In what political observers on all sides of the spectrum agreed was a stunning shift to the right, Republicans in Pennsylvania’s state Senate on Wednesday afternoon ousted their longtime leader Dominic Pileggi.
Although the ouster of a state Senate leader is normally not a national political story, the Pileggi saga is the exception. Coming in a state in which Republican Gov. Tom Corbett was badly beaten for re-election November 4 and where centrist Republicans have a long history influence within the party, this shift to the right is particularly newsworthy.
With Senate Republicans (who hold a majority of 30 seats to 20 for Democrats) now expected to wage some spirited battles with incoming Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, the Keystone State GOP may move to replace longtime State Party Chairman Rob Gleason with a more conservative alternative.
Gleason, like Pileggi, frequently infuriated the conservative wing of the state party.
Chester County lawmaker Pileggi — Senate leader since 2007 and someone who has often won praise from Democrats — was replaced by State Sen. Jake Corman of State College, who is considered much more conservative.
"It was a leadership change that needed to take place," State Sen. Scott Wagner of York County, a stalwart conservative, told Newsmax shortly after he and his 29 GOP colleagues emerged from the closed door meeting that deposed Pileggi and elected Corman.
Wagner, who won state and national attention last year by winning his seat as a write-in candidate over two major party nominees, is widely credited with sparking the "palace coupe" against Pileggi. A few weeks ago, Wagner wrote a strongly worded letter to Pileggi, spelling out his pique with the leader because "you will not allow any piece of legislation onto the floor that would in any way be opposed by the public or private sector unions."
"My problem [with Pileggi] was that none of the substantive reform legislation that meant real change went anywhere," Wagner said. "No paycheck protection, no liquor privatization, no end to collective bargaining for public employees."
The York County lawmaker did point out that the paycheck protection measure (which would have guaranteed union members’ rights not to have their dues used for political causes and candidates) got to the Senate floor for a vote on Oct. 15 of this year. The landmark measure lost by a vote of 28 to 20 and, in Wagner’s words, "at least we know who voted for it so we can try again in ’15."
After Wagner’s letter became public, Sen. Don White of Indiana County weighed in with an even more scathing letter to Pileggi.
"Doom for Pileggi was being spelled out quickly," Lowman Henry, president of the conservative Lincoln Institute, told us, "Sen. Corman got into the race about two weeks ago and things quickly moved his way."
Both Henry and Wagner felt that Corbett’s re-election loss was in large part due to his failure to embrace a conservative agenda and the difficulties he had in sending his message.
"The responsibility for the governor losing really goes everywhere," said Wagner. "When he removed the cap on the state gasoline tax, this opened the way for a gas tax increase of nine cents per gallon in each of the next three years. That really cost [Republicans] the no-tax issue."
Wagner, Henry and other conservatives agree that newly elected leader Corman will provide a more aggressive style of leadership and conservative alternatives to what is almost sure to be a left-of-center agenda from incoming Gov. Wolf.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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