Where have the moderates gone in the Pennsylvania legislature?

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It was just days before last Christmas and Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) was shopping in a Harrisburg-area mall. He recognized no one and was missing his family during what should be a joyous time of the year.

He was still in the capital city fighting over a budget that wasn’t done. It was there and then that Vereb decided he was done.

“This is a June 30th deadline, three days before Christmas, still not resolved,” Vereb recalls. “It was completely frustrating.”

The lawmaker, considered a moderate Republican, decided to retire after 10 years in the legislature. So did Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland/York), who worries that most of the moderates are mostly gone.

“The idea that you would work across the aisle and come to a reasonable solution is gone,” Vance said Wednesday, her last session day at the Capitol after 26 years (14 House, 12 Senate) in the General Assembly. She fears compromise has become a dirty word in Harrisburg politics.

“You just have to have your point of view and it has to be your point,” she said. “I don’t think that’s what the public should expect from all of us.”

Rep. Mauree Gingrich (R-Lebanon) is also calling it quits after 14 years. She says the take-no-prisoners approach isn’t just under the dome, it’s everywhere.

“I’ve seen a shift in civility and the way people treat each other in general,” she said.

But there will still be a few moderates in the halls of Harrisburg, but they’re mostly powerless against the rising and raging tide of extreme partisanship.

“No question about it, the caucus has moved further to the right and away from the middle,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolomo (R-Bucks), who’s been in the legislature since 1995.

DiGirolomo is a proud moderate Republican and will stick with the caucus that is now 122 strong to just 81 Democrats. But DiGirolomo’s colleagues call him a liberal or a RINO (Republican in Name Only). He insists he’s merely voting his suburban Philadelphia district.

“The union and labor vote is still important in the southeast and the rest of the state and that’s where the moderation comes in,” DiGirolomo said.

The more conservative the better for Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon), who just won a second term. He cheers the legislature’s rightward lurch.

“I think that’s just a reflection of how Pennsylvanians feel after years and years and years of big budgets and liberal policies,” he said.

Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) helped three conservatives win elections last Tuesday, giving the GOP a 34-16 edge over Democrats and a veto-proof majority. Wagner believes that moderation in a time of crisis is no virtue. He sees firebrand conservatives as courageous to the cause.

“If you know what the problems are up here and you’re not willing to do something about it, you shouldn’t be here,” he said.

And when the new session starts in January, most of the moderates won’t be there. It appears a budget showdown is looming and for many in the legislature, there’s no political upside to compromising with a Democratic governor seeking re-election. Some, like Vereb, think it’s gonna get uglier before it gets better.

“That’s kind of a frustration,” Vereb said. “It’s not an anger, it’s a frustration, and I’m hoping that somehow we’re just going through this brief cycle and we’ll get back to compromise and get things done.”

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