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Dems can hold the State House majority.
Dems can hold the State House majority. Photo: Bruce Emmerling/Pixabay

Three special elections to take place this week to decide PA House control

Unable to function for the last month, all three elections will take place Tuesday, Feb. 7, in Allegheny County, in Democratic-majority districts.

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Pennsylvania Democrats have an opportunity to retake control of the State House in Harrisburg for the first time in over a decade if three special elections set to take place on Tuesday, Feb. 7 – all in Allegheny County districts controlled by registered Democrats – go as planned. 

The PA State House has been unable to function for the last month and hope the special elections will end the deadlock that has stopped operations, giving back Democrats’ razor-thin majority won after the November 2022 elections. 

Mail-in and absentee ballots are to be returned by Feb. 7 before the polls close at 8 p.m. that evening.

"We have been actively contacting those voters, alerting them to the fact that there's an election and asking them to vote for our Democratic candidates. I think they're out actively campaigning," Sam Hens-Greco, chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, told Pittsburgh's Action News 4.

"This is a huge election, and it's quite unusual for it to be focused in one county. Allegheny County played a major part in the Democrats getting the balance of power in November's election," Hens-Greco added.

While Republicans will want to get out to voters ahead of Tuesday to make them aware of it. 

Sam DeMarco, chair of the Allegheny County Republican Committee, said awareness is the  major issue heading into Tuesday. 

"It requires parties and volunteers working on behalf of the candidates to get out there and make the people aware that there is an election and try to get them to the polls," he said.

"Republicans have an uphill battle, but it's something we're ready, and we're willing to fight and looking forward to next Tuesday,” he added. 

Voters in the 32nd, 34th, and 35th legislative districts will be voting for three vacancies left by Tony DeLuca's death, Summer Lee's election to Congress and Austin Davis' election as PA Lieutenant Governor, respectively. 

In the 32nd District, the race is between Democrat Joe McAndrew and Republican Clay Walker, while in the 34th District, it comes down to Democrat Abigail Salisbury and Republican Robert Pagane. Democrat Matthew R. Gergely and Republican Don Nevills round out the special elections in the 35th District. 

The 32nd covers the northeast of Pittsburgh while the 34th covers parts of Pittsburgh as well as North Braddock, Wilkinsburg, and Wilkins Township and the 35th, covers McKeesport and part of West Mifflin.

If Democrats win those districts again on Tuesday as they did back in November, they will hold a one-seat majority in the lower chamber, with 102 Democrats and 101 Republicans. 

Democrats have also not yet decided who will serve as Speaker of the House and questions still remain as to what a divided chamber will be able to do. 

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Democrat of Berks County and current House speaker, has indicated recently that he does not want to step away. 

The other name in the race is Rep. Joanna McClinton, who would be the first Black woman to ever be PA House Speaker.

Rozzi spoke to the Associated Press on Jan. 31 about McClinton’s potential candidacy. 

“I know how to count votes, first of all,” said Rozzi. “So, you know, at the end of the day she still has to get the votes to become Speaker of the House.”

Responsibilities include moderating floor debate, calling up bills for votes, and naming the chamber’s committee chairs. 

McClinton has been the Democratic Leader of the PA House of Representatives, and was initially a favorite for the speaker role back in November. 

Even with all the Democratic support, since they were unable to gain any significant Republican support, McClinton was missing the necessary votes to become speaker at the beginning of the legislative session.

If Democrats win all three elections on Tuesday as expected, it will still be uncertain if McClinton wins the job. 

In order for a Speaker change to occur, Rozzi would have to resign, or a majority of the state House could vote to recall and replace him. McClinton, no matter what, will need her entire 102-member caucus to vote for her. 

If any members opposed her – which could be Rozzi – McClinton would need to garner GOP support.

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