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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Sweep in 3 special elections gives Democrats control of Pennsylvania House

Matt Gergely, Abigail Salisbury and Joe McAndrew ran in the Pennsylvania House special elections.

By Neil Vigdor

Democrats swept three special elections in solidly blue House districts in western Pennsylvania on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, putting the party in the majority by a single seat and breaking a Republican legislative monopoly that has recently focused on election restrictions and anti-abortion bills.

All three races were in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh and is the state’s No. 2 county by population, after Philadelphia.

Control of the Pennsylvania House had been shrouded by uncertainty since the midterms in November, grinding legislative business to a halt while the parties clashed over ground rules and the timing of the special elections.

Democrats had appeared to flip the chamber in the fall for the first time in a dozen years, but one lawmaker’s death and the election of two others to higher offices delayed the final outcome.

The party’s majority — 102 seats to 101 seats — brings clarity to the last unresolved legislative races in a fiercely contested state.

In the 32nd District, Joe McAndrew, a former executive director of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, defeated Clayton Walker, a Republican pastor. The seat had been held by Tony DeLuca, a Democrat who was the longest-serving member of the Pennsylvania House before his death in October from lymphoma. Still, DeLuca was overwhelmingly reelected in the heavily Democratic district.

In the 34th District, Abigail Salisbury, a Democratic lawyer, prevailed against Robert Pagane, a Republican security guard and former police officer. Salisbury will fill the seat of Summer Lee, a Democrat who in November became the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania. Last year, Salisbury had previously lost to Lee in a Democratic primary for the legislature.

In the 35th District, Matt Gergely, a Democrat who is the chief revenue officer of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, defeated Don Nevills, a Republican who operates a tattoo shop and ran unsuccessfully for the seat in November. Austin Davis, a Democrat who previously represented the district, was elected as lieutenant governor in the fall.

The power shift dealt another blow to Republicans coming off the midterms, when the party failed to meet heightened expectations in Pennsylvania and nationally that were generated by economic turmoil and President Joe Biden’s lackluster job approval ratings.

In November, Pennsylvania voters consistently rejected Republicans in marquee races featuring candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump, who espoused false claims about fraud in the 2020 election.

Democrats flipped a U.S. Senate seat and held onto the governor’s office when Josh Shapiro, who was previously Pennsylvania’s attorney general, defeated Doug Mastriano, a Republican state senator and an election denier, in an open-seat race.

After losing control of the House, Republicans will be unable to override a veto by the governor.

In a potential end-run around the governor, GOP lawmakers have resorted to trying to amend the state constitution in order to pass a voter ID bill. The complex amendment process, which ultimately requires putting the question to voters, is the subject of pending litigation.

But both chambers of the General Assembly need to pass the bill this session to place it on the ballot.

First-time voters and those applying for absentee ballots are required to present identification in Pennsylvania, but Republicans want to expand the requirement to all voters in every election and have proposed issuing voter ID cards. Critics say the proposal would make it harder to vote and could be a privacy risk.

Shapiro has not ruled out compromising with Republicans on some voting rules, but has said that he would not support any proposal that hinders voting.

Republicans, now likely to be thwarted legislatively, have also sought to use the constitutional amendment process to place new restrictions on abortion in Pennsylvania.

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