Democrats have returned to a one-vote majority in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives after prevailing in a special election on Sept. 19.
Democrat candidate Lindsay Powell defeated Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith in District 21, a heavily Democratic district in Allegheny County. Ms. Powell collected 7,128 votes, while Ms. Autenreith had 3,795 votes.
Powell’s victory breaks a tie in the 203-member lower chamber that has existed since state Rep. Sara Innamorato (D-Allegheny) stepped down in July to focus on her run for Allegheny county executive.
In addition to Allegheny County, District 21 includes part of Pittsburgh, plus some of its northern suburbs. Allegheny County largely powered the election of U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) in 2022, giving him 63 percent of the county vote over Republican candidate Mehmet Oz.
Ms. Powell, who works at an economic development nonprofit organization, is a former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and former Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto.
After the November 2022 election, the House had the same balance of 101 Republican and 102 Democrat seats. It was the first time Democrats held a majority in the lower chamber since 2011.
But immediately after the election, Democrats had three vacant seats. Subtracting vacant seats, Republicans had the majority, with a voting headcount of 101 Republicans and 99 Democrats.
One seat was empty because longtime Democratic Rep. Anthony M. “Tony” DeLuca died after the ballots were printed; voters chose him posthumously. Two other seats were immediately vacated by candidates who ran for two offices at the same time and left their House seats for higher offices. Former state Rep. Austin Davis is now lieutenant governor, and former state Rep. Summer Lee is now in Congress.
Democrats felt confident that, when special elections were held for those seats, they would go to Democrats again, so they wanted the power of the House majority. But at the time, Republicans fought to gain House leadership positions, saying technically they had the majority of voting members at that moment. Through some internal House maneuvering, Democrats were able to get their leaders into the top House positions.
By February, Democrats had won special elections to fill the three vacancies, and the power was back to 102 Democrats and 101 Republicans.
With the new count, anytime a Democrat vacates a House seat, the balance will go back to that 101 tie and both parties will have to wait until a special election tips the scales of power in one direction.
That could happen again this year. Democrat state Rep. John Galloway is running for a district judge position. If he is elected in November, it will put the House back to 101 members in each party, and that would require another special election.
The balance of power is important. The majority party dictates which legislation is considered in committees and brought to the floor for full House consideration. Minority members often complain that they can't get their legislative ideas out of committee, and even when they do, it has historically been tough to convince majority leaders to run their bill on the floor for a vote.
The majority wields more influence. However, that Democrat advantage is tempered somewhat by a Senate with a Republican majority. Likewise, the Senate Republicans have a Democratic House and governor to work with, so not much will get done without compromise.