HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — Pennsylvanians are tired of being bipartisan — or at least that’s the narrative among many mainstream Democrats and Republicans alike.
Some Republicans say the party lost the House of Representatives and a GOP-held U.S. Senate seat and failed to retake the governor’s mansion because the party has been better at articulating what it is against than what it is for. Because it blocked ideas but didn’t offer better ones.
US Congressman Scott Perry (R-Harrisburg) is not one of those Republicans.
“People are not voting for Republicans to come into their state capital and make backroom deals with left-wing Democrats,” Perry said at an event unveiling the Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus.
The caucus includes about 23 GOP house and soon-to-be ex-house members, group chair Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York) said. The vice chair is Rep. David Rowe, who also represents parts of central Pennsylvania. The other 21?
“The list is not public,” Keefer said. “We won’t do that. Members individually and the members who are here can identify themselves.”
Other members of the event included Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon County), who is retiring but will remain part of the caucus.
Perry is chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the US House of Representatives, which was founded in 2015 and also does not publish a list of its members.
“They take very extreme positions and tend to break compromise agreements that have been made between both parties,” said Brittany Crampsie, a Democratic strategist.
Perry said Freedom Caucus members’ obstructionist reputation was a construct of journalists who failed to hold liberals to the same standards.
Pennsylvania becomes the eighth state to have a state-level Freedom Caucus, after Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Illinois, Mississippi, South Carolina, and South Dakota.
An early sign of a tougher stance among Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus members compared to other Republicans may be: The widespread idea that Democrats will have a majority in the State House.
“That’s a guess,” Keefer said, stopping a journalist who asked a question based on the premise.
Barring otherwise, Democrats will have a 102-101 seat advantage after special elections in three heavily Democratic districts that may not take place until May.
Some people allied with both parties have earlier reckoned with effective democratic scrutiny, perhaps as the result of a bipartisan deal that – based on comments at the event – members of the Freedom Caucus would have little appetite for.
Who are members of the Freedom Caucus trying to differentiate themselves from: Democrats or mainstream Republicans?
“I don’t know if we differentiate ourselves from ‘us,'” Keefer said. “We ‘identify’ as a group of individuals who will protect personal liberties and your individual liberties.”
“I don’t think anyone had a PA House Republican Liberty Committee on their Christmas list this year,” Crampsie said. “But unfortunately that’s what we get.”
What do the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives think?
“Members of both caucuses regularly form informal or policy-oriented caucuses to draw attention to issues they believe are important,” said Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for Republican House leaders who did not attend the event. “First and foremost, we are the House Republican caucus, and we will continue to advocate universally for proposals that provide 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 ability to conduct that dialogue.”