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State House Dems pick new leadership

Votes shift power to Western Pa.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
By Angela Couloumbis, Philadelphia Inquirer

HARRISBURG — Philadelphia’s interests in the Capitol suffered a stinging blow on Tuesday as the city’s most influential legislator, state Rep. Dwight Evans, was replaced by Rep. Joe Markosek of Monroeville on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Evans was unable to withstand an aggressive challenge from a group of fellow Democrats who booted him from the post he’s held for two decades.

In its closed-door leadership elections, the House Democratic caucus chose Mr. Markosek after a raucous vote — and a recount — that pitted Democrats against each other and created odd alliances that had no basis in geography or ideology.

The House Democrats’ leadership elections amounted to a double whammy for the city’s clout: Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, was bounced from his position as caucus chair. He was replaced by another Western Pennsylvania legislator, Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill.

As House Transportation Committee Chairman, Mr. Markosek has worked to improve the state’s infrastructure. In his new role on the Appropriations Committee, Mr. Markosek now is part of the new — and he hopes, improved — legislative infrastructure.

Mr. Markosek, 60, a lifelong Allegheny County resident, knows there are challenges ahead.

In a tough economy, there are fewer dollars available, he said in an phone interview last week. It will be even harder to negotiate for them from the minority, he said.

“Caucus business, ultimately, is the business of every Pennsylvania, and how we conduct ourselves here is going to be watched,” Mr. Markosek said.

With Mr. Evans and Mr. Cohen out, no one from Philadelphia remains among the House Democrats’ leaders.

In the days before the vote, Mr. Evans, through a spokeswoman, had cast the challenge as a personal vendetta against him by a few legislators with an axe to grind. But when he emerged from the voting room in the Capitol on Tuesday, he was subdued and laconic: “It is clear that members made their decision. There is not much else to say.”

In the end, what jeopardized Evans’ reign on the committee was a feeling among some members that he had become arrogant and fallen out of touch with their needs.

As appropriations chairman for the last four years, Mr. Evans controlled how tens of millions of dollars in special-project grants, nicknamed WAMS –for walking-around-money — flowed to members and their districts.

Also elected to leadership positions: Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, as minority leader; Rep. Mike Hanna D-Clinton, as minority whip; Rep. Jennifer Mann, D-Lehigh, as caucus secretary; Rep. Ron Buxton, D-Dauphin, as caucus administrator; and Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, as policy chair.

Mr. Markosek praised Evans for his decades of leadership and said caucus leaders would seek his counsel on budget matters, particularly given the pressing fiscal issues on the state’s horizon.

“Like any constituency, there was some unrest and disgruntlement,” said Mr. Markosek. “We will work to bring back unity in the caucus and move forward.”

First published on November 17, 2010 at 12:00 am

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