Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Study: Small Delegations a Path to Political Success

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Study: Small Delegations a Path to Political Success

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- It's an age-old question in a Legislature divided among rural, suburban and urban lawmakers: Who rules in Harrisburg?

One recent multi-state study suggests large, urban delegations are less effective at moving bills in their legislatures -- and as the size of the delegation from a city grows, so does the potential for political infighting.

"Big cities lose so often because size leads to damaging divisions," said the study by Gerald Gamm, an associate professor of political science and history at the University of Rochester, and Thad Kousser, associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

The study found big-city bills (from cities with more than 100,000 people) failed at higher rates than bills from smaller places.

The study examined only so-called "district bills" -- bills where a city or other single locality is seeking the authority from the state to do something -- such as a city seeking to impose a tax only on its own residents.

Several Harrisburg political observers said they don't see Pittsburgh legislators as highly divided, however.

"I don't see [Rep.] Paul Costa trying to be the big man on campus. I don't see [Rep.] Dan Frankel trying to be the big man on campus. I don't see [House Minority Leader] Frank Dermody trying to be the big man on campus," said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans, referring to several Pittsburgh-area Democratic representatives.

"They stick together better than most large delegations," said Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg Republican strategist.

That's not to say there are no ideological or personal differences within the group, but they tend to be united on matters concerning Pittsburgh.

"Generally speaking, when they come to the table, they're cohesive," said Michael Manzo, a vice president at public relations and lobbying firm Triad Strategies, and the longtime chief of staff to former House Speaker Bill DeWeese.

Mr. Frankel, a Squirrel Hill Democrat, said despite his party often being in the minority in recent years, he can point to several major legislative successes for Pittsburgh where he and his colleagues were fairly unified.

Among them: The vote to enable the "drink tax" in Allegheny County, a deal that forced UPMC and Highmark to extend their contract until the end of 2014, last fall's transportation bill including funding for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, and legislation passed in December to control pension costs in Allegheny County.

"We are obviously overwhelmingly Democratic. So there are many issues we can't address: what gets kicked out of a committee, what amendments get proposed. At this point, we don't control either chamber or the governor's office," Mr. Frankel said. "But I'm very proud to stand and say, these are big deal things that we have gotten done. …

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