State Commonwealth Court ruled Friday that special elections for two vacant house seats will take pace Feb. 7, a decision that could ultimately lead to state Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-191st District, becoming speaker of the House.
Democrats won 102 seats for a majority on Nov. 8, but the majority was called into question after the death of Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-33rd District, in October, before the election, but whose name remained on the ballot.
Also on the date state Rep. Austin Davis, D-32nd District, was elected the state’s first Black lieutenant governor with Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro; and state Rep. Summer Lee, D-34th District, was elected as the first Black woman from Pennsylvania to the U.S. House of Representatives.
DeLuca’s death and the subsequent resignations by Davis and Lee quickly took away the Democrats’ majority.
This set in motion a power struggle to decide which party controlled the House.
For her part, McClinton took the position that she was acting House speaker, and filed paperwork to schedule the special elections on Feb.7, the same date of the election for DeLuca’s seat.
But state Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-100th District, of Lancaster, the previous House speaker, claimed the Republicans now had the majority and filed a suit seeking an injunction to postpone two of the special elections until May.
In Friday’s decision, the court said Cutler failed to show that he was “entitled,” to the emergency relief he sought and failed to prove that he has a clear right to the relief or that he would “suffer” immediate and irreparable harm.
“Today’s decision is good news for the nearly 200,000 Allegheny County residents currently without representation in the state House,” said Nicole Reigelman, House Democratic Caucus spokesperson. “Now county elections officials can proceed to print ballots and make final preparations for special elections in the 32nd, 34th, and 35th legislative districts Feb. 7.
Since all three seats are in heavily Democratic Allegheny County, the Democrats are expected to win all three seats. The Republicans have said they will still field candidates in each election.
Meanwhile, on Jan. 3, House Republicans nominated Mark Rozzi, D-126th District, of Berks County, as House speaker. McClinton and the Democrats supported the move and Rozzi was elected that day.
Rozzi had vowed to govern in a bipartisan way and said he would not caucus with either party. But he has not commented on when or if he would change parties.
After Rozzi’s election as speaker, he reaffirmed the Feb. 7 date for the elections.
McClinton filed a motion to dismiss the injunction, saying Rozzi’s actions had made the matter moot. In it’s decision Friday, the court agreed, saying Rozzi’s election and reaffirmation of the election schedule made the decision moot.
Cutler said in a statement: “Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court today decided to ignore basic math and prior law in ordering all three of these elections be held together on Feb. 7. Instead of resolving a dispute where the answer was self-evident based on the numbers, the court took the path of least resistance and thereby weakened the foundations of our republic and faith in the rule of law. This case was about who can exercise certain functions based upon simple numbers. House Republicans remained steadfast and consistent in our desire to hold elections and fill these seats in the normal course of business, and not through illegitimate loopholes.”
Rozzi announced Thursday the makeup of a group of six state representatives, three from each party, who will advise him on potential rules for the 2023-24 session. The Speaker’s Workgroup to Move Pennsylvania Forward will seek “a bipartisan agreement to end gridlock in the House,” Rozzi’s office said in announcing it will begin work Tuesday.
McClinton has not commented of whether she will seek the speaker’s chair if Democrats were to regain the majority in February.
AP contributed to this story.