HARRISBURG, Pa. — Democrats retained their slim majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Tuesday by winning a special election, maintaining control over how the chamber will handle abortion, gun rights and voting rights legislation.
Heather Boyd won a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives representing the Philadelphia suburbs, beating Republican Katie Ford by a job left vacant by the resignation of Democratic Rep. Mike Zabel. Zabel resigned from Parliament in March shortly after a lobbyist accused him of sexually harassing her.
Boyd’s win gives the Democrats 102 seats, the minimum needed to control the agenda in the 203-seat House of Representatives. The state Senate has a Republican majority.
The Democrat victory in the Delaware County district means that in his first term, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro will have at least one chamber to support his agenda into the final month of budget negotiations. The result could also affect a proposed constitutional amendment that restricts abortion rights. Legislative Republicans are one vote in the House of Representatives away from presenting it to voters in a referendum.
Boyd is a former congressional and state legislator. Your district was once Republican but gave Democratic candidates a solid lead in the recent election.
In the face of challenges, President Joe Biden on Monday endorsed fellow Democrat Boyd, calling her “an experienced public servant who protects a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, advocates for sound gun safety laws and expands access to the right to vote.”
Boyd emphasized the protection of abortion rights, contrasting with Ford, who is personally opposed to abortion but says she does not want to change existing state laws. Republicans had hoped to regain the majority, in part to push the proposed constitutional amendment stating that the Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees no rights related to abortion or public funding for abortion.
Ford criticized Boyd, a senior Delaware County Democratic Party official, for not responding when she learned of the allegations against Zabel. Boyd said she respects the lobbyist’s request for confidentiality over her allegation that Zabel stroked her leg while they discussed legislation outside the Capitol in 2018 and didn’t stop when she walked away from him.
“Common sense says if someone comes up to you and says they’re being sexually harassed, do something about it,” Ford said during a televised debate. “You don’t just let it go.” Boyd responded that she did not endorse or support Zabel after hearing about the lobbyist’s account and said she had tried unsuccessfully to find someone to run against Zabel.
Republicans went into the 2022 election with a 113-90 lead in the House of Representatives, but Democrats netted 12 seats in November, barely enough to win majority status after 12 years and elect one of their ranks to be speaker.
Republican Michael Stender retained the seat in central Pennsylvania in his party’s hands in a second special election to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Stender, a Shikellamy school board member, firefighter and former paramedic, was joined by former Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, the Republican who represented the district before winning a special election to the state Senate earlier this year. Stender defeated Democrat Trevor Finn, a Montour County commissioner. The district also includes part of Northumberland County.