As Rep. Dave Zimmerman drove around to polling places in his district in Lancaster and Berks counties on election day last week, the four-time House winner for the Pennsylvania General Assembly was confident the Republican Party was in store for a big night of victories in state and federal elections.
Zimmerman said he wanted to make it to as many polling places in his newly drawn 99th state House District because it “changed significantly” since the last election through the redistricting process, taking away towns like New Holland and Ephrata and adding the northern tip of Lancaster County and parts of Berks County in the Route 222 corridor all the way to Mohnton.
What Zimmerman saw on his travels encouraged him, including a Republican committeeperson at every polling location and grassroots individuals campaigning for Sen. Doug Mastriano for governor.
As for the Democrats, Zimmerman said, he saw tables with election literature at the polling places but few people manning them.
“The Democrats certainly didn’t look very enthusiastic or excited about election day, unlike the Republicans,” Zimmerman said. “Our Republicans were enthusiastic, excited and planning on this being a red wave. And I believed all day long that it’s a red wave.”
But after he ended up at the Republican Committee of Lancaster County’s headquarters to monitor the results in the evening, Zimmerman said he came to find out a “whole different story” about the election across the state and the country.
A record mid-term election turnout of nearly 225,000 voters in Lancaster County, or roughly 63.7% of registered voters in the county, wasn’t enough to help Mastriano, who was defeated by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro with 56.3% of the vote to 41.9%. Mastriano narrowly carried Lancaster County with 49.9% of the vote compared to 48.2% for Shapiro.
In the U.S. Senate race, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defeated TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz with 51% of the state vote to 46.5%. Oz fared better in Lancaster County compared to Mastriano, receiving 55.5% of the vote compared to Fetterman’s 42%.
One of the biggest impacts for the state in last week’s election results comes down to the race for control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, possibly putting Republicans in the minority in the House for the first time since 2010.
Coming into the week, Democrats claimed victory in 101 state House seats, while the Republicans secured 100. Two seats were still in doubt as of Tuesday afternoon – the 142nd state House District in Bucks County with Josh Hogan (R) holding a 114-vote lead over Mark Moffa (D), and the 151st District seat in Montgomery County with six-term incumbent Todd Stephens (R) holding a 12-vote lead over Melissa Cerrato (D).
The Democrats also start the new legislative term with a vacancy with the mid-campaign death of Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Allegheny, who still won re-election.
Republicans held a 113-90 majority in the House coming into last week’s election.
Zimmerman said the possibility of losing control of the House will be a serious “game changer” in the state, removing the party’s ability to control committees and steer the legislative agenda.
Republicans were able to retain a 28-22 advantage over Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate, which Zimmerman said was important in keeping Democrats from running roughshod over the GOP and pushing their agenda.
“The only hope there is that the Republican Senate will stop the nonsense coming to them because there will be a lot of bad deals,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said the results of the 2022 General Election in the House were greatly impacted by the redistricting effort in 2021. The Democrat-led Pennsylvania Supreme Court picked the fifth person to serve on the state’s redistricting commission, choosing Mark Nordenberg, former chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh.
The commission’s decisions resulted in a “horrible map” for Republicans, Zimmerman said, and the state GOP didn’t do enough to push back against some of the changes in the redistricting. Republicans suggested changes to the map to impact their own representatives that “leadership didn’t care for,” Zimmerman said, pushing them out of their districts or running against Democrats in left-leaning districts.
Zimmerman pointed to the lines in his own district, which now has three townships that are split between different representatives, something the Pennsylvania Constitution specifically is supposed to keep from happening in redistricting.
Zimmerman said the redistricting efforts also led to the splitting of Lancaster City, giving Lancaster County two Democrat representatives for the first time in recent memory as Rep. Mike Sturla easily won reelection for a 17th term in the 96th District, while Lancaster City Council Member Izzy Smith-Wade-El won in the newly drawn 49th District.
Some of the GOP’s failures in the election trace back to the passage of Act 77, the state law governing mail-in ballots and other election laws signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019, with Zimmerman calling it a “massive, massive change to election law.” Zimmerman said its passage was spearheaded by Rep. Bryan Cutler (R) of Drumore Township, who was the speaker of the House at the time and “drove” its passage.
Zimmerman voted against Act 77 in 2019.
“Most people, including me, believe that it made it easier to do nefarious things if that’s what someone wants to do,” Zimmerman said. “Now it looks like it might be coming full circle and have the Democrats use it to regain the majority.”
Shapiro vs. Mastriano
Zimmerman said it’s “a little early to tell” how Shapiro will compare to Wolf as governor, but he said by looking at Shapiro’s actions as attorney general, they should serve as a good predictor.
He said Shapiro upheld all of Wolf’s mandates and shutdowns of local businesses, including lawsuits for restaurants staying open. Shapiro also defended the Department of Health and Department of Education on mask and vaccine mandates, with Zimmerman calling him the “top cop doing all of that.”
“I don’t know that he’ll be any different than Wolf unless he comes to work more days than Wolf did – that would be a plus, maybe,” Zimmerman said. “Wolf was missing in action, and then when COVID hit he was completely missing.”
Zimmerman said the lack of endorsements of Mastriano by GOP House and Senate leaders was “unconscionable,” leading to major problems with his campaign.
Zimmerman said the state GOP was also spending campaign money to take out some of its own members, punishing members for perceived disloyalty. Zimmerman himself was removed from his committee positions when party leaders accused him of supporting Ephrata businessman Mike Miller over incumbent Sen. Ryan Aument in the 36th District primary race.
“That’s what our leadership was doing instead of putting their emphasis on winning our seats and preserving the majority for the Republicans,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman easily won reelection in last week’s General Election, defeating political newcomer Joshua Caltagirone of Mohnton.
Zimmerman received 71.3% of the vote of a total of 25,265 ballots cast in both Lancaster and Berks counties. He received 76.3% of the vote specifically cast in Lancaster County.
When asked why he thought he received such high percentages in the election, Zimmerman credited his reputation for “not taking and accepting ‘no’ for an answer” from government agencies, the work he and his staff conduct for constituents and his work promoting the local business community.
Zimmerman said in the next session he wants to work on ways to fight back against the opioid epidemic and overdose cases plaguing Pennsylvania. He said he also wants to work on legislation to benefit small farmers in the state in order to help secure the local food chain. “They threw me off committees, but that backfired in their face,” Zimmerman said. “A lot of places I went to said leadership had no business doing that, because I was duly elected as were they. And for them to just do that, people did not take kindly to that.”