Vacancies to bring change to Legislature
HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Legislature’s two-year election cycle circles back around in the coming year, as new district boundaries, a spate of retirements, death and ambition appear destined to usher in more than the usual share of turnover in the 253-member body.
Now is the time of year when the campaign battlefield begins to take shape, with candidates rounding up support and making plans to start gathering signatures on nominating petitions by mid-February.
The legislative election picture will be even more complicated than usual in 2014 because it will involve House and Senate district maps the state Supreme Court approved in March after lengthy litigation.
Incumbents must decide if they want to run in their newly drawn districts and 10 lawmakers in the House have the additional challenge of having been shifted into the same district as another sitting member.
For some, it just feels like time to go.
“One either leaves a bit early or leaves a bit late, and I wanted to err on the side of early,” said Rep. Chris Ross, R-Chester, who will be leaving the House after 18 years.
Four state senators have already announced they are not seeking another term: Republicans Mike Waugh, of York County, Mike Brubaker, of Lancaster County, and Ted Erickson, of Delaware County; and Democrat Jim Ferlo, of Allegheny County.
In the House, Ross and eight others are leaving. A 10th vacancy was created by the death of Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford, the Transportation Committee chairman who died in September. There will be a special election next month in Hess’ district.
The House departures include three Republicans who are running for Senate: Mario Scavello for a newly created district in the Poconos, and Gordon Denlinger and Ryan Aument for Brubaker’s seat.
The list of retirees could grow, but for now it includes at least three Republicans: Dick Stevenson, of Mercer County, RoseMarie Swanger, of Lebanon County, and Jerry Stern, of Blair County; and Democrats Mike McGeehan, of Philadelphia, and Phyllis Mundy, of Luzerne County.
Stern, 58, will have 22 years in the chamber when he leaves Nov. 30. He’s working on the next chapter in his life, which may include teaching and leadership training.
“I just think it’s time to move on and do some other things with my life,” he said last week.
McGeehan, 53, in his 12th term, said the new district lines were part of his calculation, along with a sense that it was time for someone with “new eyes, a new perspective, some energy.”
“It’s always helpful to have outside interests and passions, which I do. I have many, and I want to try to make some money doing those things,” McGeehan said.
Four Democratic districts will contain two incumbents under the new House map, while a fifth district in Erie will contain two freshmen, Republican Rep. Greg Lucas and Democratic Rep. Ryan Bizzarro.
Bizzarro is running to keep the job, but Lucas plans to seek the Republican Party’s nomination for the Senate’s 50th District if incumbent Sen. Bob Robbins retires. Robbins, R-Mercer, did not return telephone messages.
The potential all-Democratic matchups involve John Sabatina and Ed Neilson in Philadelphia, Harry Readshaw and Erin Molchany in Pittsburgh, Frank Burns and Gary Haluska near Johnstown, and Frank Farina and Kevin Haggerty in Scranton. Sabatina, Readshaw and Farina are all running, while Neilson, Molchany, Burns and Haluska did not return messages. Haggerty said he has not decided.
Further complicating things are congressional elections that could create vacancies next year — at least two Democrats in the General Assembly are running for the suburban Philadelphia district now represented by U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
One of them, state Rep. Brendan Boyle, wants Schwartz’s job but also is running to keep his Philadelphia state House seat.
If he gets the Democratic Party’s congressional nomination, he plans to step aside as a state House candidate. The other, Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, is in the first year of a four-year term and would not be up for Senate re-election until 2016.
By this time next year, Pennsylvanians will know whether all these moving parts added up to change in the partisan balance of the Legislature. It’s currently under Republican control, 27-23 in the Senate and 110-92 with a vacancy in the House.