POLS ON THE STREET: Philadelphians Rise in Harrisburg Ranks

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CLIMBING the legislative stairs on Capitol Hill: Philadelphia House Delegation Chairman Jason Dawkins, C, welcomes State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta as the new vice chair and State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler as the new treasurer/secretary of the delegation. From Philly Dems Twitter page

The dust from the 2018 general election having settled, we now know where the Philadelphia delegation stands in the current General Assembly leadership.

After the loss of retired State Rep. John Taylor, Philadelphians still have one member of the majority party with a hand on the levers of power. That’s State Rep. Tom Murt (R-Northeast), a Montgomery County veteran whose 152nd Legislative District includes a few divisions in Bustleton, was selected to chair the Aging & Older Adult Services Committee.

Murt, along with his colleague Martina White (R-Northeast), will be the only voices with the power to lobby for any significant legislation on behalf of the city of Philadelphia in the new session of the General Assembly – including matters far removed from aging and older-adult services. Although Democrats’ numbers have been strengthened in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, still all they can do is propose; the Republican majority will dispose.

Expect Murt to develop a quiet side practice of consulting with Philadelphia’s top political leaders to advance a variety of city concerns in the next two years.

STATE REP. Martina White was sworn in on the floor of the House of Representatives last week. In the previous term, White fought to secure record funding for Pennsylvania schools without raising personal income or sales taxes. She continued her fight to protect police officers and to hold city officials responsible for sanctuary city policies.

On the minority side, Philadelphians are better represented.

In the House, committee chairs went to State Rep. James Roebuck (D-W. Phila.), who retains that post of long standing and to State Rep. Angel Cruz, who leads the Dems on Human Services.

A huge pickup for the city was State Rep. Kevin Boyle’s (D-Northeast) rise to lead the Democratic team on the State Government Committee.

Boyle said, “I look forward to establishing more bipartisan cooperation in this session with the new Republican committee chairman, State Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming).”

This vital committee addresses issues such as voting rights, discrimination, government reform and redistricting. It is also responsible for lobbying disclosure, State agency procurement and labor agreements, campaign finance and election laws. This committee controls a ton of money. And with the 2020 census on the horizon, Boyle is positioned to play a major role in the legislature’s most-consequential task in the next session.

Boyle’s accession to leadership is significant because the longstanding Republican chair of that committee, State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), arguably the most-conservative member of the House of Representatives as well as the most pugnacious, has been reassigned to lead the Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, where he will oversee matters pertaining to shale gas. So a new day is dawning in State Government and much rides on Boyle’s ability to forge a working relationship with Everett.

STATE REPS. Brian Sims, L, and Stephen Kinsey shared a moment in House chambers at their swearing-in ceremony on New Year’s Day. Photo by Bonnie Squires

Boyle represents the 172nd Legislative District, which includes part of Montgomery County and part of Philadelphia County.

In the State Senate, all the Philadelphia Delegation’s seasoned veterans are assigned as minority leaders for key committees.

CONGRESSMAN Dwight Evans, L, a former state representative, joined State Rep. Donna Bullock, House Speaker Mike Turzai and State Rep. Jake Wheatley in Harrisburg. Photo by Bonnie Squires

The key Appropriations chair remains in the hands of State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-W. Phila.) Banking & Insurance becomes the purview of State Sen. Sharif Street (D-N. Phila.). State Sen. Larry Farnese (D-S. Phila.) will chair Community, Economic, & Recreational Development. Health & Human Services falls to State Sen. Art Haywood (D-Northwest). State Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-Kensington) will continue her passionate service on Labor & Industry. Transportation will be the realm of State Sen. John Sabatina, Jr. (D-Northeast).

The Senate State Government Committee will be headed by State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-W. Phila.). This committee will be the Senate counterpart to Boyle’s House committee in redistricting work after the 2020 election and census; should Williams remain in office in the following term, he will be one of the most-important Democrats in Harrisburg.

Special Election Called for the 190th

Mar. 12 will be the date of a special election to fill the 190th Legislative District seat vacated by Vanessa Lowery Brown, who was convicted of a crime and denied seating in the House after she won re-election in November.

STATE REPS. Pam DeLissio and Jim Roebuck work together for the city of Philadelphia in the State House of Representatives. Photo by Bonnie Squires

This district, mostly based in West Philadelphia north of Market Street with a few divisions across the Schuylkill in Tioga, harbors few Republicans. Victory for the Democratic candidate is all but assured.

Seven Democratic ward leaders have pieces of the 190th. They will meet on Jan. 26 at Democratic City Committee to hear all prospective candidates for the party’s nomination. At this time, it does not appear that any of these ward leaders will seek the nomination. The meeting will be chaired by 52nd Ward Leader Steve Jones.

“We are planning a process that is fair and transparent,” said 8th Ward Leader Pete Wilson.

Store Closure Fuels Primary Talk

Jeff Brown’s closure of his Overbrook ShopRite store after the Sweetened Drinks Tax caused sales to plummet there sent shock waves through the political community as well as the neighborhood … not to mention the Wall Street Journal, which gave this news national coverage.

What drew the WSJ’s attention was the use of Philadelphia as a model for other jurisdictions that are contemplating a soda tax. The beverage industry is not keen on this tax and will spend big money to oppose it elsewhere and dismantle it here.

HAUTE Lounge in Center City hosted what turned out to be a victory for the Eagles Sunday night, where City Commission candidate Omar Sabir hosted a game party. L-R were judicial hopeful Greg Weyer, David Krain, Ward Leader Bernard Lopez, judicial aspirant Carmella Jacquinto, Sabir, consultant Rasheen Crews, Ron Waters and Jocelyn Mims. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Critics charge that it is hurting businesses, costing jobs and burdening consumers in low-income neighborhoods. While these claims are disputed by the measure’s defenders, groceries are a concern easily felt by everyday voters who aren’t policy wonks.

Therefore, the soda tax makes a natural issue for the May primary campaign. As Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature initiative, the soda tax is an inviting cause for anyone inclined to challenge Kenney this year: It offers a plank that both resonates on the street and opens a door to major funding.

MEMBERS OF PASNAP, a major union representing nurses in Philadelphia, picketed outside Hahnemann Hospital last week. Earlier in the day, they had demonstrated outside St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Juniata Park. The cause at both facilities: a protest against violations of what nurses allege are unsafe staffing levels. They are seeking new contracts to rectify this problem. L-R at the informational picket line outside Hahnemann were Mayor Jim Kenney, PASNAP political consultant Patty Eakin, State Rep. Brian Sims, State Sen. Tina Tartaglione, Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding and Councilman Mark Squilla. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Meanwhile, Overbrook reels. State Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-W. Phila.) reacted with the following statement: “It is disappointing to see the ShopRite store along Haverford Avenue closing its doors. Not only is it a hit to the local economy and a loss of jobs in the immediate area, it will add to the already overwhelming amount of food deserts in our ‘middle neighborhoods.’

“The lack of access to fresh foods and produce in the community where this ShopRite exists could become a burden for those who may be unable to get to those stores. I will work with area stakeholders and residents to bring a grocery store to the soon-to-be-vacant site in an effort to benefit the community’s overall needs.

“With a new legislative session underway in Harrisburg, the General Assembly must work together to provide adequate funding for our schools and infrastructure needs across the commonwealth, no matter the ZIP Code. By fairly distributing sufficient appropriations for education and recreation centers, municipalities and cities, including Philadelphia, would not need to create alternative means of funding, such as a soda tax, which could ultimately have a devastating impact on businesses and our neighborhoods.”

Don’t Pay Us During Shutdown, Say Scanlon, Evans

Two Philadelphia members of Congress, Mary Gay Scanlon and Dwight Evans, are among four from the region who have vowed not to accept their pay during the government shutdown, even though the shutdown does not formally include the congressional budget.

A MASSIVE demonstration by federal employees and their supporters rallied at Independence Hall. L-r were American Federation of Government Employees rep David Fitzpatrick, Congressman Dwight Evans, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, Congressman Brendan Boyle and National Treasury Employees Union spokesman Alex Jay Berman and State Sen. Vincent Hughes. Photos by Wendell Douglas

After meeting with a local air-traffic controller about losing her income during the shutdown, Evans tweeted a copy of the letter he submitted to the Chief Administrative Office. In the letter, he asks that his salary is withheld until an appropriations agreement goes into effect.

Evans also Tweeted, “It’s Day 11 of the #TrumpShutdown + 800K hard-working federal workers are working w/o pay or staying home b/c Trump is using them as a bargaining chip to open the gov’t.

“I met a PHL mother who works on air traffic control – she wants to go back to work & provide for her family!

“B/c of workers like her, I’m asking the House to withhold my salary until federal workers receive their hard-earned [money]!”

In addition to Evans and Scanlon, Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester) and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) have also refused their pay during the shutdown.

Freshman State Rep Calls for Transparency

“Seen but not heard” is the traditional stance for first-term members of the State House of representatives. But that may not be good enough for some of the incoming Democrats who rode last November’s blue wave to Harrisburg.

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA’S new congresswoman, Mary Gay Scanlon, made history Jan. 3 as one of four freshman women lawmakers to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. House of Representatives – the largest number ever elected in Pennsylvania. All are from Philadelphia and its suburbs. L-R, Susan Wild, Scanlon, Chrissy Houlahan and Madeleine Dean. All cast their first votes in Congress on that day.

State Rep. Joe Webster (D-Montgomery) introduced two proposals among a package of House rule improvements sponsored by Democrats.

Webster proposes a rule change that would guarantee a debate and an up-or-down committee vote for any bill with 20 co-sponsors from each party. Under his second plan, committees would share proportional representation with the House. For example, proportional representation would create an 11-9 majority in a 20-member committee.

“The people believe that their government is broken and think the special interests matter more than regular citizens, and we wanted to change that,” Webster said. “The Republican majority made it clear – they wanted the status quo, and if we refused to go along, they were prepared to make it even harder for the will of the people to ever become the law of the state.”

Other rules House Democrats are pushing for include: preventing committee chairs from blocking votes on popular bills; requiring bills with wide bipartisan support, including measures sponsored by more than 102 House members, to get an up-or-down vote by the full House. giving members the chance to have a priority bill debated in committee; allowing committee members to vote to choose a chairperson on merit, instead of awarding positions by seniority alone; and ending “middle-of-the-night” votes, giving citizens a full 24 hours to learn about changes to bills.’

These proposals will be cold-shouldered by the Republican House majority (and make a few old Democratic hands uncomfortable as well). But they could make excellent campaign positions for Democrats in 2020.

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