Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate voice within the House Republican conference, announced months ago that he wouldn’t run for reelection this year. This morning, though, he announced that would instead step down “in the coming weeks.” Dent has been consistently frustrated with House Republican leadership for, oh, about the last eight years, and perhaps decided that the next eight months weren’t worth it. Or he landed a TV gig or some other job and needs to skedaddle.
In departing two-thirds of the way into his term, Dent leaves the state of Pennsylvania with a confusing decision about how to fill the vacancy of a seat that won’t even exist in the next Congress.
According to the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s office, the state’s election code requires the governor to call a special election “when the vacancy occurs during a session of Congress or if the vacancy occurs at a time when Congress is required to meet any time prior to the next general election.” In other words, Dent’s seat can’t just remain vacant for the rest of the congressional session, and there will have to be a special election. The governor has within 10 days of the vacancy to set the special election date, which must occur at least 60 days after the governor issues the writ.
Since it’s getting a little late in the calendar, the governor could decide to save taxpayer dollars and hold the special election concurrently with the general election in November. There’s very recent precedent for this in Pennsylvania. Former Rep. Chaka Fattah, who currently resides in a federal penitentiary, resigned on June 23, 2016, and the governor set the special election for Election Day. Dwight Evans, his replacement, won both the special and general elections. That allowed him to be sworn in earlier than, and gain seniority over, other freshmen elected at the same time. (Congress members are typically sworn in after the new year.)
But Evans was running for the same district in both of his elections. Since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the state’s congressional maps earlier this year, the special election to replace Dent will cover the current contours of the 15th District. Most of the current 15th District, though, will be absorbed into the new 7th District in the next Congress.
If Governor Tom Wolf decides to hold the elections concurrently, then, someone could be running for two seats on the same day—the old 15th district, and the new 7th district. Or separate candidates could run for each district, with the winner of the special serving a two-month lame-duck session before retiring, like Dent, to spend more time with his or her family.