Pennsylvania’s New Abnormal

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

As the dust settles on the General Election the only certainty is that state government will be very different come January. A new Governor will take office, the state Senate will have new leadership, and the state House – well, chaos will reign at least for the first half of the year.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro will become the new Governor of Penn’s Woods and his administration promises to be significantly different from that of outgoing Governor Tom Wolf. Wolf came into office with scant government experience – he served as a cabinet secretary – and little real world experience aside from a largely symbolic executive position with his family business.

In the truest sense of the word the incumbent governor was a lone wolf. He did not seek to bring stakeholders to the policymaking table, relied on an insular staff, and fired off orders like a D-Day commander. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated his go-it-alone tendencies triggering open warfare with the legislature. The end result was Wolf suffered an historic rebuke as voters actually amended the state constitution to curb his executive powers.

If past is prologue, Josh Shapiro is likely to follow a different path. A career politician Shapiro has served in the state legislature and is familiar with its internal workings. He chaired the Board of Commissioners in one of the state’s most populous counties. And his tenure as Attorney General has been workmanlike and highly disciplined. Shapiro will enter office far better equipped for the task than did his predecessor.

In the state Senate the departure of President Pro Tempore Jake Corman marks the end of an era. Corman gave up his Senate seat to embark on an ill-fated run for governor. He was the last vestige of a power structure helmed for years by former President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and anchored by a core of collar county moderates who were prone to selling out to Democratic governors and the institutional enemies of conservative policies. Those southeastern moderates – and that term is charitable – have been largely obliterated by voters over the past three or four cycles.

State Senator Kim Ward, a Republican from Westmoreland County becomes the new Senate President Pro Tempore and ushers in what promises to be a far more conservative GOP caucus. Like Shapiro, Ward has risen through the political ranks having also served as a County Commissioner. Westmoreland has become a bright red county giving her a strong base from which to preside over a chamber populated by 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats.

The new Republican leadership team is cut from the Reagan/Buckley mold of policy-oriented conservatism rather than the more boisterous populous Trump brand. Look for them to roll up their sleeves to actually move forward a pro-growth agenda. New Majority Leader Senator Joe Pittman of Indiana County has fought hard to protect family-sustaining jobs; the new Appropriations Committee Chairman, Senator Scott Martin of Lancaster County has been an effective leader in giving parents the freedom to choose educational opportunities that best fit their child.

And then there is the House of Representatives. As a result of running in new highly gerrymandered districts Democrats have secured a one seat majority – or have they? Included in the Democrats’ one seat majority is an individual whose death just before the election precludes him from taking office. Another, State Representative Summer Lee, will be sworn into Congress effectively leaving Democrats two seats short and giving the GOP a one seat advantage.

Add to the mix State Representative Austin Davis of Allegheny County who will resign in January to take office as Lieutenant Governor and Democrats will be short-handed until special elections can be held to fill those three seats. Two of those seats are solid Democrat, while one is a likely Democrat district that could be competitive should Republicans do well at candidate selection and then do something they didn’t do this year – run a competent campaign.

Over the past four years House Republicans have fought the draconian policies of Governor Tom Wolf with some success, but that success did not extend to either the redistricting or electoral processes meaning at some point next year Democrats will likely take control of the chamber’s mechanics.

This is where governing will get tricky. The House Democratic caucus is composed largely of urban progressives whose policies frequently cross the line into socialism or worse. They are loud, aggressive, and detached from reality. Thus, Governor Shapiro is likely to find himself with the same challenge as President Joe Biden has at the national level – governing with an extremist Left flank.

And so, 2023 will dawn with both promise and peril. Grab some popcorn and stay tuned – it is going to be an interesting show.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is [email protected])

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