GOP skeptical in residency dispute with new Senate Democrat
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republicans in Pennsylvania expressed continued skepticism Tuesday that a newly elected Democratic legislator meets constitutional requirements to serve in the state Senate as Democrats compared the threats to block her with GOP hardball tactics in other states.
Lawyers for Democrat Lindsey Williams on Monday submitted legal arguments and affidavits that they say should satisfy any concerns that she doesn’t meet residency requirements.
The 97-page package went to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, whose office said Tuesday that Williams’ information “answers some questions but certainly raises new issues.” The question remains whether she meets the constitutional requirement, it said.
The Senate’s Republican majority is threatening to bar Williams from taking her seat, a move that could force a special election in the spring and give Republicans another shot at keeping the Pittsburgh-area seat that Williams won narrowly in the Nov. 6 election.
The showdown is raising accusations by Williams’ allies that Republicans are trying to steal the election, while Republicans insist they are trying to do the right thing under the state constitution.
Williams’ lawyers said they have seen no reason why Williams does not meet the constitutional requirement that senators be “citizens and inhabitants” of Pennsylvania for four years before they are elected. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said he stands by Williams and believes she meets the requirement.
Williams, 35, has maintained that she accepted a job offer with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers in the days before Nov. 6, 2014, and had begun moving her things from Maryland, where she lived with her sister and brother-in-law.
On Nov. 6, 2014, she had moved in with friends in the Pittsburgh area while she looked for an apartment and finished her final assignments at her previous job with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Washington, D.C., the paperwork said. She moved other household items later, it said.
Williams, a northeast Pennsylvania native, has lived most of her life in the state.
Republicans have pointed to the post-Nov. 6, 2014, dates on her Pennsylvania driver’s license, apartment lease agreement and voter registration as reasons why she does not meet the four-year requirement. But Williams’ lawyers cited case law that suggests such matters are not expected to be completed the day someone moves from one state to another.
Scarnati has retained an outside lawyer to review Williams’ legal arguments and, after that, “we will make known our next step in a few days,” his office said.
The state Republican Party on Tuesday accused Williams of playing “fast and loose” with the state constitution, while the state Democratic Party called Republicans “sore losers.”
“From Wisconsin to Michigan to North Carolina, and now Pennsylvania, the Republican Party has stooped to trying to subvert the will of the people and attempting to flout the democratic process as a last resort when they cannot win elections,” the Democratic Party said Tuesday.
Williams’ case arrives amid a power play by the Republican-controlled Legislature in Wisconsin to limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general before they are seated.
It has been decades since the Senate refused to seat a member, and the debate over Williams is sending Senate lawyers to search for precedent. Counting Williams, Republicans hold a 29-21 majority in the chamber after a tough election cycle in which they lost five seats and their super majority.
The open seat Williams won had been held by Republicans since 1990. New senators are to be sworn in Jan. 1, and a vote against seating Williams could turn the normally family-friendly ceremony into a bare-knuckled partisan fight.
Williams defeated Republican Jeremy Shaffer by 793 votes, according to certified returns posted online by the Department of State.