One of Pennsylvania’s most moderate Democratic senators announced Tuesday that he is leaving the party.
John Yudichak, who represents Carbon County and part of Luzerne, including the city of Wilkes-Barre, is now an Independent. But he plans to caucus with Republicans.
Yudichak was first elected to the state House as a Democrat in 1999. He’s been a member of the Senate’s Democratic caucus since 2011. But he said he’s been mulling a change for a few years—adding he thinks Democrats and Republicans are both too partisan.
His 14th State Senate District has historically swung between parties. Residents, for instance, voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but pivoted to Donald Trump in 2016. Yudichak characterized his constituents as “very independent by nature.”
Asked why he’s now caucusing with Republicans—which means he’ll primarily draft and discuss bills with them—he said it seemed like a better fit.
“I do see them as less of a purist party,” he said.
He told reporters that in the last several months, he has mostly stopped caucusing with Democrats at all. One of his biggest gripes was the blowback he received for his efforts to boost his district’s anthracite coal industry, and because of his support for natural gas drilling.
“There are great opponents of the natural gas industry within the Democratic caucus that have started to make it a purist issue,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-43) said he’s “extremely disappointed” that Yudichak is leaving the party.
“We’re a big tent. We welcome everyone’s ideas, we welcome everybody in terms of what they believe in and how we work through that,” he said, adding that he disagrees “vehemently” with Yudichak’s assessment that the caucus has become “purist.”
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, welcomed the newly minted Independent to their caucus meetings with open arms.
“John is unquestionably a dedicated public servant and a strong voice in Harrisburg,” Senate GOP leaders Jake Corman (R-34) and Joe Scarnati (R-35) said in a statement. “We look forward to Senator Yudichak joining our Republican members of the Senate in our Caucus, as we work together to create an appropriate balance in the Pennsylvania Legislature.”
Yudichak’s switch means he’ll give up his seat as minority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and any staffers who choose to stick with him will be paid by the Republicans.
He is the legislature’s first registered Independent in recent memory.