Pennsylvania Senate Refuses to Seat Democrat On First Day of Session

January 6, 2021 by Dan McCue
Senate Chamber, Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The opening of a new session of the Pennsylvania Senate is usually a fairly staid affair, marked by ceremony and at least a bit of bipartisanship.

However, that wasn’t the case Tuesday when the Republican majority refused to seat a Democratic Senator whose election victory has been certified by state officials, and then tossed Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman from its chamber.

The extraordinary events may be a harbinger of a chaotic two-year session in which the state legislature is expected to tackle a number of thorny issues, not the least of which is redistricting.

State Sen. Jim Brewster, who the Senate majority refused to seat, has represented a district outside Pittsburgh for nearly a decade.

But this past November, he defeated his Republican challenger, Nicole Ziccarelli, by just 69 votes, and she is challenging the results in federal court.

Ziccarelli claims several hundred mail-in ballots were wrongly rejected on the grounds that they did not have a handwritten date on their outer envelopes, which she argues was not an explicit requirement.

She’s already lost a challenge in state court, but the Republicans in the state Senate said they wanted to wait for the outcome of her most recent legal challenge before filling the seat.

“Our goal is to get it right, not get it fast,” said Jake Corman, the president pro tem of the State Senate, during a briefing with reporters.

Fetterman likened the situation to the one playing out in the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, where several Republicans are planning to challenge the certification of the Electoral College vote that will formally make Joe Biden the next president.

“This idea of having one party decide who is the real victor is a dangerous precedent we’re seeing played out on the national stage,” he said.

As for Fetterman’s expulsion from the chamber, the majority asserted after Brewster wasn’t seated, the lieutenant governor ” hijacked ” the proceedings and stopped following the chamber’s rules and refused to recognize their various motions.

Things grew even more chaotic after Senate Republicans voted to replace Fetterman with Corman.

For a time, both men stood on the rostrum, trying to recognize motions from the floor.

Finally, Fetterman was escorted out of the chamber.

 “This was a corruption of the fundamental democratic franchise in our state,” he said as he left.

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