Democrats oppose Corman appointment
In a rare move, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats united to oppose the nomination of the chamber’s top ranking Republican to lead the chamber on Tuesday after he refused to seat a member of their party just moments earlier.
Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh, said he’s worked well beside President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, over the years; but insisted he’s “passionate about following the rule of law.”
Traditionally, the minority leader supports the nomination as a show of unity in the chamber.
“I do not do this lightly,” he said from the rostrum Tuesday as he admonished Corman for refusing to swear in Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster over a contested election result.
“The President Pro Tempore is to be a leader for the entire body – not of one party,” he said. “Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the leader should be beholden to the partisan whims of his own party.”
Costa’s comments stem from Corman’s decision to block Brewster’s swearing-in after the Republican candidate who challenged him on Nov. 3 contested the election results in the Senate. Nicole Ziccarelli lost her bid to unseat Brewster in the 45th district by just 69 votes. The district spans parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.
The root of the problem
Ziccarelli argues that Brewster’s win is uncertain because election law was applied differently across the district. In Westmoreland, for example, poll workers tossed 341 undated ballots. The certified vote in Allegheny included 311 undated ballots, however. Allegheny’s action was based on state Supreme Court ruling that the dating requirement wasn’t applicable to the November election. Sixty-one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties followed this guidance.
Ziccarelli appealed to federal court to overturn the decision because she says it disenfranchised voters and violated their constitutional rights. Pending a ruling, she asked the Senate on Friday not to seat Brewster. Corman granted that request just hours before the official swearing-in ceremony.
“Our goal is to get it right – not get it fast,” Corman said Monday. “I don’t determine when we receive information, contests or otherwise. I just deal with them when I receive them.”
While Corman anticipated a quick resolution, he couldn’t forecast how long the seat would remain vacant or what other senators might do with Ziccarelli’s request.
Argument: Senate lacks authority
Costa and other Democrats argued that the Senate lacks the authority to ignore the certified results of the election. He accused Corman of putting partisanship before duty.
“Leading the effort to refuse to administer the oath of office to duly, properly certified winner of the Senate’s 45th District is in direct conflict to his role as the impartial leader of this body,” he said. “Again and again, he has chosen to cater to the political fringes of his party instead of defending the Senate as a whole.”
The Senate voted 31-18 to promote Corman to the chamber’s President Pro Tempore. He has represented the chamber’s 34th district since 1999 and became majority leader in 2014. He replaces Rep. Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, as President Pro Tempore. Scarnati retired last month.
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.minority,