Following wave of vacancies, House GOP chairmanships face shake up

Following wave of vacancies, House GOP chairmanships face shake up

Author: Stephen Caruso/Wednesday, January 2, 2019/Categories: News and Views

Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) was named new chief of the powerful House Judiciary Committee while Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) will take over the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, two of the many shuffles needed to cover nine openings from retirements and electoral defeats in caucus committee leadership.

Kauffman had previously been chair of the House Labor and Industry Committee, while Metcalfe chaired State Government.

The chairs are named by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), who was officially re-elected to his third term as Speaker yesterday.

“The men and women who chair the House committees are getting the work done to prepare legislation for the full House to consider,” Turzai said in a statement.

Rumors swirled the capitol throughout December that Metcalfe wanted off State Government, and that he had his eyes on Judiciary. The committee controls all gun legislation as well as criminal justice reform and other legal matters.

Metcalfe even asked Turzai for the chairmanship and received tentative approval, before Turzai changed his mind, per multiple capitol sources.

A spokesperson for Turzai declined to discuss internal caucus matters.

At swearing in, Metcalfe confirmed his interest for a new committee, mentioning both Judiciary and Energy, citing his seniority as a driving factor.

Metcalfe has drawn criticisms from Democrats and Republicans for his conduct as chair of the State Government Committee, from process questions around last minute meetings and his self-admitted blocking of Democratic bills to ideological concerns, such as inviting a white supremacists to testify at a hearing.

On environmental issues, he’s backed attempts to force the Delaware River Basin Commissions to pay landowners for its fracking ban and supported regulatory reform efforts that environmentalists worry could render the Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies toothless.

Jacquelyn Bonomo, President and CEO of state environmental group Penn Future, said in an emailed statement that Metcalfe's appointment "signals cautious days ahead at best" for environmental issues.

"Rep. Metcalfe has no track record of bipartisanship and interest in good government, but instead has shown himself capable of being a roadblock to the forward movement of environmental issues," Bonomo said. "PennFuture will be watching carefully.”

In 2009, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he responded to a veteran’s bus tour to raise awareness for climate change with an email where he wrote "remember Benedict Arnold before giving credibility to a veteran who uses their service as a means to promote a leftist agenda. Drill Baby Drill!!!"

While the move could cause extra work for state environmentalists, others saw some hope for redistricting and some of the other causes locked up in committee under Metcalfe’s watch.

Metcalfe could not be reached for comment by press time.

Carol Kuniholm, executive director of Fair Districts PA, pointed to the larger problem of a chair’s power over the smaller problem of individual member’s foibles.

“It’s unfortunate that chair personality plays such a large role in our state legislature. This should not really be the case, but it really is,” Kuniholm said. “That being said, we look forward to having a new chairperson in the State Government Committee.”

Kauffman meanwhile replaces retired veteran Judiciary Chair Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin), who chaired the committee since 2007.

Looking back on one of his last acts, to open up hearings on firearm laws, encouraged Shira Goodman, executive director of the anti-gun violence group CeaseFire PA even if some of Kauffman’s votes might not line up with her priorities.

“We have a chairman who has not been so friendly to our issue, but that means we have more work to do,” Goodman said.

That same attitude that encouraged Goodman left Kim Stolfer, head of the state gun rights group Firearm Owners Against Crime thinking new Judiciary chief Kauffman would be a "step up" from Marsico.

"[Kauffman] seems to be very thorough and I’m interested to work with him,” Stolfer said.

Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) will take over State Government, while Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks) took over for Kauffman on Labor and Industry. The open Consumer Affairs Committee was taken over by Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler), while senior GOP Rep. Tim Hennessey (R-Chester), in office since 1992, secured the gavel for Transportation.

In other notable changes, last session’s Education Committee Chair, Rep. David Hickernell (R-Lancaster), is heading to the Professional Licensure Committee. 

In a statement, Hickernell said he had previously asked for the assignment but was asked by Turzai to handle Education so he took the assignment.

Hickernell said he believes “my tenure as chair of the Tourism and Education committees have prepared me to lead a committee that has many complex issues before it.” Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Erie) will take over Education.

House Democratic chairs were still undecided, but could be set for a shake up with their own slew of retirements and primary losses cull senior leadership in the caucus.

Below is a list of every Majority chair:

Aging and Older Adult Services:
Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery)
Agriculture and Rural Affairs:
Rep. Martin Causer (R-Potter)
Children and Youth:
Rep. Karen Boback (R-Luzerne)

Rep. Mark Keller (R-Perry)

Consumer Affairs:
Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler)

Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Erie)

Environmental Resources and Energy:
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler)

Rep. Frank Farry (R-Bucks)
Rep. Michael Peifer (R-Pike)
Game and Fisheries:
Rep. Keith Gillespie (R-York)
Gaming Oversight:
Rep. Jim Marshall (R-Beaver)
Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren)
Human Services:
Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks)
Rep. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford)
Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin)
Labor and Industry:
Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks)
Liquor Control:
Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Indiana)
Local Government:

Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams)
Professional Licensure:
Rep. Dave Hickernell (R-Lancaster)
State Government:
Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming)
Tourism and Recreational Development:
Rep. David Millard (R-Columbia)

Rep. Tim Hennessey (R-Chester)
Urban Affairs:

Rep. Sue Helm (R-Dauphin)

Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness:
Rep. Stephen E. Barrar (R-Delaware)

This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. with comment from Kim Stolfer.

Stephen Caruso is the Harrisburg bureau chief at The PLS Reporter. Have a question, comment or tip? Email him at or call at 845-891-4306.