We welcome a new State House that better represents Lancaster County’s diverse population [editorial] | Our opinion

THE PROBLEM: Next January, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives will likely not be led by a Republican majority for the first time in more than a decade. “Representative Bryan Cutler, the Lancaster County legislature who became Speaker of the Pennsylvania House in 2020, was elected Tuesday to chair the 2023 Republican caucus,” Brad Bumsted, Harrisburg bureau chief of The Caucus, a publication of the LNP Media Group on Pennsylvania politics and government, reported Wednesday. “Cutler was elected minority leader by the GOP faction, a speaker’s demotion that comes as Democrats won a majority — 102 seats — in November’s election. … Rep. Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia is the Democrats’ choice for speaker. But one of the winning Democratic candidates, Allegheny County Rep. Tony DeLuca, died before the election, meaning the seat will remain vacant until a special election is called sometime in 2023.”

With the expected red wave fizzled out at halftime, Democrats have their first opportunity in 12 years to retain a majority in the House of Representatives.

But as Bumsted explained, the road to that majority is complicated. On inauguration day, January 3, the 203-member House will be tied, 101-101.

In addition to the seat vacated by DeLuca’s death, “two additional Democrat-held seats will become vacant in January. One seat is that of Rep. Austin Davis, D-McKeesport, who was elected lieutenant governor Nov. 8 with governor-elect Josh Shapiro. … The other seat is now held by Rep. Summer Lee of Pittsburgh, who won a seat in Congress in the November 8 election.”

Democrats are favored to win these seats, but Republicans will run in each of these special elections.

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA reported last week that Cutler attributed the 2022 Pennsylvania election results to redistribution. “This is the result they aimed for and they achieved it,” Cutler said, without any achievements.

It takes some boldness to say this for two reasons.

– The state legislature has achieved so relatively little through legislation, at least in recent years, that Republicans have had to resort to proposing changes to the state constitution to expand their power and bring about major policy changes.

— And Republicans have clawed their way to power in Pennsylvania for decades, despite the Democrats’ lead in party registrations.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State for 2021, registered Democrats (4,018,914) surpassed registered Republicans (3,423,465) by 595,449.

In Lancaster County, registered Republicans (176,137) naturally outnumbered registered Democrats (112,115), but that lead could not justify a County State House delegation of 10 Republicans and only one Democrat.

new county

That will change in January, when Lancaster’s Izzy Smith-Wade-El will join incumbent Rep. Mike Sturla as one of two Democrats on the County House delegation. As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Jade Campos reported earlier this month: “Sturla hasn’t had the bottom since his first term in 1991 when District of Lebanon Democrat Ed Arnold represented the 102nd District, which then included Manheim Borough and Penn Township of the House of Representatives shared with a local member of his party.”

Smith-Wade-El will represent the new 49th District.

Lancaster County gained an additional house district after the Legislative Reapportionment Commission split the city of Lancaster in half and matched each half with suburban parishes. The 49th Ward includes the southern half of the city of Lancaster as well as Lancaster Township and Millersville Borough.

We do not condone gerrymandering, whether it is practiced by Democrats in Maryland or Republicans in Pennsylvania. So while we advocated a truly independent Citizens’ Redistribution Commission, we supported the fairer maps being drawn up by the bipartisan Legislative Redistribution Commission.

B. Campos and LNP | LancasterOnline’s Mike Andrelczyk reported that Smith-Wade-El, a 32-year-old Democrat, will be Lancaster County’s first black representative as well as its first open LGBTQ legislator.

Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Mississippi Republican, became the first African American to serve in Congress in 1870; he was a senator.

Harry Bass, a Republican attorney from Philadelphia, became the first African American to serve in the Pennsylvania legislature in 1911.

It took Lancaster County until 2022 to vote to send our first black lawmaker to Harrisburg. So it’s long gone.

write history

After his convincing victory on November 8, Smith-Wade-El noted the evolution of his family — from his grandmother, a Georgia tenant, to his mother, the late Rita Smith-Wade-El, a distinguished Millersville University professor and civil rights activist, who did an elementary school named after her in Lancaster, to his own history-making victory.

It will be another historic day as Smith-Wade-El sits at the Pennsylvania House. The new state representative represents residents of the district who have not yet been represented.

“The responsibility to me is clear,” Smith-Wade-El told LNP | Lancaster Online. “There are blacks in Lancaster. We have queer people and Latinos.” These people and other minorities are generally not seen by outsiders when they picture Lancaster County, Smith-Wade-El pointed out.

We know how diverse our beautiful county is, but Smith-Wade-El’s presence in Harrisburg could prove a revelation to others across Pennsylvania.

Barbara Stengel, a retired college professor and close friend of Rita Smith-Wade-El, told LNP | LancasterOnline that Izzy “will always be one of the smartest people in the room,” but he cares more about being “one of the more sensitive people in the room.”

He has put that sensitivity at the service of the people of Lancaster City. Smith-Wade-El worked on the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Poverty in 2015 and 2016 and co-authored the commission’s One Good Job strategic plan to halve poverty in the city of Lancaster by 2032 by increasing access to living employment and Employment will improve affordable housing.

He won a seat on Lancaster City Council in 2017 and has been its President since 2020. He has driven the city’s lead reduction program to make the city’s old homes safer, and he has played a key role in the city’s effort to expand the availability of affordable housing — an effort for which there is sensibly federal funding from American Rescue Plan Act used.

Smith-Wade-El has lived with city dwellers in neighborhoods, so he knows the challenges they face intimately. As a black man, he doesn’t need a focus group to explain the concerns of people of color to him. And we’ve seen him comfortably and confidently engage with people who hold differing viewpoints, and hope he sets a new standard for voter engagement among elected officials.

Tiffany Shirley, President of Lancaster Pride, to LNP | LancasterOnline said the “passion Izzy has for the (LGBTQ) community is exciting to see”. The midterm election, she said, was “really scary for the community as we didn’t know what was coming, but to have Izzy as a representative and a voice for us in the community is so exciting.”

It also strikes us as essential given the bigotry directed against LGBTQ people in legislatures and school boards across the country.

It will be nice to send someone to Harrisburg who understands the intricacies of poverty and housing rights and can discern and deftly analyze bureaucratic masonry.

Voters in the new 49th district clearly made the most of their opportunity to increase that district’s representation on the State Capitol.