With majority control of the state House at stake, the Commonwealth Court ruled Friday that three special elections for vacant Allegheny County seats can continue as planned for Feb. 7, rejecting Republican Bryan Cutler’s argument that the GOP had the right to set the dates.
Majority control of the state House of Representatives will soon be decided thanks to a Pennsylvania court’s ruling Friday that special elections to fill three vacancies will be held together Feb. 7.
A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel sided with the House’s Democratic floor leader, Rep. Joanna McClinton (Philadelphia), who had set the election date for all three of the Allegheny County seats. Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) filed a lawsuit to delay two of the special elections until the May primary.
The court ruling said Cutler did not prove he had a clear right to move the two special elections nor was it in the public interest to do so. The court agreed with McClinton’s argument that the issue was not appropriate for the courts to decide on.
Cutler released a statement that accused the court of ignoring basic math and prior law.
“Instead of resolving a dispute where the answer was self-evident based on the numbers, the court took the path of least resistance and thereby weakened the foundations of our republic and faith in the rule of law,” he said.
McClinton’s press secretary issued a statement calling the decision “good news for the nearly 200,000 Allegheny County residents currently without representation in the state House.”
Allegheny County election officials told the court earlier this week that preparations were well underway to conduct the three special elections on Feb. 7, with ballots ready to be printed and most polling places and elections workers in place.
Democrats won 102 seats in the November election, but one of their reelected incumbents, Rep. Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny), died of cancer in October and the other two seats, both in heavily Democratic Allegheny County, were left vacant when state Rep. Austin Davis was elected lieutenant governor and Rep. Summer Lee was elected to the US House.
The three vacancies have left Republicans with a temporary 101-99 majority, but the GOP may lose a member later this month. Republican state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver of Northumberland County hopes to win a state Senate special election and fill a seat held most recently by John Gordner, a Republican who resigned mid-term to become a Senate lawyer.
Democrats must win all three seats in the special election to hold on to their one-seat majority. Each of the seats has been held by Democrats for about 40 years, with voters supporting them by significant margins.
The narrow partisan breakdown in the House led members last week to elect Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) as a self-styled independent speaker, on the strength of all Democratic votes and 16 Republicans.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.