GOP fight brewing in state Senate over majority leadership
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is expected to face a challenge to his leadership for the first time in eight years – a move that signals growing conservative influence in the powerful Republican caucus just as Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf prepares to take office.
Republican senators told The Associated Press on Thursday that they expect Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman of Centre County to challenge Pileggi, of Delaware County.
The caucus is scheduled to hold leadership votes Wednesday, and a loss by Pileggi would shift influence at the top of caucus leadership away from Philadelphia’s politically moderate suburbs and to the more conservative central Pennsylvania.
Corman did not respond to requests for comment. But Sens. John Eichelberger of Blair County and Don White of Indiana County said Corman has confirmed his intentions to them in conversations as recently as Wednesday.
Corman ran against Pileggi for the open post of majority leader in 2006 and lost by several votes. He ran on a ticket with Jefferson County Sen. Joe Scarnati, who was elected president pro tempore. But a number of Pileggi’s supporters have left the Senate in the last eight years and there are many new faces, particularly now that it expanded its majority by three seats to 30 in Tuesday’s election.
The 50-seat Senate largely has been under Republican control for the last 34 years. It long has been viewed as a moderate body, but that may be changing.
The expected move by Corman follows caucus contention over its failure to pass major legislation overhauling public pension benefits and privatizing the sale of liquor and wine, White and Eichelberger said.
Conservatives also were unhappy over resistance by southeastern Pennsylvania Republican senators to holding floor votes on legislation they favored. That included bills to curtail the ability of public-sector labor unions to collect dues or political action committee contributions and to allow the National Rifle Association to sue municipalities over firearm control ordinances that are tougher than state law, White and Eichelberger said.
“I think we’ve had some issues in our caucus the last year or so, not being able to push things across the finish line, and it got frustrating for some of us,” White said.
In an April profile on Pileggi, Philadelphia Magazine called the 56-year-old former Chester mayor “the straight man of Pennsylvania politics” and it quoted former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell calling Pileggi “the most powerful person in Harrisburg.”
Lancaster County Sen. Lloyd Smucker sent a letter last week to fellow Republican senators defending Pileggi’s leadership. In it, he said Republican senators have allowed “outside groups and commentators” to drive caucus decisions and he warned against letting disagreement over a select set of issues imperil Republican leadership.
“A successful challenge (to Pileggi) will certainly cut a deep rift in the caucus,” he wrote. “The outcome conceivably could involve gaining nominal control and losing operational control. Hard to see how that qualifies for a victory for anyone, including the outside groups agitating for upheaval, though they tend to count wins and losses differently than we do.”