“Not a priority.”
That’s what you’ll hear most often when knocking around the Capitol asking about a controversial state Senate proposal to change the way Pennsylvania awards its electoral votes.
But there was Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, lodging his complaints with a formal (and very public) letter to Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who introduced legislation about a month ago that would have Pennsylvania dole out 18 of its 20 electoral votes based on each presidential candidate’s share of the statewide popular vote. The other two votes would go to the winner of the popular vote.
Right now, all of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes go to the popular vote winner.
“As S.B. 538 moves forward, I respectfully urge you to ensure that this bill is considered and debated with complete transparency, allowing for a thorough review by way of public hearings in the Senate,” wrote Casey. “To pass this bill absent appropriate Senate hearings would not be in the best interests of the people of Pennsylvania.”
But the bill is hardly moving forward.
It’s parked in the Senate State Government Committee, where chairman Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) said it will stay for some time.
“We don’t have any specific plans to bring it up for a vote in the immediate future,” Smucker said. “We have a number of bills in the committee, dozens of bills in the committee, and that’s not one that’s on the priority list.”
Erik Arneson, Pileggi’s spokesman, said Senator Pileggi’s goal in reintroducing the bill was "to continue the important dialogue about whether or not the electoral college should be changed and, if so, how.”
So why the letter from Casey?
A spokeswoman from his office said he simply thought the issue was important and he wanted to get his opinion of it on the record.
Larry Ceisler, a Democratic political analyst based in Philadelphia, said the move makes sense, since Casey’s recent reelection means his “motives would not be questioned,” and he wouldn’t be accused of grandstanding with an issue that has proven to be red meat to the Democratic Party faithful.
“Maybe what Senator Casey wants to do is he wants to bring attention to the issue so it doesn’t fly under the radar and then one day, in a coordinated fashion, the Senate, the House and the governor do the legislation,” Ceisler said. “So he might be trying to raise the profile of the issue, keep it in public play, so it doesn’t happen.”
Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna said the profile Casey is trying to raise is his own.
“He’s ratcheted up his profile,” said Madonna, referring to the recent spate of press releases coming from Casey’s office, some of which have publicized events with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey.
Madonna said such a move is hardly questionable after Casey’s most recent election, when he saw his Republican opponent Tom Smith nearly catch up to him in statewide polls.
“We’re seeing a much more aggressive, present Casey,” Madonna said.