The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● PA State House: Following their landslide victories Tuesday in a trio of special elections in the Pittsburgh area, Pennsylvania Democrats will have an undisputed majority in the state House for the first time since 2010. However, it remains to be seen whether Speaker Mark Rozzi, a moderate Democrat who won the top leadership job last month while the GOP still enjoyed a tiny edge in membership, will keep his post, or if Democratic leader Joanna McClinton will become the first Black woman to run the chamber.
Democrats won a 102-101 edge in November, but Republicans temporarily enjoyed a small 101-99 advantage in membership because three Democratic-held seats became vacant. Tuesday’s wins for Democrats Joe McAndrew, Matt Gergely, and Abigail Salisbury, though, at last give Democrats an actual majority, not just in races won but in members. The GOP will also lose a member for a few months once Lynda Schlegel Culver, who won her own special election to the state Senate last week, resigns to join the upper chamber; the special for Schlegel Culver’s dark red seat will likely not take place until May 16, the same day as Pennsylvania's regular statewide primary.
In House District 32, McAndrew scored a 75-25 victory over Clay Walker to succeed state Rep. Tony DeLuca, who was posthumously re-elected in a seat Biden would have carried 62-36. Salisbury, meanwhile, prevailed 87-12 against Robert Pagane in HD-34 to succeed now-Rep. Summer Lee, who was elected to Congress the same night she was winning another term in the state House, in an 80-19 Biden constituency. Gergely, finally, beat Republican Don Nevills 74-25 to replace Austin Davis in HD-35, a 58-41 Biden seat that Democrat Austin Davis won in November before resigning to become lieutenant governor. Spotlight PA says the new members will be sworn in later this month.
Rozzi responded to the election night wins by scheduling the chamber to reconvene Feb. 21, but it’s anyone’s guess if he'll still be in charge when it finishes its work. Rozzi was elected speaker a month ago with the support of the entire Democratic caucus as well as 16 Republicans, but members of both parties want him out. One of his most prominent backers was Republican leader Bryan Cutler, who served as speaker from 2020 until last year, but their relationship has deteriorated so much that Rozzi changed the locks on his predecessor’s office suite last week.
Rozzi, who has infuriated Cutler by remaining a registered Democrat despite initially saying he’d lead the state House as an independent, said of the escalation, “It is the speaker’s conference room, speaker’s office space—period. It’s nothing personal, it’s strictly that I need space.” Cutler, though, saw the move as very personal and demanded Rozzi step down. However, it remains to be seen if Cutler would be willing to swap him out for McClinton, whom the Republican clashed with last year when they both insisted they had the authority to schedule the specials to replace Lee and Davis and issued dueling writs of election. The courts ultimately sided with McClinton, which is why those seats were filled Tuesday rather than waiting until May 16, as Cutler wanted.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta tweeted just two days after Rozzi’s victory that once the specials are resolved, McClinton "will become Speaker Joanna McClinton." McClinton, for her part, hasn’t said if she’d ask Rozzi to step aside, and it’s not clear how much support she’d need to oust him if he doesn’t. The Philadelphia Inquirer explained last month that the chamber has traditionally required a two-thirds vote to recall a speaker, but Spotlight PA wrote this week it would take just a majority of members to remove Rozzi.
The still-speaker himself said last week, “I think that if I can show people I can lead this House, maybe I could stay in this position.” McClinton, when asked Tuesday night about what comes next, responded, “[P]lease stay tuned to see what the will of this body will be on the date that we return to the voting session.”
● NY-Sen: Former Rep. Lee Zeldin on Monday did not rule out challenging Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand next year, saying, “They know it would be a pretty epic clash if I decided to do it.” Zeldin in that same appearance also didn’t dismiss the idea he could compete in this fall’s race for Suffolk County executive, though the 2022 nominee for governor notably wasn’t one of the Republicans who appeared before local GOP and Conservative Party leaders as they seek to settle on a candidate.
Zeldin also said that he was forming a new federal PAC that would not employ longtime campaign treasurer Nancy Marks, who had the same resume-killing position with George Santos. “The treasurer has something like close to 200 different accounts” Zeldin dismissively said of Marks, who served as his treasurer since he successfully ran for the state Senate in 2008.
One of those bids was Zeldin’s final congressional race in 2020 where the campaign, in true Santos style, submitted 21 payments on one day for $199.99 each: The FEC requires campaigns to provide receipts for expenses that are $200 or more, and Zeldin’s former campaign manager says that he believes all of those 2020 expenses had been “batched together for accounting purposes.” Zeldin himself noted that Marks' children and his own attend school together but said little else beyond, “Our interaction has been through Marks’ daughters.”
● WI Supreme Court: We have two weeks to go before the Feb. 21 primary for a decisive open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and a major progressive group is putting serious money behind an effort to derail one of the two conservative candidates.
- Liberals are portraying Jennifer Dorow as soft on criminals. An affiliate of the liberal advocacy network ProgressNow is spending $720,000 on a TV ad accusing Dorow of compiling “a long history of keeping criminals—even sexual predators—out of prison,” flipping the script on an attack more often leveled by Republicans against Democrats.
- Why Dorow might be the stronger option for the right. Dorow attracted unusual attention last year when she presided over the trial of the man convicted of killing six at the 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade. The other conservative, former Justice Daniel Kelly, by contrast lost his seat in a 2020 drubbing.
- One liberal continues to dominate the airwaves. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz just bumped up her total statewide media buy to $1 million while the other progressive candidate, Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell, has yet to go on TV. Protasiewicz’s new spot both promotes her support for abortion rights and teaches viewers how to say her name.
Watch the ad hammering Dorow, and read more about the bitter infighting on the right.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: The Jacksonville City Council announced last week that it was investigating whether one its members, Republican mayor candidate LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber, "deceived or misled" it about her husband's involvement in the aborted 2019 attempt to privatize the municipal utility JEA, a major scandal that later led to federal indictments against two former executives who allegedly schemed to enrich themselves. Cumber, who back in 2021 did not disclose that her husband advised a firm that was bidding to manage JEA, responded by accusing allies of her main intra-party rival, local Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis, of being behind the probe.
On Friday, Cumber's PAC also launched a TV ad declaring that Davis, who is a former state representative "voted to make it easier for criminals to cover up sexual assaults against children." Davis' wife responded, "As a surviving victim of child sexual abuse, I am hurt and shocked that anyone would exploit my pain or the pain of other victims for political gain." Both contenders are competing in a seven-person March 21 nonpartisan primary that also includes former TV anchor Donna Deegan, a Democrat who launched a positive introductory ad as her GOP opponents attacked one another.