inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

PA House Dems Knew About Zabel but Did Nothing, GOP Women Say

When Bucks County Rep. Kristen Marcell first came to the House in Harrisburg, fellow members took her aside and gave her a warning.

Stay away from Mike Zabel.

“As a freshman female member, there were a number of female colleagues who shared with me that I should avoid being around [Zabel] when I first joined the House,” Marcell told DVJournal in a podcast interview Thursday. “I didn’t even know what he looked like at that point or any of the details. I found it very interesting that I was warned about him.”

Today, Marcell knows why. The Delaware County Democrat has been accused by multiple women of unwanted touching and inappropriate behavior.

For weeks, Pennsylvania politics has been roiled by reports of sexual harassment by an unidentified member of the House Democratic caucus. On Wednesday, Broad + Liberty broke the news it was Zabel (D-Drexel Hill), along with a new allegation of inappropriate behavior.

The problem first went public in January when SEIU lobbyist Andi Perez shared the story of a lawmaker she declined to identify who groped her.

“This lawmaker decided to caress my leg — I was wearing a skirt — all the while telling me he was impressed by my passion and knowledge of the issues we were discussing. … I moved away from him, hoping he would stop,“ Perez said at the time. “He did not.”

That lawmaker was Zabel, she later confirmed.

Broad + Liberty also reported the firsthand account of a female state rep who says a drunken Zabel propositioned her and later followed her to her car.

“He [Zabel] came up to me and he couldn’t stop telling me how great I looked. But then he was — he kept putting his arm around me and saying like, ‘Hey, we should get outta here. Like, do you wanna go upstairs with me?’”

On Thursday, GOP House leaders called on Democrats to join them in demanding Zabel’s resignation.

“In 2018, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle said, ‘Anyone accused of a credible violation like this should resign their position.’ Now that a member of their caucus has been credibly accused of multiple and serious incidents of sexual harassment, it would be our hope that Democrats would join us in calling on Rep. Zabel to resign,” GOP leaders said in a statement.

Among the signatories were GOP Caucus Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), Caucus Secretary Martina White (R-Philadelphia) and Caucus Administrator Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland).

“Unfortunately, recent news reports and additional accusations have made it clear that generations of House Democratic leadership have known of Zabel’s actions but chose to ignore and cover up his behavior instead of taking action to protect the women in this capitol,” they added.

“Regardless of who you are or where you work, sexual harassment is never acceptable and cannot be tolerated,” Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery) said. “Better mechanisms must be put in place for victims to file complaints when these incidents occur so that their voices are heard, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. There needs to be a full and thorough investigation and proper action must be taken.” Pennycuick had previously served in the House until being elected to the Senate in 2022.

In a podcast interview with DVJournal, White denounced the decision of Democratic leaders to remain silent about Zabel. She also warned the party’s continued embrace of the Drexel Hill Democrat would leave a stain on their reputation — particularly the new Speaker of the House, Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware), who has portrayed herself as a champion of social justice.

White said that in January when the Perez story broke, she wrote then-Speaker Mark Rozzi and Democratic Caucus Leader McClinton “asking them to investigate, find out exactly who the member is, hold them accountable and call for their resignation. “Unfortunately, to this day they’ve never responded to that request.”

The reason Democrats haven’t acted, White said, is basic political math. They need every vote to hold their slender 102 to 100 majority.

“This is solely about maintaining power,” White said. “They wanted to make sure Rep. Zabel was on the floor to vote for leader McClinton to become Speaker of the House. It’s a complete disgrace.”

And, she added, “The fact McClinton got there on the back of a sexual harasser is just sad. It’s going to bear out as her legacy.”

Zabel has yet to respond to the allegations.

Asked if she feels safe in the House today, Marcell said no. And she was not the only woman who felt that way.

“At times I don’t feel safe in Harrisburg, knowing that for years, things may have been happening and there wasn’t an avenue for people to report them through the Ethics Committee,” Marcell said. “And from what I’ve heard from a number of females, both women [working in] government affairs as well as female colleagues, there’s really a need for change in Harrisburg.”

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or

House Dems Decry GOP Transfer of Operating Funds Amid Leadership Dispute

The sparring continues in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, where Democrats are angry over Republicans transferring money from an account controlled by the majority party even as the two sides fight over who is in control.

On Tuesday, Democrats accused Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) of shifting $51.4 million to an account he controls after he learned of November’s election results.

The current House makeup is 102 Republicans, 99 Democrats, and three vacancies created by the death or departure of Democratic members. Last week, Rep. Johanna McClinton (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) was sworn in and declared herself Majority Leader. A few days later, Cutler did the same.

On Friday, Cutler filed suit in Commonwealth Court asking for an injunction against McClinton’s attempt to ascend to House leadership, and to block her call for special elections to fill the vacant seats on Feb. 7. That lawsuit remains pending, but the political battles continue.

“The Republican leader’s draining of an exceptionally large amount of operational funds of the General Assembly and the subsequent quiet transfer to accounts only within his control as minority leader before relinquishing the Speakership is meant to be an intentional setback for the House Democratic Caucus, and in turn the body as a whole,” said Nicole Reigelman, spokeswoman for the Democrats. “This unprecedented action leaves the new speaker with no reserves and a limited operating budget for this fiscal year. Through the authority granted to him by the membership of the House when they elected him as Speaker, Rep. Cutler took this irresponsible action only after learning the results of the November election.”

Reigelman admitted Cutler’s actions were lawful.

Cutler fired back.

“Democrats are the party of entitlements. They believe they are entitled to the Speaker’s office, but they are not. They believe they are entitled to money specifically appropriated to Republicans, but they are not. They are entitled to try and create a distraction from the disaster of their self-created legislative minority, and that’s all this is,” said Cutler.

“Here are the facts: These transfers are typical, and the amounts left in these accounts are higher than what Democrats left when they held these positions. The money being referenced reflects amounts appropriated specifically to Republican leadership offices as part (of the) budget negotiations individually agreed to by both Republicans and Democrats and represents prior year lapsed funds available due to sound fiscal management on behalf of past Republican Speakers, including when I held the Speakership and reduced the office’s budget by three percent.

“Despite this money being specifically appropriated to Republican offices, Republican leaders have been generous in the past, using these funds to help with requests from Democrats like upgrading the security at their district offices,” said Cutler. “Much like we will do in the upcoming session with the existence of a generous budget surplus and reserves created by Republican financial management, House Republicans will safeguard taxpayer assets and continue to be stewards of taxpayer dollars as Democrats have spent the last twelve years announcing their plans to empty the cupboards of taxpayer resources on extremist ideas.”

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or

State Agency Finds Dems Are Not in House Majority–GOP Sues

Asked by state House of Representatives Republican Leader Bryan Cutler, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau ruled Democrats are not in the majority. As it stands now, the House makeup will be 101 Republicans to 99 Democrats when the new session begins in January.

On Dec. 7, Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) was sworn in as majority leader, even though three seats are vacant.

Acting on his ruling, Cutler filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court Friday asking for an injunction against special elections called by McClinton to fill those three seats. The vacancies were created by the October death of Rep. Tony DeLuca and the election of Reps. Austin Davis and Summer Lee to higher offices while being simultaneously re-elected to the House.

Democrats party after ‘flipping’ House

“Instead of working cooperatively to navigate the unique circumstances before us, House Democrats have instead set a terrible precedent for what to expect over the next two years and beyond. Moreover, they have started this session with a sad waste of time and resources that is reminiscent of the failed petty conduct their caucus has been engaging in for the better part of the last decade,” said Cutler (R-Lancaster).

Nicole Reigelman, a spokeswoman for McClinton, said, “House Democrats won a majority of districts. Leader McClinton is committed to ensuring the will of the people is respected and that special elections for the vacant seats can be held as soon as possible. The only reason Republican leaders would want to delay those elections is to prolong the period in which Pennsylvania voters are without representation so that they can advance extremist policies – in flagrant opposition to the message delivered by Pennsylvanians on Election Day.”

Democrats also had a party to celebrate, as tweeted by @LetsTurnPABlue: We flipped the State House…so we had to throw a party! Thank you to all the elected officials, candidates, volunteers, and donors who made this victory possible. Our work is not done. Let’s keep this momentum heading into 2023 and 2024!”

Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chester/Delaware) said, “I had hopes that in a closely divided House, we would find the common ground necessary to pass any important legislation, a sentiment that already has wide bipartisan agreement. This is especially true where, like now, one party has a narrow, likely temporary, majority of the House.

“That situation will change throughout the term, as members inevitably leave the House mid-cycle in a chamber that will separate the majority from the minority by one single vote,” added Williams, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. “Unlike previous lofty floor rhetoric, House Democrat leadership has shown thus far that they prefer hostility over good governance from their 101-99 minority. I assume that divisiveness will only continue if they gain an actual majority of the House. I hope I am wrong; I hope the reasonable minds of their caucus win the day. That’s how I intend to comport myself. Otherwise, we will get nothing done the next two years.”

David Foster, a spokesman for the House Republicans, said other Delaware Valley representatives did not want to comment since the leadership issue will be heard in court.

Springfield GOP chair and lawyer Michael Puppio Jr. said, “Rep. McClinton is a strong voice for her constituents in Philadelphia and Delaware County. She is also an advocate for many bipartisan issues that directly impact Southeastern Pennsylvania. Which party has the majority will be determined by the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but it appears that after the three special elections occur, the Democrats will most likely emerge with the majority for this two-year legislative session.”

The House Democratic Caucus released a statement Saturday in response to the lawsuit:

“Rep. Cutler’s lawsuit is just the latest attempt to disenfranchise Pennsylvania voters and deny tens of thousands of people in Allegheny County their right to representation in the state House.

Under Pennsylvania law, the writ of election must be issued within 10 days of a vacancy. Having won the majority of legislative districts in the November election – which is indisputable – Leader McClinton was sworn into the legislative session early to serve as the chamber’s presiding officer in order to meet this constitutionally-driven requirement.

“There is only one reason to delay the special elections for the vacant legislative seats and that is to deny nearly 200,000 voters their right to representation.

“House Democrats are focused on ensuring every Pennsylvanian has representation and that the state House be restored to its full complement as quickly as possible. We need to let the people decide and we need to let them decide as soon as possible. The sooner special elections occur, the sooner state lawmakers can get to work.”

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or

O’DONNELL: Opening Day for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Will Be Packed With Uncertainty

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty

On Jan. 3, 2023, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives will meet and determine if our state will show the potential for effective governance or vindicate the current cynicism about democracy.

The arithmetic is simple but the human dimension of the problem is much more difficult.

Legislative bodies are governed by majorities. They are organized by the majority party, and passing legislation requires a majority of those elected.

The voters have selected 101 Republican House members and 102 Democrats. However, one of the Democrats — Tony DeLuca — died before the election, reducing their numbers to 101. Two more Democrats — Austin Davis and Summer Lee — were also elected to other offices (Lt. Governor and U.S. Congress). Those two will likely be persuaded to take office, however temporarily, in the Pennsylvania House, creating a 101-101 tie.

The options before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives then become:

1. One or more switchovers. 

A dissident member of either party might be induced to switch and thereby create a durable majority for the receiving caucus. This would enable the organization of the House and the election of the Speaker but would be a cumbersome structure and may be disrupted by the results of the special election to fill the vacant seats.

2. Stalemate

Assuming both caucuses remain cohesive and insist on their positions, the House cannot organize, adopt rules, or elect a Speaker. However, the Democratic membership will drop to 99 when Davis and Lee resign to take up their new seats. (Congress convenes on Jan. 3 and the Lieutenant Governor will be sworn in on Jan. 17.) This will result in a total membership of 200, and a constitutional majority now would be 101. The Republicans would then elect the Speaker and proceed.

Among the first orders of business would be the setting of the date for the special elections to fill the vacancies. Since the Democrats are strongly favored in those seats, they would be in position to reorganize the House and elect their candidate for Speaker when and if they are successful. It is therefore likely that the Republican Speaker would set the date as far as possible into the future, which would be at the primary election in May.

3. Chaos

The frustration and tension that would result from the failure to govern would likely produce behavior that would increase unpredictability. The boundless ingenuity of lawyers would be brought into play and every nuance and obscure rule and practice would be exploited. For example, a Speaker can not be removed, except by a Majority of the Elected Members, but a Speaker can be elected by a Majority of those Members present and voting.

This raises the possibility that during the stalemate a Speaker could be elected by whoever happened to be in the House Chamber.

4. Power sharing

The bottom line is that the state Constitution requires that legislation be passed by a majority of those elected, and the reality is that a stable majority will not be available for either party during this term.

Power sharing arrangements can be structural, such as Committee membership, and authority, a shared Speakership, rules governing the legislative calendar and debate, etc. They could also be informal rules of engagement enabling housekeeping, determining what issues will be considered and a mechanism for resolution of conflicts and misunderstandings.

Any such arrangements require the forbearance of the members of each caucus and significant deference to their respective leaderships.

The support of the incoming Governor, Josh Shapiro, for an arrangement would be very helpful. He is politically skilled and coincidentally the architect of such an arrangement when he was a House member in 2007–2008.

If the special elections confirm a durable majority, the successful implementation of power sharing could potentially yield a positive experience across party lines that would create better communication going forward.

The reality in Harrisburg is divided government: divided by party, divided by ideology and divided by those who would substitute passion for principle.

Someday, reasoned debate in a transparent forum, by those of good will, observed and instructed by an informed electorate, will change that. Meanwhile, I suggest that the business of government needs to be pragmatically done.

It will not be perfectly done. It never has been. But it can be done and has never been more important.

Proposed Legislative Map Draws GOP Ire

Despite a GOP majority in Harrisburg and pollsters predicting a red wave in 2022, Pennsylvania Democrats have found a way to give themselves a shot at taking the state House of Representatives next year.

They used a map. The redistricting map.

State Republicans are irate, but Democrats have drawn a map that makes their party competitive

The preliminary map the state Legislative Redistricting Commission released, if it stands, is likely to tip the balance of power in the Pennsylvania House from Republicans to Democrats.

And that has local Republicans fuming and state GOP leaders vowing that it won’t stand.

The Legislative Redistricting Commission includes party leaders for the House and Senate plus Mark Nordenberg, chancellor emeritus and chair of the Institute of Policy at the University of Pittsburgh, who is supposed to be nonpartisan.

Thomas McGarrigle, chair of the Delaware County Republicans, called the maps “unfair” and “the most partisan maps” he’s seen.

Changes to the 165th District, now held by Democrat Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, would split Marple Township in half and add more solidly Democrat Swathmore and Media into that district. Meanwhile, the 168th District, now represented by Republican Rep. Chris Quinn, would lose the mostly Republican Thornberry and add majority Democrat Radnor, decreasing the chances it would not have another Republican representative elected for a decade, McGarrigle said.

“They’re drawing the lines to make it unwinnable for a Republican,” he said. “It’s so unfair. I’m hoping for some public input and opposition from Republicans” so the map will be changed before it’s adopted.

Montgomery County Chair Liz Preate Havey agrees and goes a step farther, saying the proposed House map does not meet constitutional muster.

“I am concerned about the unnecessary and unfair splitting of townships in Montgomery County,” said Havey. “The Pennsylvania Constitution is clear that townships should not be split unless absolutely necessary. Yet the new map splits townships like Horsham, which have unique township-wide issues. For example, the people of Horsham have had to deal with contaminated water issues and economic development related to the Air Force base. Splitting that township and the base in this new map is irresponsible.”

Every 10 years, after the U.S. Census, the states redraw the maps for the state legislatures and congressional seats. Pennsylvania is losing one seat in Congress because it lost population.

“The proposed state House maps are a gold mine for Pennsylvania Democrats. While 14 House Republicans have been put into the same district by the new maps, just two House Democrats have been,” said Christopher Nicholas, a veteran Republican consultant. “It’s clear the LRC has put their thumb on the scale for the Pennsylvania Democrats with this map. And it’s also odd because the proposed map for state Senate districts was fairly even-steven.”

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff spoke to the Delaware Valley Journal about his objections to the proposed House map, which would change districts to “pit 14 Republican members” against each other, de facto disenfranchising voters in those districts and reducing the number of Republicans in the House. Only two Democratic House members would have the same quandary, he said, echoing Nicholas.

“Out of the gate that says something’s not right,” said Benninghoff. “To me, it’s an extremely gerrymandered map to benefit one party.”

“The constitution requires you to not split municipalities unless absolutely necessary,” said Benninghoff. “The map we submitted to the chairmen (Nordenberg) had 52 splits out of 2,600 municipalities.” The proposed map has 184 splits in counties, 102 splits of municipalities, and 98 splits for wards.

In the past the LRC chairman was a judge, he said. And judges are used to mediation so there would be give and take and a consensus reached. In this case, Nordenberg, an academic, used his own mapmaker and his own criteria, ignoring the map that Republicans submitted, Benninghoff said. Nordenberg not only ignored the various rules, including keeping “communities of interest” together but he added prisoners back into the numbers for the towns they had resided in before they were incarcerated, something not done before. And the U.S. Census counts inmates where they are imprisoned, he noted.

“Last but not least, you only have to look at the splits of cities which we try not to do. Harrisburg, Lancaster, State College, Allentown, Reading and Scranton are split significantly. Allentown is split three ways, Scranton four ways. This is done for partisan purposes,” he said.

“We recommended a new district in Cumberland and Lancaster,” said Benninghoff. “Cumberland did not get a new House seat regardless of population growth. They got a Senate seat. Something tells me it’s not a math problem. It’s a choice.”

Meanwhile, people elect their representatives every two years. If there are constantly new representatives, institutional memory is lost as are people’s relationships with their state representative, he said. The proposed new map would likely lead to district representatives changing more often.

Conversely, House Minority Chair Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) is pleased with the proposed map.

She said in a statement that it “fairly accounts for the dramatic demographic changes in the population of the commonwealth since the last reapportionment.  The plan recognizes and accounts for the population declines in the west and the population growth in the southeast by creating three new House districts in Philadelphia, Lancaster, and Montgomery Counties.

“The plan respects communities of interest throughout the state. It also comports with the Voting Rights Act which requires that communities of color must have the same opportunity as other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. And, not insignificantly, as a result of the historic vote by the commission to reallocate incarcerated individuals to their home communities, the plan eliminates the representational inequities that result when incarcerated persons are counted where they are incarcerated rather than at their homes.”

And Nordenberg, a registered Democrat who was appointed to the LRC by the Democratic majority state Supreme Court, defended his work in a recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The commission will accept public comment on the new maps until Jan. 18.

Follow us on social media: Twitter: @DV_Journal or