House Dem Leadership Shifts Southeast, GOP Stays Status Quo
As Pennsylvania’s 2017-18 legislative session draws to a close, lawmakers are picking their leadership teams for the next two years.
House Democrats are seeing some of the biggest sea changes.
The midterm elections brought the caucus almost a dozen new seats, mostly in the collar counties around Philadelphia. And two longtime leaders are departing: Minority Whip Mike Hanna and Appropriations Committee Chair Joe Markosek, of Centre and Allegheny counties, respectively.
Their replacements are both from the southeast. Philadelphia’s Jordan Harris will take over as whip, and Montgomery County’s Matt Bradford will helm appropriations.
At 34, Harris is among the youngest Democratic whips ever. He said the new leadership reflects a changing party.
“This represents the will of the people of Pennsylvania,” he said. “And what’s really historic is I think maybe for the first time, we have three African Americans in leadership together. It’s a historic opportunity.”
Harris is also chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Bradford most recently served as the Democratic head of the House State Government Committee. He agreed with Harris that the new slate of leaders brings needed “regional diversity, gender diversity, racial diversity,” and added that with more seats, he’s hoping Democrats can be more effective.
“Listen,” he said, “I think people are tired of the do-nothing legislature. I think they want to see a strong, vibrant legislature that addresses the concerns of everyday Pennsylvanians. Unfortunately, I don’t think the current leadership did a very good job.”
Rounding out the batch of new Democratic leaders is Joanna McClinton, who will serve as caucus chair.
Leader Frank Dermody, of Allegheny County, faced no opposition for his spot. The caucus secretary, caucus administrator, and policy committee chair will remain the same.
Meanwhile, House Republican contests didn’t see any major surprises—but that doesn’t mean there won’t be changes.
The caucus is entering its fifth session in the majority. But after the midterms, its edge has narrowed to 110-to-93.
Republicans re-elected Allegheny County Rep. Mike Turzai as speaker and chose a new leader in Bryan Cutler, a 10-year representative from Lancaster County.
Cutler is taking over for Indiana County’s Dave Reed, who is now bowing out of politics after four year as leader.
He said he saw Reed as pragmatic and plans to approach the job the same way. However, he noted with the loss of several moderate Republicans in the southeast and election of a few more liberal Democrats, consensus may get harder.
“I think both caucuses shifted a little bit away from each other, so I think that yeah we’ll have some challenges because of that,” Cutler said.
Longtime Centre County Rep.Kerry Benninghoff is taking over for Cutler as GOP whip.
The leadership slate is filled out by new Policy Committee Chair Donna Oberlander and Caucus Secretary Mike Reese. The standing appropriations chair, caucus chair, caucus administrator will keep their roles.
The Senate caucuses will hold their leadership elections on Wednesday.