Several considering run for vacant state Senate seat

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The green flag has fallen on the race to replace Sen. Mike Folmer who resigned last week after his arrest for possessing child pornography.

Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, announced Wednesday afternoon that he is seeking the Republican nomination.

“I’ve been fighting for free-market conservative principles for years,” Brouillette said. “I’ve always done it on the outside. This affords an opportunity to take that fight into the inside of the Capitol where I would have a vote and an opportunity to persuade colleagues that we can move Pennsylvania forward and tackle some of our most pressing issues.”

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced that the special election to replace Folmer in the 48th senatorial district will be Jan. 14. It includes all of Lebanon County and parts of York and Dauphin counties.

The respective Republican and Democratic party chairs in the respective counties will choose the candidates that will appear on the ballot in January, the voters will not.

“There’s a lot that could go wrong here,” Brouillette said. “There’s a lot that could be rigged for a favorite candidate of a party chairman, but I’m hopeful we’ll see an open and transparent process.”

Brouillette is not the only candidate interested in replacing Folmer. State Reps. Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) and Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) are mulling a run. Lebanon County GOP Chairman Casey Long said Wednesday that at least a dozen others have called expressing interest.

Long is likely the king-maker in the process because Lebanon County has 41 of the 72 total votes to be cast in the process. York has 17 votes and Dauphin has 14, representing their proportional size within the district. The nominee who gets a majority, 37 votes, will be the GOP candidate. The district is overwhelmingly Republican.

York County GOP chair Jeffrey Piccola, a former senator himself, said Wednesday he will bring his committee together soon to decide the process for naming the 17 conferees from his county.

Long said his committee leaders will meet next Wednesday, Oct. 2, to discuss the vacant seat and how to select the county’s 41 conferees. Neither the public nor the press is invited to attend that meeting.

Because party chairmen control which people get to vote for the eventual nominee, they wield incredible power and Brouillette concedes backroom politics is a built-in part of the process.

“Should they put their finger on the scale, they could rig the system,” Brouillette said. “My hope is merit will be the determining factor.”

Home county of the candidate should also be a determining factor, Diamond said. Since the seat encompasses all of Lebanon and only small fractions of York and Dauphin, Diamond thinks the candidate should be from Lebanon. He worries that if it’s not, the county will be split up when redistricting is done following the 2020 election. 

“I think it is a legitimate argument,” said Brouillette, who lives in Lebanon County.

Both Piccola and Long suggested that their candidate, whoever it is, should be named in October, giving them ample to time to campaign for that Jan. 14 election against a Democratic foe who will be chosen in much the same way.

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