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Politics & Government

In Harrisburg, New GOP Leaders, Same Political Realities

State lawmakers say only time will tell how Republican leadership changes will alter the House and Senate majority caucuses and the Legislature's relationship with the incoming administration.

The success of the Governor-elect Tom Wolf's ambitious policy agenda came into question as the election night tallies last week showed Republicans grew their majorities in the House and Senate. But many looked forward to Wednesday's leadership elections as either another nail in the coffin or a glimmer of hope.

"The leadership represents the membership, but difference is how they represent them," said Chuck Ardo, a former spokesman for Gov. Ed Rendell. "Some are more combative and confrontational. I think some are more willing to work with the incoming administration."

The House's longtime speaker, Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) retired, leaving a legacy of bipartisan deal-making. He was replaced by erstwhile Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), known for being more ideological. But House Republicans elected as their new majority leader Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), known for his ability to forge bipartisan consensus on major bills affecting tax policy and transportation infrastructure funding.

Reed addressed reporters Wednesday afternoon, emphasizing the need for cooperation with the incoming administration.

"The last thing we want to do is turn into a situation like they have in Washington, D.C., where the two sides won't even talk to each other," said Reed. "We think we can have good conversations and that we can work together."

Reed's comments make the House seem vaguely open to Wolf's priorities, but new Senate leadership may have dashed any lingering hopes he had of passing specific proposals, like a tax on natural gas drillers and a progressive income tax.

The Senate's Majority Leader-designee Jake Corman (R-Centre) said he's less amenable to those plans than was his moderate predecessor, Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware).

But several senators said budget realities will force the Legislature to get cozy with the incoming governor.

"We have to work with the Wolf administration, and should work with them, on a compromise or some kind of a plan," said Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland). "We have a $2 billion deficit and we can't afford to say, 'Well we're not going to talk to them.'"