Power plays in Pennsylvania.The Pennsylvania Senate is fiercely partisan. And when Democrats finally got an unexpected chance at control--they took full advantage of it.
After 12 years of toiling in the minority, Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate are walking around the Capitol these days as if they own it.
And, indeed, they do. By the thinnest of margins. Perhaps not for long. And not by virtue of winning a majority of the Senate's 50 seats.
But no matter all that. In one of the most partisan of state legislatures, what matters is the Democrats are in control. And, like the minimum-wage worker who hits the lottery, they are vigorously flaunting their newfound new·found
Recently discovered: a newfound pastime.
Adj. 1. newfound - newly discovered; "his newfound aggressiveness"; "Hudson pointed his ship down the coast of the newfound sea" power.
Republicans had controlled the Senate since 1981. Their biggest margin was 27-23. Their narrowest was 26-24--including the session that ended last November.
Those bare Republican majorities have been a pivotal fact in Pennsylvania state government, particularly since 1987.
During that time, Democrats have held the House (currently 105-98) and the governor's mansion (Governor Robert P. Casey Robert Patrick Casey, Sr. (January 9, 1932 – May 30, 2000), better known as Bob Casey (or Bob Casey, Sr. to distinguish him from his son) was an American politician and member of the Democratic Party who served Pennsylvania in several capacities, most notably as ). But Republicans stubbornly kept the Senate, wielding their razor-thin majorities expertly, if not benevolently.
Republicans almost always voted as a bloc on parliamentary matters, imposing their will on the Democrats. The Republicans decided what was voted (their bills) and what was buried (the Democrats'). They controlled the committees and virtually everything else. Casey and the House Democrats couldn't pass a resolution honoring the flag without Senate Republican input.
But through a bizarre turn of events last November, control of the Senate abruptly and unexpectedly returned to the Democrats.
It started early in 1992 with state legislative reapportionment reapportionment: see legislative apportionment. . The gridlocked grid·lock
1. A traffic jam in which no vehicular movement is possible, especially one caused by the blockage of key intersections within a grid of streets.
2. General Assembly was unable to adopt a map of its own, so the courts took over. The court's plan included moving the 44th state Senate district from outside Pittsburgh, where population was dwindling dwin·dle
v. dwin·dled, dwin·dling, dwin·dles
To become gradually less until little remains.
To cause to dwindle. See Synonyms at decrease. , to the booming suburbs of Philadelphia.
This was unhappy news for Republican Senator Frank Pecora, who had represented the 44th district since 1978.
Pecora, 62, was in the middle of a four-year term. When the district was moved, so was he. Pecora was outraged and blamed his fellow Republicans for sacrificing his seat (a charge the GOP vehemently denies). Pecora switched parties to run for Congress back in Pittsburgh, but lost in the general election. Resigned to serving the final two years of his term in an area he hardly knew, Pecora rented an apartment in his new district (to meet the state's residency requirement) and began plotting his revenge.
Although a new Democrat by registration, in 1992 Pecora was still sitting and voting with the Republicans in Harrisburg. Rumors abounded that Pecora would switch and vote with Democrats. But he sat tight. And Republicans held their 26-24 edge.
Until Nov. 23. Suddenly, Senate Democratic Leader Robert Mellow made a motion to reorganize.
Pecora had flipped.
The vote was 25-25 with Pecora voting with the Democrats. Democratic Lieutenant Governor lieutenant governor
n. Abbr. Lt. Gov.
1. An elected official ranking just below the governor of a state in the United States.
2. The nonelective chief of government of a Canadian province. Mark Singel
Mark Stephen Singel (born September 12 1953, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania) served as the Democratic lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1995 under Bob Casey He was acting governor from June 14, 1993 to December 13, 1993 during Casey's lengthy battle with amyloidosis , the Senate president, broke the tie. A new president pro tempore president pro tem·po·re
n. pl. presidents pro tempore
The senator who presides over the U.S. Senate in the absence of the Vice President. would be elected.
Republicans went berserk ber·serk
1. Destructively or frenetically violent: a berserk worker who started smashing all the windows.
2. , trying every parliamentary trick in the book. But they just couldn't beat the new math new math
Mathematics taught in elementary and secondary schools that constructs mathematical relationships from set theory. Also called new mathematics. . Hours later, Mellow was elected president pro tem president pro tem
n. pl. presidents pro tem Informal
A president pro tempore. .
"It was like a knife in the back," said Senate Republican Leader Robert Jubelirer Robert C. Jubelirer (born February 9, 1937 in Altoona, Pennsylvania) is a Republican Pennsylvania political leader. He served as a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1975 to 2006, and simultaneously served as the President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate and , who was ousted as president pro tem.
"If we lost an election in November, that would have been different. But you work your buns off, you raise money, you win every election, in fact the Democrats never laid a glove on you, and then to have this happen. It was like a kick below the belt."
Sour grapes, said Mellow, who remembers that Republicans won the majority in 1980 in part by getting a Democrat to switch parties, a tactic they used again in the mid-1980s to retain the majority.
"This is poetic justice poetic justice
The rewarding of virtue and the punishment of vice, often in an especially appropriate or ironic manner.
an appropriate punishment or reward for previous actions ," said Mellow.
Mellow and his fellow Democrats wasted no time. GOP committee chairmen instantly were replaced with Democrats. Republicans lost the lucrative staff accounts that go with the majority and had to lay off 18 people. Republican leaders were booted boot·ed
Adj. 1. booted - wearing boots
shod, shodden, shoed - wearing footgear from their Capitol offices and transferred to more modest accommodations so Democrats could move into the seats of power. (So deep is Pennsylvania's partisan mistrust, Democratic leaders called in state police wiretap wiretap n. using an electronic device to listen in on telephone lines, which is illegal unless allowed by court order based upon a showing by law enforcement of "probable cause" to believe the communications are part of criminal activities. experts in case Republicans had left more than cobwebs cob·web
a. The web spun by a spider to catch its prey.
b. A single thread spun by a spider.
2. Something resembling the web of a spider in gauziness or flimsiness.
3. behind. No bugs were found.)
On Jan. 20, the 25-25 tie became a 2524 working majority for Democrats. Republican Senator Jim Greenwood resigned to take a seat in Congress. Now Democrats could ram through their agenda. (Singel, the lieutenant governor, is authorized to break ties only on procedural votes and amendments, not on final passage of legislation.)
But, alas, it wouldn't last long. A special election would have to be called to replace Greenwood. His district was GOP heartland, virtually certain to return a Republican. Singel, constitutionally charged with scheduling the special election, was expected to call it for May 18, concurrent with the regularly scheduled primary election. Republicans wanted it sooner, but Singel had a logical reason to wait until May 18--holding a stand-alone special election would cost taxpayers more money.
By waiting until May, Singel would be doing taxpayers a favor while still affording Democrats a window of opportunity.
Turns out, a window wasn't enough. Singel gave them a doorway.
He called a stand-alone special election for July 13--assuring Democrats a working majority when the state budget was adopted May 28.
Remarkably, Singel made no bones about it. Yes, 240,000 Pennsylvanians would be deprived of Senate representation for the most important voting time of the year. Yes, it would cost taxpayers more money. But Democrats deserved a chance to show Pennsylvanians what they could do. Ending gridlock Gridlock
A government, business or institution's inability to function at a normal level due either to complex or conflicting procedures within the administrative framework or to impending change in the business. was the greater good, Singel said.
"It was absolutely the most blatant politically partisan move I've seen," said Jubelirer, the Republican leader.
As a result, Harrisburg's already bitter partisanship is more intense than ever. Democrats have their opportunity to show what they can do--but they are going to have to do it with few, if any, Republican votes. It's the same pressure President Clinton and the Democratic Congress feel, compressed into six months.
The paradox in all this is that the policy agendas of the two Senate caucuses aren't all that different. Both tend toward moderate-conservative. For the most part, they,re not fighting over ideology.
"I think the agendas are very similar," said Mellow. "It's the competitive edge people care about. Everybody today is concerned about power. Who can chair the committee, who can call the meeting, who will be the prime sponsor. It's a macho thing, and it's something we need to get away from.
"We can agree on 99 percent of the budget in the wink of an eye
"Wink of an Eye" is a third season episode of , and was first broadcast on November 29, 1968. It was repeated on June 24, 1969. , then fight for three months over the other 1 percent. It doesn't make sense.
"And it's getting worse."
Editors Note: On May 31, Democratic Senator Francis Lynch died, leaving the Pennsylvania Senate evenly divided at 24-24. A special election will be held Nov. 2 in Lynch's heavily Democratic district.