Freshman senator calls for shake-up of PA Senate leadership

By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

Conservative businessman Scott Wagner already beat the Republican establishment once when he won a write-in campaign for state Senate this past spring.

Now, the brash freshman senator is taking on Republican leadership again.

Wagner, R-York, wants state Sen. Dominic Pileggi out as majority leader, and he made those sentiments clear in a letter he sent to the Chester County Republican on Friday. Wagner accused Pileggi of blocking legislation that could help Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, shutting fellow Republicans out of negotiations regarding the Philadelphia cigarette tax and protecting private- and public-sector unions.

“The bottom line is this: I have concluded that it is not in the best interest of Pennsylvanians for you to continue as Senate Majority Leader,” Wagner wrote to Pileggi.

SEEKING A SHAKE-UP: State Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, wants Sen. Dominic Pileggi out as majority leader.

Wagner wrote that “rather than engaging in back-stabbing and lies” he penned the letter as a “professional courtesy” and that he was allowing Pileggi to respond before he shared the correspondence with others.

Pileggi didn’t respond. Instead, he forwarded the letter to every Republican state senator Monday.

“Enclosed for your information is a letter I received from Senator Scott Wagner on Friday, September 26,” Pileggi wrote in a memo to his caucus. “Please contact me if you have any questions or comments.”

Pileggi was equally brief in a statement issued after Wagner’s letter was leaked to PA Independent.

“I view this as an internal caucus matter, not something to be debated in the media,” Pileggi said through his spokesman, Erik Arneson.

It’s not private anymore. In fact, it marks another public battle between Wagner and the Republican establishment.

Running on a vow to shake up Harrisburg, Wagner claimed his seat in the March special election, with his write-in effort besting the GOP-backed state Rep. Ron Miller and Democratic candidate Linda Small. The race featured plenty of mudslinging between Wagner and Miller, who looked very much like the hand-picked GOP candidate.

That tilt turned out to be the undercard. Now, it’s Wagner vs. Pileggi.

Wagner didn’t expect Pileggi to circulate the letter, but said he saw it as a strategic move that left him “somewhat humored.”

MAN OF FEW WORDS: State Sen. Dominic Pileggi didn’t say much about Wagner’s letter, other than he sees the issues an internal caucus issue.

“I think he opened up a can of worms on himself,” Wagner said, pointing out the letter quickly drew media attention after Pileggi forwarded it to other lawmakers.

Now they all know Wagner’s beef with Pileggi. Much of it centers around Wagner’s contention that Pileggi has been an obstructionist, using his power to block legislation from going to a floor vote even when a two-thirds or more of the caucus wanted a bill to move forward.

Wagner wrote that Pileggi has held up a bill that would ease the state lottery’s profit-margin requirement because he doesn’t “want to give Governor Corbett any victories” and has avoided a vote on so-called paycheck protection legislation that would bar the state from collecting public-sector union dues.

“By prohibiting important legislation from advancing to the floor for a vote, it is apparent to me that you are the number one obstacle in the Senate,” Wagner wrote.

In his interview with PA Independent, Wagner said he would have liked to see a vote on paycheck protection before the chamber passed legislation authorizing Philadelphia to increase its cigarette tax to bolster funding for the beleaguered city school district.

Wagner also said it’s “very apparent” Pileggi has held up paycheck protection because of support from unions, which vehemently oppose the legislation. He cited a May 18 Philadelphia Inquirer report that indicated Pileggi has received $175,000 from IBEW Local 98 during his political career.

While the the same article indicated Corbett received $137,500 from the same electricians’ union, that obviously hasn’t tempered Wagner’s frustration.

Instead, Wagner’s willing to take the job Pileggi has held since 2006. He said that isn’t the mission, though.

“That’s not my motive here,” he said. “My motive is nothing’s getting done. Everything’s getting blocked.”

Staub can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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