What happened in Harrisburg on Tuesday didn’t have to happen.
The question of who exactly won the 45th District seat in the Pennsylvania Senate is not a question that just came up. It was not a surprise. It has been an ongoing issue since the Nov. 3 election, when incumbent Democrat Jim Brewster of McKeesport and Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli of Lower Burrell faced off.
It was a close race in a state where the whole election was close. For the 45th District — which bridges the more Democratic Allegheny County and the GOP stronghold of Westmoreland — it was even closer. Only 69 votes separate them, with Brewster the winner. The result has been certified by the state.
Ziccarelli is still challenging the election in a federal court case, claiming Allegheny County was wrong to accept mail-in ballots from voters who did not write the date on the mailing envelope. She is unlikely to prevail; Allegheny County election officials followed a valid interpretation of the law.
But a close race is no excuse for a food fight — and that is what happened in Harrisburg.
While the House of Representatives was peacefully gathering to start its work, including honoring the legacy of Rep. Mike Reese, who died last week, the Senate was becoming a chaotic mess. Well, more of a mess.
The Republicans who hold the majority in the Senate took over completely by ousting Lt. Gov. John Fetterman from his role as president of the chamber because he wasn’t considering a GOP motion to not seat Brewster. They then followed through on that, refusing to swear Brewster in for his third term in the Senate.
Let’s be clear: There were no winners Tuesday.
The GOP did not win. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, said Monday senators needed “time to digest” the situation. Instead the ugly dogfight was the most recent example of Corman leading the Senate into an undecorous exercise that should embarrass a junior high student council. The first was the 2019 circus that featured Corman screaming on the Senate floor like a banshee during a budget debate.
But no fight is one-sided. Fetterman is a partisan animal just like Corman. When the GOP announced Monday their intention to challenge Brewster’s seating, the lieutenant governor knew what could happen, and it seems like something could have been done to negotiate a temporary peace until Ziccarelli’s case is settled.
Neither Ziccarelli nor Brewster came out on top, either. Both remain locked in a photo finish that has been examined by election boards in two counties as well as the courts. It’s a staring contest, and neither is blinking. Though Brewster did manage to lower the temperature on the Senate floor, stepping aside to let other Democrats be sworn in.
Meanwhile, there are definite losers.
The people of Pennsylvania, after months of election scrutiny over the presidential race, now get to have the state Legislature highlighted by national pundits for a brutal spat that should have been handled with more dignity and professionalism.
More than anything, though, the people of the 45th District face the biggest loss. The new Senate is preparing to take on the necessary work of governing the state, and they don’t have anyone in the room to speak for them.
— The Tribune-Review (TNS)