The new Pennsylvania branch of the House Freedom Caucus is open and operational.
The original Freedom Caucus for the uninitiated was created in the US House of Representatives in 2015 as a wing within the Republican conference of the House of Representatives for conservative members who chose not to compromise conservative principles in the name of “governance.”
Such coexistence, its members argued, was a formula for never realizing important goals of conservative politics and slowly handing over personal and economic liberties to a larger and more powerful government.
Now, in a political sense, the Washington-based organization led by Mark Meadows, former President Donald J. Trump’s embattled ex-chief of staff, is making itself a franchise and encouraging the establishment of “freedom gatherings” in area state capitals Country.
Meadows was one of the original members of the House Freedom Caucus while a congressman from North Carolina.
Pennsylvania is the youngest branch, and at a public unveiling Monday at the state Capitol, some of the most conservative members of the state House Republican caucus said they were open to business in the 2023-24 legislative session.
A Freedom Caucus superstar, US Rep. Scott Perry, the mid-state congressman who happens to be the current chair of the Congressional Caucus, laid out why this is necessary.
“People aren’t voting for Republicans to come into their state capitol and do backroom deals with left-wing Democrats,” Perry said.
But those members and their constituents, he said, believe that’s exactly what happened during Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration in Pennsylvania, which increased the state’s general fund budget from $32 billion to $43 million. Dollars and government hyperbole led it’s peak with the coronavirus pandemic.
Worst of all, Perry continued, “Without inspired Republican leadership, Pennsylvania has elected the most radical leftist and probably the most partisan governor in our lives and is preparing to take office now,” he said in a barb addressed to newly elected governor Josh Shapiro.
Shapiro scored a landslide victory over Republican opponent Sen. Doug Mastriano last month.
The new Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus, Perry said, will be a center of resistance to what he fears, a new period of Democrat-led encroachment on socialism — though Republicans still have solid control of the Senate — and the Federal government overreach.
Chairperson Dawn Keefer, a Republican House Representative from Franklin Township in north York County, said the caucus here begins by invitation-only with “about 23 representatives”; She wouldn’t say how many were originally invited.
As in Washington, the state caucus appears to be set up in a read-and-react mode.
As Keefer put it, Harrisburg members will “stand united to protect personal liberties, the right to pursue economic endeavors without undue government influence, and the right to live and to raise a family without the incursions of the Big Brother of the government usurps individual liberties”.
And then, she said, they respond appropriately to the problems they face.
However, Keefer made it clear that the Freedom Caucus does not oppose the House of Representatives’ newly formed GOP leadership team.
It’s just that as a group they declare that they will not be rubber stamps on them if they feel conservative principles are being compromised.
Democrats reached after Monday’s announcement said they had heard too many echoes of Republican rhetoric from the just-ended campaign cycle that they believe voters rejected.
Will Simons, a spokesman for Shapiro’s campaign committee, noted that the governor-elect has offered an olive branch to anyone — Democrat, Republican, or anyone else — who wants to get things done for the collective good of Pennsylvanians.
However, if Freedom Caucus members refuse to engage cooperatively, they risk rendering themselves irrelevant.
“Governor-elect Shapiro will continue to focus on the issues that matter most — creating jobs, improving our schools and keeping communities safe,” Simons said in a statement, “and he will continue to stand in the way of any attempts to restrict Pennsylvanians.” ‘ Freedoms.”
The new caucus drew a quiet protest earlier Monday made up mostly of Harrisburg-area Democrats and others outraged by Rep. Perry’s willing involvement in former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results of 2020 and retain power.
Camp Hill’s Liz Reilly held up a sign to the speakers that read: “Perry and the Freedom Caucus; insurgents and obstructionists.”
Afterwards, Reilly said she came to the event to show the assembled representatives “that there are many people who are very concerned that the Freedom Caucus is not about freedom. If they follow Scott Perry’s lead, it could be mostly about obstructing and voting against the interests of their own constituents.”
However, despite all the controversy that dogged him, Perry just won re-election to a sixth term in the US House of Representatives from Pennsylvania’s 10th congressional district, which includes Dauphin and parts of Cumberland and York counties.
It remains to be seen how influential Pennsylvania’s Freedom Caucus will be; In many ways, the caucus appears to be a rebranding of previous attempts by most conservative House Republican members to combine as a voting bloc, including the short-lived Commonwealth Caucus 20 years ago.
These groups also tend to have more influence when their parent faction is in the majority; Maximum leverage occurs when the voting bloc represented by the caucus is key to building a majority for or against a particular bill by the House Speaker.
They can use this leverage to prevent GOP leaders from making bills they don’t like.
In Pennsylvania, however, Republicans actually lost their clear majority in the House of Representatives that year; The balance of power for most of the 2023-24 session will depend on three special elections sometime next year.
However, Keefer is optimistic about the group’s prospects, arguing that it will be helped by its ties to the congressional organization and the state network, which will provide privately funded staff for lawmakers to fall back on.
The Pennsylvania state director is Nick Kerin, who said Monday he will receive his salary from Meadows’ donor-funded State Freedom Caucus Network, which as of Monday has outposts in eight states across the country.
“We have more resources … we have well-defined expectations for individual members, it’s invitation-only, so I think we’re more formally structured and that’s definitely going to benefit us,” Keefer said. “The influence of this faction is to stick together as a bloc and we believe we can have a lot of influence.”
A spokesman for the Republican leadership of the Pennsylvania House, meanwhile, said his leaders see the new caucus as an extension of the GOP’s big tent.
“Members of both caucuses (Republican and Democrat) regularly form informal or policy-oriented caucuses to draw attention to issues they believe are important,” said spokesman Jason Gottesman.
“First and foremost, we are the caucus for House Republicans and we will continue to campaign universally for proposals that offer a path to opportunity for all Pennsylvanians. To the extent that a single group participates in formulating policy that is consistent with our overall goals, we value the opportunity to have that dialogue.”
Jan Murphy, head of the PennLive Capitol Bureau, contributed to this report.