The two Democrats on the Bucks County Board of Commissioners are hoping that their record of bipartisanship and fiscal restraint will help earn them another term in office as they look to build off their party’s wins in this year’s midterm elections.
Next year’s election will determine whether Democrats retain control of the three-member board or cede power to Republicans while both political parties wrestle for an advantage heading into the 2024 presidential election cycle.
Board Chair Bob Harvie and Vice Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia, both Democrats, launched their joint reelection campaign this week, saying they hope to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to connect residents with essential services.
“We both see government service as something that’s noble – that a government has an obligation to serve its constituents in the best ways it can. And I think we’ve each seen how powerful a force it can be,” Harvie said in an exclusive interview with City & State.
Harvie and Marseglia flipped control of the board in the 2019 municipal elections – the first time Democrats won a majority on the board since the 1980s. The other member of the board is Republican Gene DiGirolamo, a former state representative.
Marseglia, who has been a commissioner since 2008, said being in the majority has given Democrats a chance to enact their vision for the county – one marked by expanding services without raising taxes.
“A lot of times I’ve been kind of thwarted in my interest in trying to change things in the county and improve things, but it has been much better in the past few years working with Bob – and even our other partner – to get some things done,” Marseglia said of DiGirolamo.
She cited the development and expansion of a “co-responder” program that sends social workers out alongside police officers to connect people in crisis with social and mental health services. She also touted plans to build a new crisis and stabilization center, as well as a county-run forensic mental health facility designed to help those experiencing mental health crises.
“We knew we wanted to try and do what we could to expand the services of county government to the people of Bucks County, and I think we’ve been very successful in doing that,” Harvie said.
Harvie also said he and Marseglia are committed to helping businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic by distributing pandemic recovery grants to them.
Since county commissioners also double as the county board of elections, the duo jointly vowed to continue to administer smooth and safe elections. “The single most pressing issue is that we have to make sure that we are having free and fair elections,” said Marseglia.
Strategists and political operatives view Bucks County as a key political bellwether that could forecast broader political trends to come. Axios recently named Bucks County as one of four “must-win” counties for the GOP in 2024, adding that “the epicenter of any GOP comeback in Pennsylvania starts in Bucks County.”
State Sen. Steve Santarsiero, who chairs the Bucks County Democratic Committee, acknowledged the reputation that Bucks County has earned in political circles.
“If Pennsylvania is the Keystone State and the key to national politics, then clearly Bucks County is the Keystone County and the key to Pennsylvania,” he said. “We are the last swing county in the Philadelphia region.”
“Bucks County is very interesting in that it is the one collar county that remains a swing county/lean-Republican county” in the Philadelphia region, said Sam Chen, a Republican political strategist who founded The Liddell Group. He noted that the city’s collar counties have become solidly blue in recent years – except for Bucks.
Chen hypothesized that Republicans still see success in the county because the Bucks County Republican Committee runs candidates that are more reflective of the county’s ideological makeup.
“These are palatable Republicans. They understand the assignment. In other words, the GOP in Bucks County understands that this county is not going to elect a Tea Party candidate – so they don’t run them.”
Pat Poprik, chair of the Bucks County Republican Committee, said she expects Republican candidates to begin announcing their candidacies after the holidays.
She criticized how Harvie and Marseglia handled the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that the board of commissioners needs to limit spending and improve transparency.
Poprik also said that Republicans will be focused on flipping the board back to GOP control as the party works to convince voters that the GOP is fiscally responsible and will “keep government out of your face.”
“I think Republicans have shown that we are much more adept at managing the resources we have and not getting over our skis and doing stuff that we’re going to have to pay for later,” she explained. “You put all these programs on and then what happens later when the windfall of the COVID and all this stuff is not there?”
Marseglia and Harvie will have some momentum heading into the new year: They quickly received endorsements from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and state House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton. McClinton said the two Democrats “fought to make county government work for Bucks residents and they have delivered,” while Casey said the duo has made county government “transparent, responsible and responsive.”
But Republicans will look to counter that narrative as the election heats up, while also placing an emphasis on the importance of the Board of Commissioners itself.
“The commissioners have a lot of impact on your everyday life. People won’t miss voting for president. They won’t miss voting for governor, but what impacts their everyday life is their local supervisors, their local commissioners and their school boards,” Poprik said.
Democrats will also be heavily focused on ensuring voters turn out, Santarsiero said, setting up a local battle that will precede a presidential election cycle that will run through Bucks County.
He emphasized that Harvie and Marseglia “are motivated by working to help people and that’s why they ran initially, and that’s what they do on a day-to-day basis, and that’s why they’re running for reelection – and I think their record speaks to that,” Santarsiero said. “It’s going to be a hard-fought race. It’s going to be an expensive race, but it is one that I am I’m confident we’re going to win at the end of the day.”