We did it. We got Oz to pack his carpetbags and head back up the Garden State, and we got Mastriano to crawl back down into his hole. Many factors contributed to these victories, as well as to all the victories further down Pennsylvania’s ballots: The Supreme Court rulings on guns and abortion; the totalitarian menace, the creation of fair districts at both the federal and state levels within the commonwealth, the inferiority of character among the MAGA candidates, and for many voters, the threat to our schools, the environment, working people, and social justice.
Here is the breakdown: Going into the election, Pennsylvania had 18 Congressional seats, divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats will still hold nine of those seats in the next session of Congress, while Republicans will hold only eight seats in Pennsylvania’s re-apportioned 17 congressional delegation. We learned the importance of having a Democratic dominated state delegation in 2020, when each state’s congressional delegation has the opportunity cast a single vote to choose who would be President in the case of an electoral tie.
The state senate is currently composed of 21 Democrats, 28 Republicans, and one Independent who caucuses with the GOP. The next legislative session will see a net gain of one Democrat offset by the loss of one Republican seat. The Republicans will still control the state senate, but Democrats appear to have picked up at least 12 seats in the state house – giving them the majority in that chamber. The Democratic performance in the house races this year even surpasses the gains in 2018, when they picked up only 11 seats.
A blue PA House of Representatives is in many ways even more significant than our congressional victories – for two reasons. The first reason has to do with a tactic that became popular in the Republican dominated legislature in the 2021-2022 session: Circumventing a governor’s veto by passing constitutional amendment resolutions. Passing these resolutions in two consecutive legislative sessions creates a ballot question for voters to approve. Voters rarely reject ballot questions.
The newly elected Democratic controlled House of Representatives also sends a powerful message to the U.S. Supreme Court that is about to hear the Moore vs. Harper case next month – a case which will test whether state legislatures have sole control over election related issues, exclusive of either the executive or judicial branches of government. The conservative court appears to be supportive of sole legislative control, known as the “independent state legislature theory”, because so many state legislatures are dominated by Republicans. Pennsylvania’s newly elected Democratic legislature may highlight the folly of such support.
All this is obviously great news, but we can’t let these victories make us complacent. Our goal is not how many Democrats control which branches of government. Our goal is clean air and water, a dynamic and effective system of public education, social equality, safe communities, and economic security for all the residents in the state. Following are some of the challenges that lie ahead, and suggestions on how to overcome them as we keep our eyes on the prize.
1.First, despite our many victories last week, MAGA is not going away. It will raise once again raise its ugly head this spring as Republican school board candidates run on issues such as “critical race theory” and “teachers grooming students to become LGBTQ+”. They will benefit with the help of Jeffrey Yass, the richest man in Pennsylvania, who will fund astroturf “grassroots” organizations such as Back To School PA, the Commonwealth Children’s Choice Fund; Student’s First; and A Greater Philadelphia. Many of these Republicans will cross-file as Democrats in the suburbs, which is why we need to disseminate information to voters about who stands for what, and we need to get that message out after the new year as soon as the candidates announce.
2.We will be electing a new justice to the state supreme court next year. You may remember that Republican Kevin Brobson won a seat on the high court in 2021 by waging a nasty campaign against Maria McLaughlin. Be prepared once again for similar shenanigans as Republicans, angry over this year’s losses, become vicious in their attempt to claw back their majority on this court.
3.Although 2023 is an extremely important election, we need to keep in mind that in many ways it is a dress rehearsal for the 2024 election, where we will be defending our state’s advantage in Congress, our PA house seats, and we will be seeking to gain four seats in the state senate that would give us a majority in that chamber. Oh, and we will also be electing a President.
4.There is no doubt that Shapiro’s win over Mastriano is a victory for sanity, but Shapiro’s victory may have come at the expense of compromises on issues that many of us hold near and dear to our hearts. For instance, Shapiro has set a target of generating 30% of Pennsylvania’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, yet he has given some signals that, as governor he might pull the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). In other words, he has set targets for greenhouse gas emissions, but he might remove the commonwealth from the one surefire method of helping to achieve those targets.
Shapiro has also given a nod to school vouchers as a part of his education platform. Voucher-like scholarships in the form of Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC), and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits (OSTC), are already available in Pennsylvania and have been disastrous due to their lack of accountability with regard to student performance and who actually benefits from receiving those scholarships.
For all of the above reasons, we need advocates for the environment, education, labor, and social justice to lobby elected officials, while writing op-eds, letters to the papers, and participating in citizen actions. The chances of your voices being heard have never been better.
5.Many of us have criticized the Democrats’ messaging over the years, but it’s important to remember Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that “the medium is the message.” In other words, the methods of conveying a message - television, radio, and print ads - convey their own information above and beyond what the content of the message is. Likewise, when you knock on a door, make a phone call, or write a postcard, you also become a medium – the messenger – and your positive connection with a constituent sells your issue or candidate more than any flyer or TV commercial.
6.Finally, in 2024, Democrats will have more than twice the number of Republican federal senate seats up for election, including Pennsylvania. Preparing for that scenario starts now. Let's get ready to have some fun.