In a rare move, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats united against 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 although he’s worked well beside President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, over the years, 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, but I feel very passionately that he is not suited to this role,” 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. 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 – spanning parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties – by just 69 votes.
Ziccarelli argues, however, 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. In Allegheny County, however, 311 undated ballots were included in the certified vote based on a ruling from the state Supreme Court that said 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 – a request Corman granted 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.
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.
“By 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 was elected to the chamber’s 34th district in 1999 and became majority leader in 2014. He replaces Rep. Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, who retired last month.