The balance of power in the Pennsylvania House has been teetering since January when the current session began.
Currently, the House is made up of 101 Republicans and 101 Democrats, but a special election on Tuesday, Sept. 19, in the heavily Democratic District 21 is expected to put Democrats in the majority again, according to conversations with Harrisburg lawmakers from both parties.
District 21 is in Allegheny County and includes a part of Pittsburgh, plus some of its northern suburbs. Former state Rep. Sara Innamorato, a Democrat, left the district representative seat in July to run for the position of Allegheny County Executive.
For the special election, the District 21 Democrat candidate is Lindsay Powell and the Republican is Erin Connolly Autenreith.
Ms. Powell works at an economic development nonprofit organization and is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and former Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto.
Ms. Autenreith is a real estate agent and chairwoman of the Shaler Township Republican Committee. Her father, Thomas Connolly, a Democrat, was mayor of McKees Rocks, an Allegheny County borough, in the 1980s.
Ms. Innamorato won the district in 2022 with 63 percent of the vote. Allegheny County has Pennsylvania’s second-largest population and votes reliably for Democrats, supporting Hillary Clinton and President Joe Biden in the last two presidential elections with 57 percent and 60 percent of the vote, respectively, according to The Associated Press.
After the November 2022 election, the Pennsylvania House had 101 Republican and 102 Democrat seats, a thin Democrat majority for the first time since 2011. But immediately after the election, before the House was sworn into office in January, Democrats had three vacant seats and, of the filled seats, Republicans had the majority, with a voting headcount of 101 Republicans and 99 Democrats.
One Democrat seat was empty because longtime Democrat Rep. Anthony M. “Tony” DeLuca died after the ballots were printed. Voters chose him posthumously. Two other seats were immediately vacated by candidates who ran for two offices at the same time and left their House seats for higher offices. Former state Rep. Austin Davis is now lieutenant governor, and former state Rep. Summer Lee is now in Congress.
By February, Democrats had won special elections to fill the three vacancies, and the power was back to 102 Democrats and 101 Republicans.
Ms. Innamorato left her seat in July, bringing the balance to a tie, with 101 Democrats and 101 Republicans.
If Ms. Powell wins in Tuesday's special election, which is widely expected, Democrats will once again have 102 seats, but they may not hold the majority for long.
Democrat state Rep. John Galloway is running for a district judge position. If he is elected in November, it will put the House back to 101 members in each party, and that would be resolved by another special election.
The balance of power is about more than predicting final votes on legislation that often go along party lines. It is also important because the majority party dictates which legislation is considered in committees and brought to the floor for full House consideration. Minority members often complain that they cannot get their legislative ideas out of committee, and even when they do, it has historically been tough to convince majority leaders to run their bill on the floor for a vote.
It’s not easy to hold on to a state representative seat.
The term is two years, and once someone is in office, other candidates usually surface to challenge them in each election. Representatives spend about half their term in active campaign mode. While some have held office for decades, others seem to look at the position as a steppingstone to higher office.
After adding the job title of state representative to their resume, numerous elected officials have spent a significant amount of their time in office campaigning for another job, although the House position is considered to be desirable.
The hours in Harrisburg are split up with long breaks. The full-time House has not been in session since July 11 and will not return from summer break until Sept. 26. Other than some dramatic power struggle meetings a few days in January, the House did not start its normal work in session until Feb. 27. House members hear from constituents while in their local home offices.
The pay is also better than most Pennsylvanians earn. The median family income in a home with one earner is $66,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Most state House members are earning six figures.
Democrat Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton is paid $160,546 a year. Republican House Leader Bryan Cutler is paid $149,008 annually.
Democrat House Whip Rep. Dan Miller is paid $137,879 annually.
Republican state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie is paid $102,844 for the elected position. In July, Mr. Mackenzie announced he is running for Congress, representing the 7th District. The seat is currently held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Susan Wild.