It’s the math.
With the Pennsylvania House Republicans now at 101 to 99 members, Republican Leader Bryan Cutler said he is in charge, not Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton.
McClinton had sworn herself in as leader when there was a 101-101 tie. Now, with Rep. Tony DeLuca’s death and two representatives who ran for higher office resigning their seats, the Republicans are now in the majority.
On Thursday, Cutler (R-Lancaster) issued election writs for May 16, the same day as the state primary elections, for the seats held by Summer Lee and Austin Davis in Allegheny County. While still the House Speaker in the last session, Cutler had issued a writ of election scheduling a special election for DeLuca’s seat on Feb. 7.
Cutler spoke to the Delaware Valley Journal for a podcast Thursday, explaining what has become a situation confusing to many. McClinton did not respond to requests to participate in a podcast interview.
“Well, as it currently stands, the Republicans have 101 members, and the Democrats have 99. So while I was elected the Republican Leader, math makes me the majority leader by virtue of having a 101–99 majority,” said Cutler. This makes us a functional majority for swearing-in day on January 3rd. There is no longer a tie.”
Cutler also asked Commonwealth Court to rule on this and to enjoin McClinton (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) from issuing writs of her own. She issued writs to hold the three special elections on Feb. 7. The court has yet to rule.
If the two legislators had not resigned, then there would be a 101-101 tie.
As for the Democrats, Cutler said, “I think that math tripped them up because I don’t think that they thought through how that [math] worked.”
Democrats have accused Cutler of transferring $51.4 million in House funds they say should go to the incoming Majority Leader.
“Those are all Republican caucus funds. And you can go back through all the prior budgets and take a look at it,” Cutler said. “That is money that has accumulated because we’ve been good financial stewards, and we’ve been in the majority for the last 12 years. And, every year, we didn’t spend all of our money.
“In fact, we had started using a lot of that money and paying for institutional upgrades. If you come to the House floor, you’ll see new voting screens and boards because they hadn’t been updated since like the late ’60s. We also initiated a safety grant program for district offices, both Republican and Democrat, out of those surpluses.”
Cutler also suggested the Democrats wanted the money because they had mismanaged their own caucus funds.
“The reality is, even though we’ve been in the majority, we have just under 700 employees. The Democrats, who’ve been in the minority for 12 years, are approaching 800 employees. And they consistently run out of money.”
At a press conference Thursday, Cutler insisted his actions are being guided by both the math and the law.
“As a party, we stand for the law,” Cutler said.
And as for the three vacant seats that Democrats believe they will win again when special elections are held, he said they should not count on that.
“I don’t believe Democrats have perfected the art of gerrymandering to have guaranteed these seats,” said Cutler. “We intend to be competitive.”
Democrats dispute Cutler’s account of recent events.
“Today, Rep. Cutler continued his campaign to disenfranchise nearly 200,000 voters in suburban Pittsburgh,” Nicole Reigelman, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Caucus, said in a statement. “The only reason for the GOP leader to delay the special elections in Districts 34 and 35 in Allegheny County until the May primary is to deny those voters their right to representation in Harrisburg and to empower the House Republican Caucus to play politics and ram through extremist policies.
“Rep. Cutler was the first to act, and while flawed, chose to set the special election to fill the vacancy that occurred on December 1 in District 32 on February 7. For what can only be understood as an attempt to disenfranchise, Rep. Cutler has filed writs for the vacancies that occurred on December 7 – seven days after the original vacancy – in Districts 34 and 35 – for May 16 – 98 days after the original date of February 7.”
She accused Cutler of “showing disdain for good government and democracy.”
Asked if the current fight would poison the well for bipartisan action in the upcoming session, regardless of who held the majority, Cutler told DVJournal he was willing to work with Democrats. But, he said, they’ve put partisanship first.
“And you look back over the last couple sessions, you had the Democrats take over the rostrum in the House. You had the Democrats disrupting swearing-in ceremonies at the beginning of the last session in the Senate. There is a continued pattern of [Democrats] grasping and reaching for things that are questionably legal.
“And in this case, I think most of the voters clearly understand the math at 101 to 99. The person with 101 is the person who is in, by definition, in the majority.”