HARRISBURG -- It didn't take long for a fissure to develop in the ranks of the newly empowered House Republicans.
On Thursday -- just two days after the GOP won control of the House -- Rep. Daryl Metcalfe assailed his own party for its decision to hold "secret" caucus leadership elections on Tuesday, "just one week after Election Day."
The Cranberry conservative called for postponing the leadership elections until December -- to give the newly elected members a chance to think about whom to vote for. He also called for publicly releasing a record of which leaders each rank-and-file member voted for.
Mr. Metcalfe complained that electing leaders so quickly after an election "continues the business-as-usual, back-door politics that blatantly defies the will of the voting electorate."
The 112 newly elected House Republicans are to meet privately on Tuesday to choose leaders for the 2011-12 legislative session, which opens in January. Historically, such elections are always held in closed meetings, by all four legislative caucuses.
GOP leaders to be chosen Tuesday include the House speaker (the top job for the new session), plus House majority leader, whip, appropriations chairman and other posts. The official, formal election of the new speaker will occur in early January, at the first actual legislative session.
But Mr. Metcalfe objected that holding leadership elections just one week after Election Day doesn't give the newly elected (and re-elected) Republicans enough time to decide who should be their leaders, and doesn't give veteran GOP members a chance to decide if they themselves might want to run.
According to Republican legislators, longtime GOP House leader Sam Smith of Punxsutawney is set to be tapped as the speaker for the new term. Rep. Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods is due to become the majority leader; Rep. Stan Saylor of York will be party whip; and Rep. Dave Reed of Indiana the GOP policy chairman.
Mr. Metcalfe also criticized the leadership elections as being "the only behind-closed-doors, secret ballot vote cast in the Legislature." He said the public has a right to know which legislators voted for which leadership candidates.
Christopher Borick, a political science professor/pollster at Muhlenberg College, said that while Mr. Metcalfe's proposal "has some merit, I don't think they will put off the leadership elections."
But delaying the elections until December would, he said, "give the new members a chance to examine their options [on leaders] and get a lay of the land before being pushed to cast a vote."
Former GOP Rep. Jeff Coleman said there is a valid reason for secret ballots, done on paper, in closed caucuses -- so the winning leaders don't know who voted against them, so they can't commit reprisals against rank-and-file legislators who didn't support them.
"Leaders control the budget for office staff and other things, and if there isn't a secret ballot, a legislator could be penalized," he said.
He said the new House Republican leaders have to start quickly to carry out the "ambitious mandates" for state spending cuts and other priorities, and they can't wait until December to get started.
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-4254.