A shiny new year: things are about to get interesting

Congressional, legislative officials face new political minefields in 2017

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

From Harrisburg to Washington, D.C., it is a bold, bright new year in politics.

From fresh starts to fresh panics, 2017 looks to be among the most interesting ever in the history of our little republic — and possibly not in a good way, but time will tell.

To kick off the year, we’ll gloss over most of the stuff in DC — although even now, less than two weeks before Donald Trump takes office as President and the 115th Congress is just days old, major landmines seem to be peeking out for our local congressional delegation, from the ethics kurfluffle (which we’ll take on more in a moment), to The Wall, to Obamacare, to Planned Parenthood to well, a president-elect who lies with seeming impunity (look, we get that all politicians fudge the truth, but we’re seeing new levels of not even plausibly-deniable stuff coming from Trump that has to scare the heck out of local Congress members — because it is far more likely to haunt them in 2018 then hit the White House/Trump Tower occupant).

His war on the media ain’t exactly smart politics, either.

Watching the locals navigate the minefield, of course, will be interesting to say the least.

Which brings us to the ethics vote the U.S. House GOP Conference took, Monday night.

Voting in a closed-door meeting to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, was, shall we say, problematic. Granted, there are some issues regarding due process with the current set up and there is bipartisan agreement that changes are needed. But basically taking away the independence of the office — and stopping anonymous tips from being used to start investigations was beyond the pale. Imagine if you told Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan he could no longer use anonymous tips as a starting point for criminal investigations.

At least two of Chester County’s Congress members — Ryan Costello (R-6) and Pat Meehan (R-7) were among the more than 70 GOP house members who voted against the changes, even if they both made it clear this week they have some concerns about how the office is being run. Ultimately, the measure was stripped out before the full house could vote on it.

“Many Republicans and Democrats feel that there needs to be bipartisan reforms to the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Costello said in a statement. “However, I voted to strip those provisions from the rules package because, as we begin the new Congress, we should focus on maintaining credibility and transparency.”

I touched base with John Elizandro, the spokesman for Meehan, who made it clear that his boss was also against the move from the get-go. Saying Meehan “opposed the changes in the internal House GOP Conference vote last night and he’s pleased they were removed from the package to be voted on today. I’d also note that he has voted on several occasions against efforts to reduce or eliminate funding for the Office of Congressional Ethics, and that he’s a member of the House Ethics Committee.”

We weren’t able to get comment from Rep. Lloyd Smucker — a freshman just taking office — as his media contacts were not immediately available.

This was an unforced messaging error (albeit not one caused by our local elected officials) — but it makes one wonder what is next.


Somewhat more placidly, a new state legislature was sworn to office — including two new legislators from Chester County, Eric Roe in the 158th District and Carolyn Comitta in the 156th District.

Not surprisingly, both expressed optimism at taking office.

“It’s humbling to realize so many people in our district placed their trust in me to serve as their voice in Harrisburg,” said Roe, a Republican in a statement.  “I will do my best to serve with dignity and honor, ever mindful of those who sent me here.”

“It’s truly humbling to be sent to Harrisburg as a representative of our district to fight for what’s best for Pennsylvania,” Comitta, a Democrat, said. “I look forward to working in a bipartisan fashion to get things done and serve the residents of the 156th District as best I can.”

Roe — having known he would be serving since the day after —Election Day, was able to lay out his legislative vision for the upcoming session, committing to work for policies to overhaul Pennsylvania’s system of property taxation, reform the state’s public pension systems, strengthen education, and foster an environment promoting job creation.

“I pledge to work to make Pennsylvania the most family-friendly, business-friendly state in the country,” said Roe. “We can accomplish that in part by making government smaller, more transparent and accountable to taxpayers.”

Roe also announced the opening of his district office in Suite 407 at 400 Old Forge Lane (just off US-1 in Longwood) in Kennett Square — a departure of having the office in Willowdale, as his predecessors have for the last few decades.  The new office is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Roe can be reached by calling (717) 783-1574 or through his website at RepEricRoe.com.  He can also be found on Facebook at Facebook.com/RepEricRoe.

Comitta, who spent much of December in recounts and courts in what tuned out to be a excruciatingly close win over former State Rep. Dan Truitt, was not able to announce her office site as yet, although that is expected shortly. Her Harrisburg office is up and running and can be reached at (717) 705-2075. Her Web site is: http://www.pahouse.com/Comitta/

We’ll make sure to publish her additional contact information as it becomes available.


On Wednesday, January 11 and Thursday, January 12, State Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) will be making six campaign announcement stops throughout Pennsylvania — shocker: he’s running for the GOP nomination for Governor. 

Sen. Wagner will be stopping at various small businesses across the state “to share his vision of how to get Pennsylvania back on track after the Wolf Administration’s failed policies have crippled Pennsylvania’s economy,” according to the campaign announcement.

“I’m excited to start this campaign at these small businesses in every corner of the state.  I look forward to sharing my vision of how to reform Harrisburg and restore economic opportunity in Pennsylvania,” Wagner said in a statement this week, announcing the roll out.

Every corner of the state is a bit of stretch — of the six locations, the closest one to Chester County is about an 80-minute drive. Seems like an odd choice to skip the largest vote collection in the commonwealth — Philly and the collar counties. But, undoubtedly, as Wagner seems to be planning a Trump-like campaign, what may seem unconventional decisions may pan out — and he does seem to be focused on areas where Trump over performed in 2016.

Something to watch — and we’ll keep tabs on who else decides to jump into the race. Expect at least two to three other high profile Republicans to dive in.


Although it will likely be another year of wrangling over issues such as education funding, pensions and the budget, one of the most closely watched issues in early 2017 will be who gets to lead the state Republican Party and spearhead the party’s efforts to retake the governor’s mansion — up for a vote in less than a month.

With current state GOP Chair Rob Gleason retiring and seemingly headed for a role in the incoming Trump Administration — Chester County Republican Committee Chair Val DiGiorgio is one of two candidates to replace him.

DiGiorgio’s bid — he’s up against state party Solicitor Lawrence Tabas — got a big boost this  week when Joe Scarnati, President Pro Tempore and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman both endorsed him for the post. DiGiorgio had already snagged the backing of U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, so his bid continues to look very formidable.


Another from the “why we don’t trust state legislators” file: Sen. Wayne Langerholic (R), a freshman state Senator from Cambria County ran an aggressive campaign railing against state pensions, public unions and in favor of school choice — pledging not to accept a public pension if elected.

So pretty much the first thing Langerholic does is (wait for it) sign up for his pension.

I’ll leave the punch line — literal or figurative — to you.


From the “Bad politics, and why was this necessary?” file: The state House of Representatives passed HR1 this week, which reduces the consideration time on amendments to a bill returning to the house from 24 hours to just six. For those of you keeping score, the rule was changed in wake of the middle of the night pension grab in 2005 by the House. Even if there are procedural arguments in favor of this move (and frankly, they’re not that strong), it once again makes it look like the House of Representatives is more interested in slipping stuff by than being transparent to the public.

Over and over, this legislature (regardless of which party controls it) has shown itself not be worthy of trust. This move just adds to that growing distrust.


In other legislative housekeeping, House Speaker Mike Turzai announced the committee chairs for this session, including a couple of key Chester County legislators:

Aging and Older Adult Services:

• Republican: Rep. Tim Hennessey, 26th Legislative District, Chester and Montgomery counties.

• Democrat: Rep. Steve Samuelson, 135th Legislative District, Northampton County.

Agriculture and Rural Affairs:

• Republican: Rep. Martin Causer, 67th Legislative District, Cameron, Potter and McKean counties.

• Democrat: Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, 121st Legislative District, Luzerne County.

Children and Youth:

• Republican: Rep. Kathy Watson, 144th Legislative District, Bucks County.

• Democrat: Rep. Scott Conklin, 77th Legislative District, Centre County.


• Republican: Rep. Brian Ellis, 11th Legislative District, Butler County.

• Democrat: Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, 181st Legislative District, Philadelphia County.

Consumer Affairs:

• Republican: Rep. Robert Godshall, 53rd Legislative District, Montgomery County.

• Democrat: Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone, 127th Legislative District, Berks County.


• Republican: Rep. Dave Hickernell, 98th Legislative District, Lancaster and Dauphin counties.

• Democrat: Rep. James Roebuck, 188th Legislative District, Philadelphia County.

Environmental Resources and Energy:

• Republican: Rep. John Maher, 40th Legislative District, Allegheny and Washington counties.

• Democrat: Rep. Mike Carroll, 118th Legislative District, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.


• Republican: Rep. Bernie O’Neill, 29th Legislative District, Bucks County.

• Democrat: Rep. Jake Wheatley, 19th Legislative District, Allegheny County.

Game and Fisheries:

• Republican: Rep. Keith Gillespie, 47th Legislative District, York County.

• Democrat: Rep. Bryan Barbin, 71st Legislative District, Cambria and Somerset counties.

Gaming Oversight:

• Republican: Rep. Scott Petri, 178th Legislative District, Bucks County.

• Democrat: Rep. Patrick Harkins, 1st Legislative District, Erie County.


• Republican: Rep. Matt Baker, 68th Legislative District, Bradford, Potter and Tioga counties.

• Democrat: Rep. Florindo (Flo) Fabrizio, 2nd Legislative District, Erie County.

Human Services:

• Republican: Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, 18th Legislative District, Bucks County.

• Democrat: Rep. Angel Cruz, 180th Legislative District, Philadelphia County.


• Republican: Rep. Tina Pickett, 110th Legislative District, Bradford, Sullivan and Susquehanna counties.

• Democrat: Rep. Tony DeLuca, 32nd Legislative District, Allegheny County.


• Republican: Rep. Ron Marsico, 105th Legislative District, Dauphin County.

• Democrat: Rep. Joseph A. Petrarca, 55th Legislative District, Armstrong, Indiana and Westmoreland counties. 

Labor and Industry:

• Republican: Rep. Rob Kauffman, 89th Legislative District, Franklin County.

• Democrat: Rep. John Galloway, 140th Legislative District, Bucks County.

Liquor Control:

• Republican: Rep. Adam Harris, 82nd Legislative District, Franklin, Juniata and Mifflin counties.

• Democrat: Rep. Paul Costa, 34th Legislative District, Allegheny County. 

Local Government:

• Republican: Rep. Kate Harper, 61st Legislative District, Montgomery County.

• Democrat: Rep. Bob Freeman, 136th Legislative District, Northampton County.

Professional Licensure:

• Republican: Rep. Mark Mustio, 44th Legislative District, Allegheny County.

• Democrat: Rep. Harry Readshaw, 36th Legislative District, Allegheny County. 

State Government:

• Republican: Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, 12th Legislative District, Butler County.

• Democrat: Rep. Greg Vitali, 166th Legislative District, Delaware and Montgomery counties.

Tourism and Recreational Development:

• Republican: Rep. David Millard, 109th Legislative District, Columbia County.

• Democrat: Rep. Mark Longietti, 7th Legislative District, Mercer County.


• Republican: Rep. John Taylor, 177th Legislative District, Philadelphia County.

• Democrat: Rep. William F. Keller, 184th Legislative District, Philadelphia. 

Urban Affairs:

• Republican: Rep. Mark Keller, 86th Legislative District, Cumberland and Perry counties.

• Democrat: Rep. Michael O’Brien, 175th Legislative District, Philadelphia County. 

Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness:

• Republican: Rep. Stephen E. Barrar, 160th Legislative District, Chester and Delaware counties.

• Democrat: Rep. Christopher Sainato, 9th Legislative District, Lawrence County.


In lighter news, Sen. Toomey is welcoming a new Chief of Staff, Dan Brandt, who replaces Christopher Gahan, who is leaving government service. Brandt, a reading native, served as Legislative Director for the last four years for Toomey. Previously, Brandt worked on the Senate Budget Committee and was Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Arizona) chief budget advisor.

Even better news for those of you with a sweet tooth: Toomey has again scored the famed “Candy Desk” in the U.S. Senate.

“Pennsylvania is home to more than 200 confectioners employing 10,000 people,” Toomey said in a statement this week. “I know my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are delighted the Candy Desk will be filled with the Keystone State’s best treats.  In fact, I am told that Senators implored cloak room and floor staff to make sure Pennsylvania maintained the desk, because — as we all know — our candy is the best.

“My fellow Senators are going to need Pennsylvania’s finest chocolates to make it through the many, many votes in the coming weeks.  I hope they will set partisanship aside and join me at my desk for some candy.

“Our state is home to the best confectioners in the world. Hershey’s, of course, is headquartered in Central Pennsylvania. Mars makes Three Musketeers in Elizabethtown. Asher’s is based in Kulpsville. Just Born creates Peeps in Bethlehem. One senior Republican senator, who shall remain nameless, makes a special request for Gertrude Hawk candies from Dunmore.  And there are so many more. I am proud to spotlight the best of Pennsylvania in the Candy Desk.”

Sweet, right?

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