In one stroke, all the Republican Party’s hopes to change the Pennsylvania constitution could be dashed.
In the aftermath of the Nov. 8 election, most attention was directed toward key U.S. Senate and House races, which left the GOP and Democrats each with narrow control of one congressional chamber. A surprise win in Harrisburg for the Democrats, however, could have at least as much impact on Pennsylvanians’ lives.
Votes were still being counted – and disputed – late this week. But it appeared all but certain that Democrats would hold a razor-thin majority in the state House, leaving the General Assembly divided alongside Democratic governor-elect Josh Shapiro.
Republicans have enjoyed nearly unbroken control of the state Legislature since the early 1990s, letting their party set much of the state’s political agenda. The only break since 2015 has been Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto.
In the past three years, however, GOP lawmakers have worked to avoid Wolf’s veto by instead passing constitutional amendments. Those can’t be vetoed; instead, they must pass both chambers in two consecutive sessions before being turned over to the voters for a ballot referendum.
Wolf’s opponents won an initial victory in 2021, when primary voters approved amendments to limit the governor’s disaster powers and allow lawmakers to terminate emergency declarations. The votes followed complaints by GOP officials that Wolf’s pandemic response was too strict.
With the floodgates opened, Republican lawmakers soon moved to enshrine many of their goals in the state’s highest document.
Just this summer, legislators advanced amendments to require voter ID, give themselves a veto over all regulations and declare there’s no right to abortion in Pennsylvania.
Those efforts would grind to a halt with Democrats in control of half the Legislature, leaving little opportunity for either party to advance amendments.
Even if GOP lawmakers managed to push through legislation, Shapiro appears set to use his veto pen on a range of issues. During the campaign, the then-candidate for governor vowed to veto any bill that threatens abortion rights, makes voting more difficult or establishes a “right to work” policy that would weaken labor unions.
Dems hold rare Senate win
In Washington, too, Democrats have won a rare victory: Next year, for the first time since the 1940s, both Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators will have been elected from the party.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is set to join Sen. Bob Casey in the nation’s capital after beating physician Mehmet Oz for the seat vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. The last time two Democrats were elected to those seats was 1944 – and before that, before the Civil War.
The party briefly controlled both seats during Barack Obama’s administration, after Pennsylvania’s then-senator Arlen Specter switched parties to join the Democratic majority.
Casey celebrated after the election, tweeting: “I told my team I wasn’t going to crack open a beer this year ... but then you sent a Democrat to join me in Washington.”
A final note
I’ve saved the end of this column for an uncharacteristic first-person turn. This weekend’s edition marks the last of the Political Notebook – at least under my watch – and I’d like to thank everyone who’s read and supported it over the past several years.
I first wrote this column as a full-time reporter at the Altoona Mirror, where I spent five years. The column has lasted five more years since then, eventually spreading to other newspapers across the state.
My intention for the Notebook wasn’t to do deep investigations or break shocking news – that would be tough for a freelance column that’s run weekly or twice a month. Instead, I wanted to point readers to stories they might have missed, and to explain complex issues in an understandable way. I hope I’ve succeeded.
This sort of column relies on the work of reporters across the state and country, and I’d like to thank those who keep writing those stories (often under difficult conditions). I’d also like to thank my editors and colleagues at the Altoona Mirror.
I ask all the Political Notebook’s readers to keep supporting local news and the reporters who cover it.
There’s mistrust even of local journalists – I remember being booed at a 2016 Donald Trump rally – but those reporters are dedicated to accurately covering big beats with limited resources. That’s true in my hometown of Pittsburgh, where even striking journalists now run their own outlet just to keep covering important stories.
Please remember that dedication when you open your local paper or click a link to a story. And be sure to send them news tips while you’re at it.
Thanks, and see you around.