on politically thorny votes.

“I think when you have 121, sometimes you say, ‘You know what, I don’t need to vote for this, there’s 120 other members,’” Saylor said. “Now, if you’re down to 110, I think it puts more pressure on members to make sure they’re more united.”

Wolf’s 2nd term comes with evolving GOP identity in Capitol

More gridlock likely: Republicans likely will be more united — united against Wolf. That unity will likely lead to more political gridlock and more divisive partisan bickering.

A longstanding legislative rule requires bills to get the blessing of at least half of the Republican caucus — a majority of the majority — before it sees a floor vote.

That likely means Wolf's top priorities won't even get a vote.

However, there is a danger in following that kind of political road map.

Wolf’s popularity only seems to be growing in the state. He won by 10 points in 2014, but increased that to 17 points in this past election.

That would appear to make it fairly obvious that most Pennsylvanians are supportive of his policy initiatives.

Obstructionism could be costly: So, by continuing to be the “Party of No” over the next two years, the Republicans would seem to be swimming against the political tide that most state residents are riding.

That could cost them again in the 2020 elections. It could even cost them the majority in either or both houses.

Since 2020 is a census year, the winners of the 2020 state legislative elections will be the men and women likely tasked with approving the state's next legislative maps. That makes 2020 a pivotal election.

Do the Republicans want to be seen as obstructionists heading into an election that both sides see as vitally important? Or do they want to be seen as the party that will help get things done in a bipartisan manner?

That’s the political calculus the Republicans must consider for the next two years.

The best guess here? Look for the Republicans to come up with the wrong answer — and they may suffer dearly for that mistake in 2020.