EDITORIAL: A petty two-fer for GOP senators

York Dispatch Editorial Board
The Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg

From suppressing votes, to questioning election results, to simply ignoring those results — Pennsylvania Republicans took their disinterest in democracy to a new low in the state Senate last week.

Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony became the stage for an ugly, unprecedented, undemocratic display as the body’s majority party refused to seat a duly elected state senator.

Veteran lawmaker Jim Brewster narrowly defeated his Republican opponent in November — by just 69 votes — to earn a fourth term representing the state’s Pittsburgh-area 45th Senate District. The votes were counted and recounted, and the results were certified by the Department of State.

All of which made no difference to state Senate Republicans, who, in something of a prelude to similar efforts the following day in Washington to subvert the will of voters, simply refused to recognize the Democrat’s victory. Lancaster-area Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument instead introduced a motion to not seat Brewster until “such time as the Senate had the opportunity for further consideration of the contest petition.”

Lt. Gov. Jon Fetterman, in his role as presiding officer of the chamber, rightly attempted to block the move. Much less in the right, Republicans then hastily voted to relieve Fetterman of his duties and, with Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman wielding the gavel, rammed the motion through.

What should have been a proud, even a celebratory day devolved into chaos, with angry shouts and accusations leveled at the architects of the bewilderingly dictatorial maneuvers.

Democratic state Sen. Anthony Williams called the power play “a farce.” “A shameful maneuver that disgraces the institution,” added Gov. Tom Wolf.

Additional descriptions include “petty,” “insulting” and “characteristic.” Because from their well-documented gerrymandering to their efforts to dismiss the state’s popular vote in this fall’s presidential election to this latest charade, Republican office-holders have consistently demonstrated their loyalty is to their party rather than the public.

And what, exactly, does the Senate (by which Aument means “Senate Republicans”) intend to “further consider”? Yes, Brewster’s opponent, Nicole Ziccarelli, argued that some 300 mail-in ballots that arrived undated should not have been counted. But the state’s Supreme Court, dismissing what it described as “minor technical defects,” ruled the ballots are, indeed, admissible. Ziccarelli has now taken her case to federal court, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals summarily dismissed similar claims brought by the Trump campaign in November.

It’s not like control of the Senate even hangs in the balance; Republicans enjoy a healthy 28-21 majority (which they abuse with stunts like that pulled on Tuesday).

“I don’t know what their endgame is,” Fetterman told the Washington Post Tuesday evening. “I have no idea. I really don’t.”

There may not be an endgame, but there’s an immediate two-fer.

The Senate GOP is emulating (and, by extension, supporting) President Donald Trump and his congressional toadies in ignoring a certified vote and trying to undermine an election. At the same time, they’re exercising a version of the sore-loser tactics that have been on display in recent years across the country and in recent weeks at the White House.

As The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie recently reminded readers, Republican state legislatures are making something of an art of stripping authority from the role of governor when a Democratic candidate wins the office. The Trump White House has likewise done its level best to impede the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.

Anyone expecting Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers to rise above this level of partisan pettiness hasn’t been paying attention in the days before and since the election.

It’s all a sad reflection on a party that seems to have lost its moral compass, its political bearings and, at times, its grip on reality.

By moving so brazenly and indefensibly to subvert the will of the people and deny an elected state senator his rightfully earned seat, the state’s Republican senators show how little deserving they are of their own.