(The Center Square) – Democrats in the state House of Representatives said years of Republican policy undermining election integrity sparked the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill – and it’s time to hold those lawmakers accountable.
While no specific legislator was named, Democratic leaders pointed to the majority party’s support for voter I.D. laws, gerrymandered districts and banning of ballot drop boxes as some of the fuel that fired last week’s insurrection that left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer and an Air Force veteran.
“The people who caused the wounds to our democracy in the first place are often the loudest ones calling for healing,” said Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia. “You cannot heal the illness unless you change the behaviors that got you sick in the first place.”
The Democrats’ news conference came the same day Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, introduced a bill that would change the way the state elects appellate court judges with redrawn districts. The minority party said it was just the latest example of Republicans rigging the system to prevent future electoral losses.
“These actions show them for who they really are,” said Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Allentown.
Diamond, in his cosponsorship memo, said redrawing the districts would better represent all of the state’s 12.7 million residents. Currently, more than half of appellate court seats are held by residents of just two counties, according to Diamond.
Republicans also argue that interference from the executive and judicial branches conspired to undermine the bipartisan Act 77 of 2019 that permitted no-excuse mail-in voting. Through multiple failed legal challenges, state Republicans argued that uneven application of the law – from allowing “ballot curing” in some counties and not others to tossing out requirements for signatures and dates to extending the acceptance deadline an additional three days – meant that votes were not properly counted and “prematurely” certified.
House Democrats said Wednesday it was OK for elected officials to speak out against policy they don’t like, but their constant questioning of the election results showed little regard for truth.
“Any elected official should know … you cannot change the results. The Constitution simply does not allow it,” said Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Edinboro, as he blasted fellow lawmakers for feigning ignorance on overturning the results of the electoral college. “I think that’s false, and they need a reality check.”
“You can’t lay gasoline and then get mad when a fire breaks out and say you had nothing to do with it,” said Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia. “You can’t sow seeds of dissension, sow seeds of doubt … you can’t do all of those things and then say your hands are clean.”
Republicans pushed back against the narrative of blame on Wednesday and chided Democrats for their perceived hypocrisy.
“House Democrats today talked a lot about needing unity and making sure we understand words matter,” said Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus and Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte. "However, their only answer today seemed to be to create more division with political hyperbole, calls to cancel political opponents, and baseless false equivalencies.”
He said the party is eying the future, focusing on economic recovery and “working to lower the temperature in the state.”
“We would welcome their constructive work in that rather than seeing their time devoted to sowing more seeds of division,” he said.
So far, only Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Gettysburg, has admitted being present at the rally that led to violence at the Capitol in Washington last week. He said he left when demonstrators broke into the Capitol and didn’t partake in any criminal activity himself.
Senate leadership has refused to unseat him, insisting that he broke no laws or demonstrated any behavior that warranted action.