Even Kevin Spacey would avoid this place. Spacey of course portrayed Frank Underwood, the amoral politician in the Netflix political thriller House of Cards.
Since the beginning of this year Democrats have from time to time held a one seat majority in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives. Periodic vacancies in Democrat-held seats have temporarily negated that advantage. In operational control of the chamber Democratic leadership has simply remained in recess during the months in which they lacked an outright majority. That has been the situation for much of 2023 and another pending vacancy promises similar gridlock early in the New Year.
Periods of recess actually have been the most productive times for the bumbling Democrat majority. When they have held the advantage they have used it largely to pass messaging bills aimed at their core constituencies and which stand no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
House Democrats also triggered an on-going budget stalemate by refusing to even bring to a vote the deal Governor Josh Shapiro struck with Senate Republicans to allocate a modest amount of funding to provide educational choices to minority students in the state’s most underperforming school districts.
But recent efforts to move the date of Pennsylvania’s 2024 Presidential Primary election highlighted the dysfunction of the lower chamber.
The late April date of Penn’s Woods’ Presidential Primary occurs after the field of presidential candidates has been substantially winnowed down, with the major party nominees effectively determined before state voters go to the polls. Every four years there is chatter among the political class about moving the Pennsylvania Presidential Primary to an earlier date to give us a bigger say in the presidential nominating process.
This year the talk turned more serious than usual due to the fact the April 23, 2024 Primary date falls during the Jewish observance of Passover. It seemed likely the legislature would act on the issue before adjourning for their lengthy summer recess. But, at the last minute Governor Josh Shapiro reneged on a budget deal struck with Senate Republicans triggering a budget crisis and pushing all other issues off the table.
A resignation dropped the state House back into a 101-101 tie, prompting Democrats to hold the chamber in recess until a late September special election could be held to restore their majority. During that time the Republican-controlled state Senate returned to work and passed a bill which would have moved the date of the Primary to March 19th.
And so it came to pass that in early October Democrats finally returned from the shore and decided to consider moving the Primary election date. Chaos ensured when the Senate-passed bill was amended with extraneous provisions that resulted in a majority of members from both parties rejecting the measure.
At that point, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania weighed in with a letter to legislators and the governor expressing their concern that there was not enough time for them to deploy the logistics necessary for changing the date of the Primary election. There are over 9,000 polling places in Pennsylvania and securing new dates for all of those places, plus the administrative burden of a Primary date change would overwhelm county election offices.
Befuddled and undaunted by all of that House Democrats returned the following week with a bill to move the Primary to the second Tuesday of April, thus avoiding Passover. Oops, that turned out to be the date of a Muslim holiday. So that measure was hastily retracted and replaced with yet another proposal to move the Primary to the third Tuesday of April. That bill passed the House on a party line vote.
But it was dead on arrival in the state Senate where cooler heads realized the window of opportunity for moving the Primary date had closed. Thus the date of next year’s Primary will remain Tuesday, April 23rd.
As if the inability of House Democrats to consider legislation in a timely manner were not bad enough, their ignoring warnings about the inability of counties to efficiently conduct the election revealed their willingness to continue tinkering in the election process regardless of its impact.
Significant numbers of Pennsylvanians already believe the 2020 elections were marred by fraud. This is due largely to the many changes made to the voting process and interference by the state Supreme Court. Creating uncertainty over even the date of the election, and a blatant disregard for the ability to administer that election, presage the casting of even more doubt over the process as we head into yet another critical election year.
Somewhere Frank Underwood is shaking his head.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])
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