Democrats Capture Majority in Pennsylvania’s House After Special Election

The House has not been in session since December 2023, when a departure created an even split with 101 Democrats and 101 Republicans.
Democrats Capture Majority in Pennsylvania’s House After Special Election
Pennsylvania’s Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa., in January 2023. (Beth Brelje/The Epoch Times)
Beth Brelje

It only takes one member of Pennsylvania’s state House to upset the delicate power balance. In a special election held on Feb. 13 for House District 140 in Bucks County, the Associated Press called the race for Democrat Jim Prokopiak, giving that party a slight majority in the chamber.

With 66 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. Prokopiak had 5,285 votes, or 70 percent, compared to Republican Candace Cabanas, who had 2,293, or 30 percent, of the votes.

While Election Day began with a snowstorm, roads were cleared well before the polls closed. Still, voter turnout was low in Bucks County, which has 20,536 registered Democrats, 13,502 Republicans, and 7,147 “other” registered voters.

Republicans control the state Senate, while Democrats hold the governorship.

With this special election, the statehouse has 102 Democrats and 100 Republicans.

The House hasn’t been in session since December 2023, when state Rep. John Galloway, a Democrat, resigned to become a magisterial district judge, leaving the House with 101 Democrats and 101 Republicans. While members attended Gov. Josh Shapiro’s Feb. 6 budget address, the House didn’t convene to conduct business that day.

The House was called to session Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton, a Democrat, but with the chamber split at 101–101, Republicans could have called for a reorganization, and potentially ousted her as speaker.

There is another wrinkle. The tie was actually broken on Feb. 9, when state Rep. Joe Adams, a Republican, resigned effective immediately after receiving medical news in his family that required his attention. His departure gave Democrats the edge, 101–100.

Had Republicans won the Feb. 13 special election, the House would have returned to that 101–101 tie.

A special election to determine a successor to Mr. Adams in the 139th District will be held on April 23, along with the state’s primary election. The district covers Pike County, a rural, Republican-leaning area.

Majority Tug of War

Following the November 2022 election, Democrats held a majority in the House for the first time since 2011, with 102 members to 101 Republicans.

However, before the House was sworn into office in January 2023, three Democrat seats were vacated, giving Republicans a 101–99 advantage.

One Democratic seat was empty because longtime state Rep. Anthony M. “Tony” DeLuca died after the ballots were printed. Voters chose him posthumously.

Two other seats were immediately vacated by candidates who simultaneously ran for two offices, won both races, and left for higher offices. Former state Rep. Austin Davis is now lieutenant governor, and former state Rep. Summer Lee is now U.S. representative for the state’s 12th Congressional District.

By February, Democrats had won special elections to fill the three vacancies, which reverted the majority to the Democrat side.

But in July 2023, former state Rep. Sara Innamorato, a Democrat, left to seek the role of Allegheny County executive. The House was again deadlocked until a September 2023 special election won by Democrat Lindsay Powell, returning the majority to the Democrats, 102–101.

While some states have part-time lawmakers, Pennsylvania’s 253-member General Assembly—that is, House and Senate—is full-time and well-paid.

The base salary for House members is $106,000, although leadership gets more from taxpayers. Ms. McClinton is paid $166,132 per year. Republican House Leader Bryan Cutler is paid $154,192 annually. The state’s median household income is $73,000.

Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]
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