As the dust settles on the general election, the only certainty is that next January’s state government will look very different. A new governor will take office, the state senate will have new leadership and the house of representatives – well, at least for the first half of the year there will be chaos.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro will be Pennsylvania’s new governor, and his administration promises to be significantly different from that of outgoing Governor Tom Wolf. Wolf came into office with little government experience — he served as cabinet secretary — and little real-world experience other than a largely token leadership position in his family business.
The incumbent governor was a loner in the truest sense of the word. He made no attempt to bring interest groups to the policy-making table, relying on an isolated staff and firing orders like a D-Day commander. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated his go-it-alone tendencies and sparked open war with the legislature. The end result was that Wolf suffered a historic rebuke when voters actually amended the state constitution to limit his executive powers.
If past is prologue, Josh Shapiro will likely take a different route. A career politician, Shapiro has served in the state legislature and is familiar with its internal workings. He served as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Montgomery County, one of the most populous counties in the state. And his tenure as Attorney General was professional and extremely disciplined. Shapiro will take office far better equipped than his predecessor for this task.
In the state Senate, the departure of President Pro Tempore Jake Corman marks the end of an era. Corman gave up his Senate seat to embark on an ill-fated run for governor. He was the last remnant of a power structure led for years by former President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and anchored by a core of moderate county moderates who tended to sell themselves to Democratic governors and the institutional enemies of conservative politics. These Southeast moderates – and that term is benevolent – have been largely wiped out by voters in the last three or four cycles.
State Senator Kim Ward, a Westmoreland County Republican, will become the new Senate President Pro Tempore, ushering in a much more conservative GOP faction. Like Shapiro, Ward has risen through the political ranks, having also served as a county commissioner. Westmoreland has emerged as a bright red county, giving her a strong base from which to preside over a chamber populated by 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats.
The new Republican leadership team is cut off from the Reagan/Buckley mold of policy-oriented conservatism rather than the more boisterous, populous Trump brand. Make sure they roll up their sleeves to actually move forward with a pro-growth agenda. Indiana County Senator Joe Pittman’s new Majority Leader has fought hard to protect family-sustaining jobs; The new Grants Committee chair, Sen. Scott Martin of Lancaster County, has been an effective leader in giving parents the freedom to choose educational opportunities that best suit their child.
And then there’s the House of Representatives. As a result of moving into new, highly rigged districts, Democrats have secured a one-seat majority—or have they? Included in the Democratic one-seat majority is one person whose death just before the election precludes him from taking office. Another, State Representative Summer Lee, is sworn into Congress, effectively losing two seats to the Democrats and giving the GOP a one-seat advantage.
Add mixed-state congressman Austin Davis of Allegheny County, who will step down to take office as lieutenant governor in January, and Democrats will be understaffed until a special election can be held to fill those three seats. Two of those seats are solid Democrats, while one is a likely Democratic district that could be competitive if Republicans do well at candidate selection and then do something they haven’t done this year — campaign competently.
For the past four years, House Republicans have campaigned against Gov. Tom Wolf’s draconian policies with some success, but that success hasn’t extended to redistribution or electoral processes, meaning Democrats are likely to take control of sometime next year will take over the mechanics of the chamber .
This is where governance becomes difficult. The Democratic faction in the House of Representatives is largely made up of urban progressives, whose policies often cross the line of socialism or worse. They are loud, aggressive and detached from reality. As such, Governor Shapiro will likely face the same challenge that President Joe Biden faces nationally — governing with an extremist left flank.
And so 2023 will dawn both promising and dangerous. Get some popcorn and stay tuned – it’s going to be an interesting show.
Lowman S. Henry is Chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His email address is [email protected]