- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - It happens every four years in the world of Pennsylvania politics, and it looks like 2016 will be no different - legislative races will be overshadowed by the presidential contest and Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s re-election campaign.

But the current political dynamic in Harrisburg, with a Democratic governor and Republican House and Senate, has sown a year of gridlock and a budget standoff that’s at seven months and counting.

This week was the deadline for legislative candidates to file election paperwork. The large number of unchallenged incumbents, along with the composition of districts that in many places make a cross-party challenge fruitless, suggest Pennsylvania is likely to continue to see divided government for the next two years.


The majority party carries far more power in the Pennsylvania Legislature, from control over what gets voted on and how many members will be on committees to how money is spent on their own operations. That advantage has been prominent this year as Republicans have frustrated Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget agenda, rejected his first pick to head the state police, pushed measures to the forefront to cut public pension benefits and privatize the sale of wine and liquor in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, they have bottled up Wolf-backed measures to legalize medical marijuana, raise the minimum wage and protect people from discrimination in education, employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of their sexual or gender orientation.


Republicans hold a 119 to 84 advantage in the House and a 31 to 19 edge in the Senate, counting vacant seats for the party that has held them most recently. In Pennsylvania, Democrats have about one-third more registered voters than Republicans.


54 of 110 incumbent House Republicans seeking another term face no primary or general election challenge. That means that unless they die, quit or get thrown off the ballot, they’ll be back in January for the next two-year term. Twenty-seven of the 76 House Democrats who are seeking re-election also have no opposition this year.


Historically, turnout in presidential elections like this one helps Democrats in Pennsylvania, driving voters to polls in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. But if the Republican nominee gets momentum, that should help GOP candidates for the Legislature.


Some of the House’s most experienced lawmakers are not seeking another term, including Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, and Rep. Dwight Evans of Philadelphia, an influential figure in the Democratic caucus. Other Republican departures are Reps. Mauree Gingrich of Lebanon County, Julie Harhart of Lehigh County, Tom Killion of Delaware County, Sandra Major of Susquehanna County, John Payne of Dauphin County, Mike Regan of York County, Chris Ross of Chester County and Mike Vereb of Montgomery County. Other retiring Democrats are Pete Daley of Washington County, Ted Harhai of Westmoreland County, Thaddeus Kirkland of Delaware County, Nick Kotik of Allegheny County and Steve Santarsiero of Bucks County.


Evans and Santarsiero are running for Congress, while Regan and Killion are candidates for open state Senate seats. One Democrat, Rep. Kevin Boyle of Philadelphia, is running for his own House seat and John Sabatina’s Senate seat at the same time.


Three seats are open in the November election. Sens. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland, and Shirley Kitchen, D-Philadelphia, are not seeking another term. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, is running for Congress. Only two Republican incumbents have opposition, Don White of Indiana County and Guy Reschenthaler of Allegheny County. Democratic incumbents with primary or general election challengers are Larry Farnese and Sabatina of Philadelphia, Judy Schwank of Berks County, Rob Teplitz of Dauphin County, Daylin Leach of Montgomery County, Andy Dinniman of Chester County, John Wozniak of Cambria County and Sean Wiley of Erie County.


In the House, Republican candidates are challenging 35 Democratic incumbents, while Democratic candidates are challenging 49 sitting Republicans.


Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Philadelphia, is running for another term while battling public corruption charges in the so-called Bling Sting investigation.


Commonwealth Court will hear challenges to candidate qualifications in the coming weeks, and some candidates are likely to drop out or be thrown off the primary ballot.


The House has three special elections scheduled for March 15 to fill a vacant Republican seat in Westmoreland County and two Democratic seats in Philadelphia. There’s one vacancy in the Senate, a seat held most recently by Republican Dominic Pileggi of Delaware County, who resigned in midterm to take a county judgeship. It will be filled during the April 26 primary.


Kirkland, the newly sworn in mayor of Chester, is keeping his seat in the Legislature and intends to keep both positions until his term expires at the end of 2016. For now, he’s not accepting pay or benefits from the city, but is collecting them from the General Assembly. His nephew is seeking his House seat.


Mark Scolforo covers the Legislature for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He can be reached at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter: @houseofbuddy.

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