Democrats will have one-vote majority in Pennsylvania House of Representatives after state legislator resigns

Pennsylvania State Rep. Mike Zabel (D) announced on March 8 that he would resign from the legislature on March 16. Earlier this month, three women—State Rep. Abby Major (R), Zabel’s former campaign manager, and a lobbyist—each accused Zabel of sexually harassing them in separate incidents over the past several years.

In a series of text messages to the Associated Press after announcing his resignation, Zabel wrote, “Allegations of this nature are impossible to litigate in a public forum. It was always my intention to go through the Ethics Committee process and defend myself there. At this point, though, I am unwilling to put my loved ones through any more of this.”

After Zabel’s resignation, the partisan control of the Pennsylvania House will be 101 Democrats and 100 Republicans, with two vacancies. The other open district was last represented by Lynda Schlegel Culver (R), who won a special election to the state Senate on Jan. 31. State House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D) had set the special election for Schlegel Culver’s district for May 16th, which is the date of Pennsylvania’s statewide judicial primary. Steve Ulrich of Politics PA wrote that “The March 16 effective date of [Zabel’s]…resignation provides McClinton with the minimum 60 days needed to call for a special election for May 16.”

As a result of the 2022 elections, Democrats won 102 seats to Republicans’ 101. However, three seats that Democrats won became vacant at the start of the legislative session due to one member’s death and two members who resigned after also being elected to other offices. This gave Republicans a functional 101-99 seat majority. On January 3, the House elected Rep. Mark Rozzi (D) as speaker by a 115-85 vote, with all 99 Democrats and 16 Republicans voting to approve him for the position. After his election, Rozzi said, “The commonwealth that is home to Independence Hall will now be home to this commonwealth’s first independent speaker of the House. I pledge my allegiance and my loyalty to no interest in this building, to no interest in our politics. I pledge my loyalty to the people of the commonwealth.”

On Feb. 7, Democratic candidates won special elections in all three districts that became vacant after the 2022 elections, which gave Democrats 102 members and a majority in the chamber.

On Feb. 23, Rozzi released a set of proposed rules for the House given that the margin between the two parties was so small. Among his proposals was “making committee composition more proportional between the parties,” “fixing the discharge process so that a committee chairman cannot hold legislation hostage from a majority,” and “providing for increased protection against sexual harassment and discrimination in the House.” The House adopted this set of rules on March 1.

Rozzi stepped down as House speaker on Feb. 28, saying that he had accomplished what he had planned to do and he wanted to make way for McClinton’s election as the chamber’s first female speaker. McClinton was elected speaker that day.

All 203 seats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are up for election every two years. Pennsylvania currently has a divided government as Democrats control the governorship, and Republicans have a 28-22 majority in the state Senate.