Friday, November 27, 2015

PA politicians bridge partisan divide at State of the Union

Politics sometimes makes strange seat-fellows.

PA politicians bridge partisan divide at State of the Union


Politics sometimes makes strange seat-fellows.

Take the State of the Union address. Republicans and Democrats in Congress have tried, albeit awkwardly, in the past few years to sit together in a show of bipartisanship.

But Pennsylvania may represent a first tonight when state Sen. Anthony Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat, joins Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey as Toomey's only guest at President Obama's State of the Union Address.

Williams said while he was surprised by the call, he was "honored and delighted" when Toomey asked him to join him in the House gallery of the Capitol for the big event.

"I said absolutely," recalls Williams."He asked me if anyone else had asked me to go. I said, 'No one's ever asked me to go to a State of the Union.'"

Williams, who will join Toomey for dinner before the speech and promises to tweet from his seat if he's able (@Sentonywilliams), said he hopes the two set the tone for other lawmakers.

“There is a sense of partisan paralysis and petty bickering that’s immobilizing the country, and my constituents are bothered by it. I’m bothered by it," he said."I hope what Senator Toomey and I are modeling will demonstrate to others that where there are shared interests, common ground can be found – if we try hard enough, and put the people’s business ahead of our own.”

Toomey described Williams as a friend with whom he had worked on the school choice issue.

“Tony Williams is a friend of mine and a hard working legislator for the people of Philadelphia and Delaware County. I have been pleased to work with him over the years on education reform and job creation,” said Toomey. “Along with Senator Williams, I look forward to listening to President Obama’s ideas on the serious challenges we face. Hopefully, there will be ways we can work together to leave to our children a stronger, safer, and more prosperous nation.”

With the president expected to hammer hard on some sensitive issues like gun control measures and immigration, Williams conceded the two seat mates may not be clapping at the same points in the speech.

"I still think there are things we can agree on, " said Williams, who is sponsoring a bill in the state Senate to require guns be registered in Pennsylvania.

That one's probably not on Toomey's list of issues they can agree on.

But maybe they could reach agreement on other gun violence issues. Williams says. "I think we could both support increasing funding for an illegal gun task force to provide more funding for local police to crack down on illegal weapons." 

Senator Bob Casey's guest tonight, drum roll please, will be his wife, Therese.


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Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.

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