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Politics & Government

For House Lawmaker Group Eager To Work Across The Aisle, Consolidation Equals Cooperation

harrisburg_capitol.jpg
Gov. Tom Wolf
/
Flickr

A group of House lawmakers says state legislators could work across the aisle more often — if a few changes are made to how business gets done around the Capitol.

The group known as the PA One Caucus, made up of eight Republicans and eight Democrats, says its been working for five months on ways to bring lawmakers closer together. Its Democratic leader, Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia), said he noticed that needed to happen almost as soon as he started working at the Capitol in 2016.

“When you’re first elected, you have orientation, like at camp or college or a new job,” Solomon said. “But the thing about orientation in this place is it’s done in a partisan way.”

So he and Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) got 14 other like-minded House members together to show others an alternative exists to the pitched partisan battles state lawmakers have most recently waged during the pandemic and the 2020 election.

“I think that’s what not only is needed here in the Commonwealth, but right here in our country,” Mehaffie said.

The group found certain institutional norms at the state Capitol encourage Republicans and Democrats to work separately. Each party has its print shop, messenger service, IT department, and even security teams. The group considers that to be a big roadblock that slows the lawmaking process down

If those departments were brought under one roof, not only would members of the different parties have to interact, but the group also claims millions of state dollars could be saved over time.

“Even our colleagues in the other chamber have combined their print shop, and we believe that that is an opportunity to become more efficient,” said Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford).

Topper and others said they’ve talked with their party leaders about making changes like this, and they seem doable. The group argues if they do happen, it might lead to more cooperation on big-ticket legislative items like business regulation and criminal justice reform.

“This is about creating a more efficient General Assembly, a more productive General Assembly,” Topper said. “Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, or from whatever part of the state you hail, it’s something that I believe all of our constituents would like to see from us.”

Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-Chester County), another PA One Caucus member, said the group’s aims go beyond institutional changes. Overall, it hopes to show others in the General Assembly that people of wildly varying political orientations can share ideas and value each other more than the politics of the moment.

Congress has tried with varying success to do the same thing, by forming groups like the Problem Solvers Caucus. But if the effort succeeds here, it could pave the way for government to run more cooperatively when one party controls the legislature and the other holds the governor’s office.

“Efficiency, transparency, and bipartisanship: they cannot be buzz words occasionally used to consider a different way of governing. They are actually ideas that must be put into action,” Shusterman said.