One of the peculiarities of aquarium life during the pandemic is that you become interested in live-streamed government proceedings in other states. That was how I became engrossed in Rudy Giuliani’s Loonies Over America ’20 Tour at its various stops in the aftermath of the November election. And, on Tuesday, when my timeline on the electric Twitter machine came alive with the shenanigans in the Pennsylvania state senate, I jumped all over it. After about an hour, I realized I was being treated to a vivid look at how thoroughly the techniques of Trumpian politics have entwined themselves in Republican politics all the way down to the local level. So I rode the trusty laptop down to Harrisburg to watch the donkey show.
Tuesday was the day in which the new senate was sworn in. The election in the 45th senatorial district, which contains pieces of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, was agonizingly close. Eventually, incumbent Democrat Jim Brewster was declared the winner over Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli by 69 votes. The state secretary of state’s office certified Brewster’s win on December 16. Following the template fashioned down at Camp Runamuck, however, Ziccarelli has unlimbered every possible method, sane and otherwise, of disestablishing Brewster’s victory. (At issue are some 300 mail-in ballots that lacked a signature on their outside envelope, as required. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that those ballots should be counted and they made up most of Brewster’s margin of victory.) Ziccarelli has lost every case she’s brought before the state’s supreme court, except the one suit that is still pending in federal court that seeks to overturn the state’s certification of Brewster as the winner. This is how Republicans do politics these days. Nothing is permanent. Nothing ever ends. Nothing is over, to paraphrase Senator John Blutarsky, until they say it is, which often is never.
So that brings us up to Tuesday. Prior to what was supposed to be a pro forma session of the Senate, Ziccarelli unloaded a 500-page cinder block detailing the many ways she’d actually won the 45th. The Republican majority in the Senate thereupon refused to “seat” Brewster who, we must remind you, has had his election certified by everyone who is supposed to certify elections in Pennsylvania. The Democrats in the chamber spiraled into the highest dudgeon. Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who was presiding over the session, insisted on seating Brewster. In response, the Republicans pushed through a measure removing Fetterman as presiding officer and, for a brief moment, there were two presiding officers. Once Fetterman was finally removed, the senate voted to seat everyone except poor Brewster, and the Republicans refused to say how long they were willing to leave the 45th unrepresented. (Refusing to seat Brewster doesn’t affect that balance of power in the chamber.) This is how we do elections now. This is your democracy, America. Cherish it.