The Philadelphia region is the state's most densely populated and economically productive, yet it is a lightweight in the statehouse because its delegation lacks unity, vision, and leadership.
That must change as the federal government shirks responsibility and dumps programs on the states. Those that can't make up the inevitable loss of federal aid will suffer the most.
Health care for the elderly, low- to moderate-wage workers, and the poor is about to come under attack by President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress, which has long tried to unspool the Affordable Care Act, as well as repackage Medicare and Medicaid to hide cuts. Cuts will reverberate throughout the state, but hit more people in this region.
That puts tremendous pressure on legislators from Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, and Chester Counties. But they cannot rise to the challenge unless they change their stature in Harrisburg. The leadership lineup for the legislature's next session proves they've got a lot of work ahead of them.
Two of seven Republican Senate leadership positions are held by Chuck McIlhinney, of Bucks County, and Bob Mensch, of Montgomery County. Beyond that, local influence goes off the cliff. Philadelphia Democratic Sens. Vincent Hughes, Anthony Williams, and Larry Farnese have half of the six party leadership positions in the Senate but their caucus is so outnumbered, it's almost irrelevant.
The House is worse. Only Rep. Marcie Toepel, of Montgomery County, has a leadership position among fellow Republicans and only Rep. Rosita Youngblood, of Philadelphia, holds a Democratic leadership position.
With so little clout, the delegation must band together as a metropolitan coalition whose votes can put key legislation over the top or kill it. They must create their own powerful caucus that looks past party, racial, and city lines. If they don't know how to become a voting bloc, they should crack open a history book.
And they need to get some self-respect before demanding respect in Harrisburg. Regional legislators shouldn't let Philadelphia Democrats passively watch admitted felon Rep. Leslie Acosta run for re-election, and Rep. Vanessa Brown and Sen. Farnese run for office as they defend themselves against corruption charges. Regional legislators have to demand that while their colleagues deserve the presumption of innocence, they have no right to their seats if in defending themselves they can't devote their full attention to the public's needs.
The metropolitan area doesn't need the same old weak-kneed politicians siloed in their parties. It requires strong, focused advocates able to execute a plan that protects and advances the region's interests.