Democratic state Rep. Joanna McClinton was sworn in as majority leader of the Pennsylvania state House on Wednesday and immediately scheduled special elections in three vacant seats held by her party, but Republicans called the moves "illegal" and one unnamed "top GOP source" suggested to Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso that the dispute might end up in court.
At issue is uncertainty over which side can—for the moment—claim the majority. Democrats won 102 seats in November compared to 101 for the GOP, but the Democrats' total included state Rep. Tony DeLuca, who died a month before the election yet still won in a landslide. On Wednesday, two more House Democrats also vacated their positions because they both won higher office last month: Summer Lee will soon represent Pennsylvania's 12th District in Congress, while Austin Davis will become lieutenant governor.
That leaves Republicans with a nominal 101-99 advantage, though DeLuca, Lee, and Davis are all likely to be succeeded by fellow Democrats, since all three represented neighboring districts in the Pittsburgh area that respectively would have voted for Joe Biden by 26, 62, and 17 points. The question is when the necessary special elections will take place, and who's in charge until then.
Outgoing Republican Speaker Bryan Cutler sought to set the special for DeLuca's seat on Nov. 30—the last day of the 2022 legislative session—for Feb. 7, but Democrats said that he lacked the authority to order an election that wouldn't take place until the next session. The Department of State (which is run by an appointee of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf) agreed and rejected the writ, saying Cutler had acted prematurely since DeLuca's seat did not actually become vacant until Dec. 1
In turn, McClinton, who is set to replace Cutler as speaker next year, issued her own order scheduling the specials for all three seats, though she also chose that same date of Feb. 7. (Lee and Davis resigned after Cutler announced his intentions for the DeLuca race.) So far, however, Republicans don't appear to have filed a lawsuit.
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