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Top Pa. Senate Republican: Seat elected Democrat despite residency dispute

The effort to to stop Democratic state Sen.-elect Lindsey Williams of Allegheny County from being seated Jan. 1 appears to be over, as the top leader of the Senate Republican majority recommends she be allowed to take office.

Pennsylvania state Senator-elect Lindsey Williams looks over a map and some photos as she settles into her new office in Glenshaw, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pennsylvania state Senator-elect Lindsey Williams looks over a map and some photos as she settles into her new office in Glenshaw, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)Read moreAP, Keith Srakocic

PITTSBURGH — The state Senate’s top Republican announced Friday he will recommend that Democratic Sen.-elect Lindsey Williams be seated with her fellow legislators on New Year’s Day, bringing to an apparent end a months-long GOP effort to disqualify the western Pennsylvanian over a residency dispute.

In a letter to Williams on Friday, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati noted that the constitutional requirement that legislators must live in Pennsylvania for four years before being elected has not been settled by the courts and that “no precise constitutional definition of residency exists,” according to a release from his office.

Williams won the 38th District seat in Allegheny County by about 800 votes in November, but some Senate leaders said she had not lived in the state long enough to qualify and raised the possibility of barring her from taking office. A native of northeast Pennsylvania, Williams moved to Maryland in 2008 but maintains she moved back to Pittsburgh to take a job on Nov. 6, 2014 — exactly four years before this fall’s Election Day. At the GOP’s request, Williams submitted more than 100 documents that she said proved she met the requirement.

In his letter, Scarnati said that he presumed the documents to be truthful, but that if any conflicting information emerges, the issue could be revisited on the Senate floor.

Williams praised the GOP leaders as “extremely fair and thorough” and thanked them. “I understand that they needed to take their time and do their due diligence and review the materials I submitted,” she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “and I appreciate that. I’m glad they came to the same conclusion I’ve stated all along, that I do meet the residency requirements.”

The apparent resolution of the dispute came on the same day activists held demonstrations across the state to demand she be allowed to take office, accusing the Republicans of seeking to subvert the will of voters. The residency questions were aired during the campaign.

Inside the Allegheny County Courthouse at noon, a group of demonstrators gathered — a few big political names in tow, including Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) — to publicly “remind” the GOP to respect democracy.

“We have elections in this country … they are often vicious. They’re often tough. But at the end of the day, when the voters speak, that’s when we congratulate the victor,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. "We accept what the voters say, even if we don’t agree with it.”

More than 3,400 people had signed a petition Friday morning circulated by Keystone Progress that calls on the GOP to “stop trying to steal a Senate seat with a dubious, partisan claim.”

“Any attempt to deny her the seat she won is a desperate distraction by a shrinking caucus on the verge of losing all of its power,” the petition reads.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party had been asking activists to call Republican legislators and read from a phone script that includes the phrase, “Put the partisan politics aside and let Lindsey Williams serve. If you don’t, it’s Republican seats — not hers — that’ll be in danger come next election!”