The 2023-24 legislative session in Harrisburg is off to a roaring start.
Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) was sworn in by Delaware County Judge Richard H. Lowe as House Majority Leader for the 2023-24 legislative session, becoming the first woman in Pennsylvania history to serve as the House’s presiding officer.
The manner of her swearing in did not sit well with House Republicans.
“Today’s illegitimate power grab by Rep. McClinton, who was sworn-in without notice and in complete secret, is a paperwork insurrection typical of a Democratic Party that is constantly displaying that their last two years of rhetoric on respect for institutions has been nothing but crocodile tears,” said House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) in a statement.
Democrats point to the fact that they won a majority of the races in the November election, 102-101. The problem – three of those 102 seats are currently vacant, following the October passing of Tony DeLuca and the resignations of Summer Lee (D-34) and Austin Davis (D-35).
“As majority leader, McClinton’s appointment as presiding officer is established by law and consistent with legal precedent set in 2004, when the majority leader, Republican Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) served as the House’s presiding officer on Dec. 9, 2004, to schedule a special election to fill a seat vacated by a Republican lawmaker in the 189th legislative district,” stated the Democratic House Caucus in a news release.
“Pennsylvanians cast their ballots in the free and fair 2022 General Election. The results of that election are not in dispute and in the majority of legislative districts – 102 out of 203 – the people of Pennsylvania voted to elect a Democrat to represent them in the House of Representatives. Pennsylvania’s voters have spoken, and the will of the people is the ultimate authority in this Commonwealth,” McClinton said.
Her first official action was to set the date for three special elections to replace DeLuca, Lee and Davis. The three special elections are set for February 7, 2023.
This came on the heels of Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh Chapman returning the Writ of Election submitted by Cutler on November 30, citing issues with the rationale behind his selection of a special election date – Feb. 7, 2023.
“While admitting three vacancies exist by calling special elections in the 32nd, 34th and 35th districts, vacancies that gives Republicans a 101-99 majority in the House, Democrats are creating internal confusion by simultaneously speciously alleging they have a fake, gerrymandered majority that has the authority to conduct the business of the House,” said Cutler.
Chapman rejected Cutler’s Writ for three reasons:
- A Writ may only be issued to fill an unexpired term. DeLuca’s term ended on November 30 – the day the Writ was issued.
- Writs are required within 10 days of a vacancy. Since DeLuca passed on October 9, the Writ was not received in the required time frame.
- Cutler’s Writ was premature, since DeLuca’s new term began on December 1.
It remains possible that the House Republican caucus could file a lawsuit to stop the special election date.
This story will be updated.