Pa. Republicans turn over House leadership ahead of next session

Eric Scicchitano/CNHI Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, addresses the media following Tuesday's vote by the House Republican Caucus on a leadership team entering the 2023-24 legislative session. 

HARRISBURG — Two weeks removed from polls closing in the Pennsylvania midterms, Republican state representatives cast votes Tuesday to elect a leadership team for an upcoming legislative session marked by change and uncertainty.

All but two leadership positions turned over from the current session expiring Nov. 30.

At the forefront is Rep. Bryan Cutler, Lancaster County, the current Speaker of the House who caucus members picked to become the Republican Party floor leader.

Cutler succeeds Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Centre/Mifflin counties, who remains in office but chose not to seek re-election as floor leader, a position he held since June 2020.

“The responsibility is to defeat policies that are anti-growth, defeat policies that are anti-opportunity. It will be up to us to defend that and make sure that we can be successful as a commonwealth,” Cutler said at the State Capitol on Tuesday.

Benninghoff led from a position of majority control. That may end up being the case for Cutler, too, at least for a few months, when the 2023-24 session begins Jan. 3.

The midterm election results reflect that Democrats flipped majority control of the 203-member chamber, 102-101. However, and a big however at that, they have three impending vacancies heading into the 2023-24 session.

That would leave Republicans in the majority until special elections are held next year. All three districts are in Allegheny County and all three favor Democratic candidates. The earliest the elections can be held is March; the latest being the May primaries.

The House Speaker sets the dates and Cutler said choosing the next Speaker will be a priority at the session’s outset, a point where the GOP appears to have a voting edge.

“Our first order of business will be to elect a speaker and we will be there until one is elected,” Cutler said.

In addressing the media following Tuesday’s caucus vote, Cutler was flanked by the other GOP leaders.

Rep. Tim O’Neal, Washington County, won the spot of minority whip, replacing Rep. Donna Oberlander, Clarion/Armstrong/Forrest counties.

Rep. Seth Grove of York County will chair Appropriations for Republicans, the committee charged with budget hearings and evaluation and fiscal oversight over legislative proposals. He’ll follow Rep. Stan Saylor, York County, who lost election in the Republican primary earlier this year. Saylor had been a House member since 1993.

Rep. Josh Kail, Beaver/Washington counties, will chair the Republican Caucus Policy Committee, succeeding Rep. Martin Causer, McKean/Cameron/Potter counties.

Caucus administrator Rep. Sheryl Delozier, Cumberland County, takes over for Rep. Kurt Masser, Northumberland/Montour counties, who is retiring from public office.

Rep. Martina White, Philadelphia, was re-elected as caucus secretary. Rep. George Dunbar, Westmoreland County, also won re-election as caucus chair.

“Overall, the past legislative session has presented challenges and the House Republican Caucus charted several successes, including improving the tax code for Pennsylvania’s small and large employers,” Dunbar said in a prepared statement. “But we have our work cut out for us as we move into 2023 and I am as excited as ever to work with my peers on advancing policies to strengthen our economy and make our communities safer.”

The turnover in leadership comes after Republicans lost 12 seats in the House.

Legislative redistricting made for more competitive races and it made for a losing battle by Republicans, led by Benninghoff, who challenged the new district maps in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on the basis that the nonpartisan Legislative Reapportionment Commission violated state and federal constitutional law.

The state high court ruled against the challenge and an attempt to have that decision reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court came up empty.

Cutler took the opportunity to make the case that redistricting was the biggest reason Democrats were successful in the midterms. He said they have no accomplishments to run on, and he made a point to refer to Democratic policies in Washington, D.C. he said spurred inflated prices on gas and consumables and others that risk public safety.

“If nothing else this session, we will see what ideas the Democrats have and then we will let the people decide if they are the right ones,” Cutler said.

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