The big news out of state House Democrats’ leadership vote wasn’t the selection of a new Minority Leader. Instead, it was the ouster of longtime Appropriations Committee Chair Dwight Evans.
Evans had been the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee for twenty years. In that role, the Philadelphia lawmaker decided which projects got funded, and which lost out on state money.
But many Democrats had grown “disgruntled” with Evans’ leadership, as incoming minority Appropriations Chair Joe Markosek put it. That frustration manifested itself last week, when dozens of back-benchers successfully protested Democratic leaders’ decision to cancel a lame duck voting session. Many Democrats blamed Evans for the nixed vote, though he denied pulling the strings on the decision.
It took two ballots for Markosek, of Allegheny County, to defeat Evans. Markosek came within a vote of winning on the first vote, but with one ballot illegible, the Democrats had to vote a second time. Markosek prevailed with 50 tallies, compared to Evans’ 39. Speaking to reporters, Markosek said Democrats were “disgruntled,” partially by Evans’ lack of transparency. “Most folks felt that there could be more openness,” he said. “And I know – basically what I told members of our caucus, in asking for their vote, was I would pretty much treat them the way I treat my constituents back home. I listen to them, and hear what they have to say, and try to do what they want.”When he was asked to explain the outcome, Evans partially blamed the recent election, which put Democrats at their lowest seat totals in decades. “I think it’s just kind of a feeling about the wave, in terms of what happened in general. And I think that, you know, you look at it, you do your best, you make the most of it, and you hope you can move things forward.”Governor Rendell praised Evans before the caucus vote took place, saying, “During my eight years as governor, no one has understood the budget better than Dwight Evans. No one has been a more positive factor in driving eventual compromise that allowed us to be one of the ten most fiscally stable states in the country, while at the same time advancing a very progressive agenda.”The leadership elections continue an east-to-west power swing. New Minority Leader Frank Dermody is also from Allegheny County. The Republican Majority Leader and, of course, Governor-elect Tom Corbett also hail from the Pittsburgh area. There aren’t any Philadelphia lawmakers in the Democrats’ new leadership team.