HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It was just after noon in the state Capitol when newly elected lawmakers were asked to place their left hands on Bibles or holy books and raise their right hands to recite a 20-second oath of office.
After pledging their commitment to the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions, they were welcomed into the 201st Legislative Session.
There were flowers and smiles and handshakes and applause.
And for Carol Hill-Evans there were tears of joy that she quickly brushed away. The Democrat is York’s newest state representative, replacing Kevin Schreiber.
Evans is one of four freshmen from the Midstate along with Republicans Frank Ryan (Lebanon), Tom Mehaffie (Dauphin), and Dawn Keefer (York).
The last few newcomers from York County have been women. There are now a record 40 women in the 203-member chamber.
“Of course that’s a good thing,” Hill-Evans said enthusiastically. “It’s always good to have a woman’s opinion and the work ethic of women. We love to work.”
The Republican Keefer agreed with the Democrat Hill-Evans. Call it bipartisanship on day one.
“Having a daughter myself, it’s showing her that anything’s possible,” Keefer said of the importance of women representation in the political process.
“You want to do it. You put the work into it. You have the drive and passion for it. You can do it.”
Keefer was a staffer for former Representative Will Gabig and she has raised campaign money for several lawmakers. Now she is the lawmaker, which she calls exciting.
The Senate, thanks in part to three new GOP members from the Midstate, has a veto-proof majority. John DiSanto (Dauphin-Perry), Scott Martin (Lancaster) and Mike Regan (York-Cumberland) are all proudly waving the conservative banner.
“What people expect is change. They expect a different way of doing things,” said Martin, who replaced Lloyd Smucker, who won a seat in Congress. He understands the state is facing fiscal challenges, most notably a structural deficit. “And the answer isn’t just going back into people’s pockets further, so it’s on us now to put forth ideas that are gonna straighten that out.”
Regan said he’s willing to work with Democrats to find solutions, to a point.
“I’m not gonna compromise too much,” said Regan, who replaced retired senator Pat Vance. “I think the Senate has just gotten more Republican, more conservative I think, and I’m confident the things that conservatives hold dear will carry the day in the Senate.”
But this day was less about party politics and more about handshakes, camaraderie, and well-wishing.
“It’s all about compromise, the spirit of compromise and goodwill,” Hill-Evans said. A big smile never left her face. “I’m probably sounding very naïve, but I believe that it can happen.”
“When you walk in the room, it makes you a little taller,” DiSanto said of swearing-in day. “It makes you appreciate the history. It makes you understand the burden that you’re carrying, so that’s very inspiring, but at the same time, it’s a very hectic day. It’s like your wedding day; it’s not about you at all, it’s about everybody else,” he said with a laugh.
But unlike most newlyweds, these new lawmakers won’t get much of a honeymoon.
The electorate, as many of them know all too well, is restless.