Western Pennsylvania power hitters on deck in Capitol shift
HARRISBURG — Western Pennsylvania legislators from both political parties could dominate leadership posts in the 2011 Legislature, depending on the outcome of internal elections during the next two weeks.
That could increase the region’s clout in the Capitol.
Three Pittsburgh-area lawmakers could win top posts: Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, likely will become House majority leader; Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, is running for minority leader; and Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, faces Philadelphia Sen. Mike Stack for the Senate minority leader job.
Two Jefferson County legislators are in line to hold the Republican-controlled Assembly’s top posts: Rep. Sam Smith of Punxsutawney is expected to become House speaker, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Brockway likely will be re-elected.
If they win, Western Pennsylvanians would hold five of six top posts. They are filled by secret ballot elections — except for House speaker and Senate president, who are elected in January by their respective chambers. A full list of candidates wasn’t available.
Republicans took control of the House in Tuesday’s election, and the Senate, as expected, remained under GOP control.
In the House, the election results represent a trend toward an increasingly conservative chamber. Republicans gained 12 seats, although results of some races are pending.
“The people out here in the western part of the state are conservative,” said Rob Gleason of Johnstown, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party. “Those (Republican) leaders are conservative.” They are lawmakers who “paid their dues.”
Democratic analyst Larry Ceisler said the emergence of Western Pennsylvania leaders is a coincidence, based on leadership openings.
“We’ve seen more change in the makeup of caucus leadership than ever in our lifetimes,” said Ceisler, referring to what has happened since the 2006 election.
“I think it’s a very sharp group of guys. They’re smart,” Ceisler said. “They’ve outmaneuvered what’s been going on (with voter unrest) the past couple years, and they survived it.”
Dermody never has been “a go-along guy with leadership,” Ceisler said. “He’s had some very tough re-elections. That can make you a better leader. He’s more cognizant of what his members will face, and he knows where the middle is.”
Turzai, who frequently led floor debates for Republicans as minority whip, will “get a chance to show what he can do (as majority leader). He is going to be good,” Gleason said.
A conservative who espouses many of the same no-tax, cut-spending policies as Gov.-elect Tom Corbett of Shaler, Turzai once was called “nuts” by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell for pushing business tax cuts as the state was facing a deficit.
A rising star in Republican circles is Rep. Dave Reed of Indiana County, who engineered this week’s GOP gains in the House as chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee.
“He has a nose for winning elections,” Gleason said. “Everyone likes him. I hate to say a guy like him is a ‘comer’ because he’s almost there.”
Ceisler said the Philadelphia region will retain clout in the General Assembly. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, will continue to hold the Senate’s second-highest post, and both House appropriation chairs will be Philly-area lawmakers: Bill Adolph, a Delaware County Republican, will become chairman, and Dwight Evans will be the ranking Democrat on the committee.
Legislators on the rise
Rep. Mike Turzai
Hometown: Bradford Woods
Likely 2011 post: Majority leader
Of note: Minority whip. Chaired House Republican Campaign Committee in 2008. Former GOP policy chair.
Rep. Dave Reed
Likely 2011 post: Majority policy chair
Of note: A Turzai lieutenant, engineered GOP comeback as House Republican Campaign Committee chair.
Rep. Frank Dermody
Likely 2011 post: Seeking minority leader
Of note: Majority whip. Longtime (former) chairman of Allegheny County delegation.
Rep. Sam Smith
Likely 2011 post: Speaker
Of note: Minority leader. Author of education block grants.
Sen. Jay Costa
Hometown: Forest Hills
Likely 2011 post: Seeking minority leader
Of note: Ranking Democrat on Appropriations Committee. Former Allegheny County register of wills and sheriff’s deputy.
Rep. Mike Vereb
Hometown: West Norriton, Montgomery County
Likely 2011 post: Seeking caucus secretary
Of note: Former West Conshohocken police officer. Ally of Gov.-elect Tom Corbett.
Rep. Stan Saylor
Hometown: Red Lion, York County
Likely 2011 post: Majority whip
Of note: Minority policy chair. Self-described “no-nonsense fiscal conservative.”
Sen. Joe Scarnati
Hometown: Brockway, Jefferson County
Likely 2011 post: Senate President Pro Tempore
Of note: Serving in dual role as Senate president and lieutenant governor since 2008 death of Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll.
Sen. Dominic Pileggi
Likely 2001 post: Senate Majority Leader
Of note: Majority leader and key negotiator for state budgets. Former Chester mayor.
Rep. Dwight Evans
Likely 2001 post: Ranking Democrat on Appropriations Committee
Of note: Chairs Appropriations Committee. Former teacher in Philadelphia.