Western Pennsylvania lawmakers eye leadership positions
HARRISBURG — You won’t see TV ads about them, but the votes for leadership positions in the Legislature that will follow Tuesday’s election will determine much of what will happen in Pennsylvania.
The biggest race is the selection of the fourth speaker of the state House of Representative in just four years, an opening caused by the impending retirement of Speaker Keith McCall, D-Carbon.
The House is split 104-99 in favor of the Democrats, a margin close enough to give both parties a realistic hope of majority status next year. In the Senate, Democrats will choose a successor for Minority Leader Bob Mellow of Lackawanna County, who is retiring after 40 years.
Allegheny County legislators from both parties are leadership candidates.
Minority Leader Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, is considered a shoo-in as speaker if the GOP gains control of the House. Under that scenario, Minority Whip Mike Turzai, R-McCandless, would move up to floor leader.
House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne, is trying to fend off an aggressive challenge from GOP nominee Tarah Toohil. Eachus might seem to be a prime candidate to move up to speaker if the Democrats maintain their majority, but his spokesman has ruled that out.
Democrat Reps. Nick Kotik of Robinson and Curtis Thomas of Philadelphia are openly campaigning for speaker; Majority Whip Frank Dermody of Oakmont is widely viewed as a candidate but has not confirmed his interest.
Kotik, who has battled within his own caucus over tax votes as a leading member of the conservative Democratic “blue dog” caucus, said he has about 25 votes lined up, or roughly half what he will need. He wants House Democrats to stake out less liberal positions in their negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate.
“If the Senate is going to be Republican, you’ve got to deal with them — you can’t put up an agenda that’s always confrontational,” Kotik said. “If you can get half a loaf, be happy with half a loaf.”
Thomas said he wants to restore the public’s confidence in the General Assembly as an institution and cut the Legislature’s running surplus of about $200 million.
Dermody has not told anyone whether he plans to run for speaker, spokesman Bill Patton said. “He’s told everyone it’s a discussion to take place after the election,” Patton said.
Another potential candidate for speaker is Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia. Evans spokeswoman Johnna Pro would not rule him in or out.
An aide to Rep. Pete Daley, D-Washington, said Daley is considering adding his name to the list of candidates for leadership.
In the Senate, Republicans are almost certain to maintain the leadership team of President Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware.
Among Senate Democrats, two candidates have emerged to succeed Mellow: Sen. Jay Costa of Forest Hills and Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia.
Costa confirmed his interest in the job, but declined to talk about it before Tuesday’s election. Stack said he has the votes to win.
House Republicans will reorganize on Nov. 9, followed by House Democrats on Nov. 16. Both parties will choose Senate leaders on Nov. 17. The House will elect a speaker in January.