Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) says that she and her Republican colleagues will be in lockstep at the start of the new legislative session working to restore faith in a democratic process battered by Governor Wolf’s unyielding grip on power, and his Secretary of the Commonwealth’s questionable management of the General Election.
“We are in touch all the time,” Ward said of her caucus members. “I’m sure there will be some disagreements on some minor issues going forward but, on the elections and the governor we have a full united front.”
Her big frustration, and on the list of reforms, is that lawmakers cannot act sooner to continue investigations into the elections with a record number of mail-in ballots; and reform the law that allows the governor to keep extending an emergency proclamation first declared last March at the onset of the pandemic. The 2019-20 legislative session ended at midnight on November 30, and under provisions in the state Constitution, lawmakers must wait until the swearing-in of the next session (Tuesday, January 5), before convening again, unless they are called into an emergency session by the governor.
“We have no authority to hold hearings, issue subpoenas, or swear-in testifiers,” Ward said. “This has to be corrected so we can address problems with future elections immediately.”
Come January, one of the caucus’s top priorities will be approval for the second consecutive session of a proposed constitutional amendment, sponsored by Ward last session, that requires legislative approval if a governor wants to extend his Proclamation of Disaster Emergency beyond 21 days. Currently, a proclamation of an emergency gives the governor near total power of the governance of the state, and he alone can extend or revoke it. Both the act, and Wolf’s repeated extension of it, have withstood multiple challenges before a rubber stamp Supreme Court – another target for possible reform, Ward said.
Ward predicted the proposed amendment, which does not require the governor’s signature, will appear on the May ballot for voter approval.
At the same time, Senate Republicans are working with their House counterparts to re-start investigations into Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar’s administration of the elections after she implemented policies that were in direct conflict with the election code. She indicated that they will also investigate the security of voting and manner in which votes are counted, and the impact of the Judiciary on the 2020 General Election and subsequent candidate legal challenges.
“We will stand up and continue to fight through the legislative process and oversight hearings,” Ward and other legislative leaders said in a statement issued with the announcement of the planned investigations. “We will make sure there are answers to the questions and concerns that are being brought forward from every corner of our Commonwealth.”
Perhaps the most egregious example of undue outside influence in an election occurred right in Ward’s back yard. In the 45th Senate District, Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli defeated the incumbent Democrat Jim Brewster by four votes, but the Supreme Court later allowed the inclusion of mail-in ballots where the voters neglected to date the outer envelopes as required by law. This, when the Board of Elections in Westmoreland County ruled that the undated ballots in the county could not be counted. The change put Brewster ahead by 89 votes. The race results are now being challenged in federal court.
“They want to act like lawmakers,” Ward said of court members, “then maybe they should be required to run every two, four, or six years so voters don’t forget what they’ve done.”
Supreme Court justices now stand for a retention vote every ten years.
Another issue back from last year will be legislation vetoed by the governor on November 30 that would have provided employers who followed government pandemic safety guidelines a liability shield against predatory lawsuits. The law is desperately needed for businesses to restart their operations once the pandemic has abated. Similar laws have been passed in more than 30 other states.
“We must keep getting that message about that we support our businesses and the families that depend on them,” Ward said. “And the best approach to both is a conservative one.”
Kim Ward first won the 39th Senate seat in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012, 2016, and 2020. She was the first woman to hold that seat and is the first woman to be elected Senate Majority Leader.
She and her husband, Dr. Thomas Ward, have three sons, Tom, Michael, and Matthew and three beautiful grandchildren, Josie Jane, Thomas and Roman.
Majority Leader is the second-highest leadership post in the Senate. Duties include overseeing the legislative agenda, developing policies and strategies for the Senate Republican Caucus, chairing the Senate Rules and Executive Nominations Committee and playing a key role in floor debates. As Majority Leader, Ward will also have a major role in negotiating budgets and other issues with the Administration and House of Representatives and in supervising action on the Senate floor.