2014 Midterm Election Roundup

Gov. Tom Corbett lost his reelection bid to Democrat Tom Wolf, a York County businessman and former state revenue secretary, in an otherwise Republican sweep in Tuesday’s mid-term election. Consequently, the new Gov. Wolf will face challenges getting his agenda, which includes a reinvestment in education, through a more-Republican-than-ever legislature.

Wolf’s election means that Democrats hold all four statewide elected offices. He joins Treasurer Rob McCord, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
Pennsylvania Republicans expanded their existing majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. They added three seats in the state Senate for a new 30-20 majority, and won eight more seats in the state House of Representatives, for a new 119-84 majority of historic proportions there, according to unofficial election results.  That’s the largest majority for Republicans in the House in memory, and the largest of any party since Democrats had 126 seats during the 1957-58 session, according to Capitolwire.com.

Incumbent House Democrats Jesse White of Washington County, Rick Mirabito of Lycoming County and Mark Painter of Montgomery County fell to their respective Republican challengers, Jason Ortitay, Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland and former state Rep. Tom Quigley (whom Painter unseated in 2012).

House Republicans picked up five open seats that had previously been held by Democrats. Ryan Warner won Rep. Deb Kula’s old seat in the 52nd District; Harry Lewis won in the new 74th District that was moved to Chester County from Cambria County; David Parker won the new 115th District seat in Monroe County; Aaron Kaufer won Rep. Phyllis Mundy’s old seat in the 120th District; and Kate Klunk ran unopposed for the new 169th District, moved from Philadelphia to southern York County.

The GOP also held on to eight open seats that had been held by Republicans. The new freshman Republican members of the House will be: Barry Jozwiak (5th District), Parke Wentling (17th), Brett Miller (41st), Cris Dush (66th), Russ Diamond (102nd), Craig Staats (145th), James Santora (163rd) and Jack Rader, Jr. (176th).

The 81st District in Huntingdon County will have a new Republican representative too. Richard Irwin, who won the Republican primary as a write-in candidate, defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Fleck, the first openly gay member of the General Assembly, who won the Democratic primary as a write-in.

House Democrats held on to two open seats currently held by Democrats. Peter Schweyer will replace Rep. Erin C. Molchany in the 22nd District in Allegheny County, and Mike Driscoll will replace Rep. Michael P. McGeehan in the 173rd District in Philadelphia.

Democrats will see one of their seats open when the new session begins. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia, won his race for the U.S. House of Representatives, so a special election will be held in the 170th District to replace him.

The enlarged Republican majorities in the General Assembly will face a serious budget shortfall next year that the current legislature failed to address this year.  They will have two choices: new cuts to education and colleges, which will lead to higher local property taxes, or a severance tax on gas drillers.

Many Pennsylvania political analysts are attributing Corbett’s loss on an otherwise Republican night, both nationally and statewide, to his funding cuts to education. Voters seemed to reject Corbett’s argument that he didn’t cut state education spending.  And they linked local property tax increases, larger class sizes, teacher layoffs and program eliminations to his budget cuts.

Pennsylvanians spoke with their votes for governor, suggesting broad support for Wolf’s proposals to increase school funding and institute a severance tax on natural gas.  Even in solidly Republican districts, especially in the southeast, incumbents running for reelection had to come out on the record in support of public education funding, and several pledged support for a severance tax.
The House and Senate will elect new leaders on Nov. 12, and based on the new configuration there may be changes. Senate Majority Leader Dominick Pileggi lost a key supporter late in October, and his position may well be in jeopardy.

Tom Wolf, like Ed Rendell in 2002, will enter office with firm Republican majorities in the legislature. How this will affect his agenda, and the chances for success in advancing his priorities, remains to be seen. His 55% to 45% defeat of a sitting governor, in a year that otherwise favored Republicans, allows him to claim a mandate.