Democrats in Pennsylvania cheered Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s ouster last week. But winning the governorship may not assuage the loss of their top Republican ally, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who was deposed in a GOP leadership election on Wednesday.
Notwithstanding the Republican governor’s 10-point defeat to Democrat Tom Wolf, Republicans picked up eight seats in the state House and three in the Senate. The gains bolster the GOP majority in the Senate to 30-20 and 119-84 in the House. That’s not strong enough to override a veto, but Democrats will now have a hard time passing legislation merely by picking off some moderate Republicans.
Many of Mr. Corbett’s governing priorities, such as pension reform and liquor-store privatization, foundered in the statehouse because of intraparty squabbles between his caucus’s moderate and conservative wings. Public unions were able to block reforms by bribing or browbeating a couple of Republican senators or a dozen or so House members. Democrats often used Mr. Pileggi as their liaison.
The Senate Majority leader was known to act as a double agent, publicly backing legislation while working behind the scenes to kill it. Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has described Mr. Pileggi as “the most powerful person in Harrisburg.” Conservative state Sen. Scott Wagner described him earlier this year as “the number one obstacle in the Senate.”
Last week another conservative, state Sen. Jake Corman, announced plans to challenge Mr. Pileggi for majority leader. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, who appears to have tired of being upstaged by his second-in-control, gave the challenger his blessing and backing. Although Mr. Corman lost to Mr. Pileggi in a leadership fight in 2006, he avenged his defeat this year.
Mr. Pileggi’s defeat reasserts conservative supremacy and further marginalizes Democrats in the statehouse. Mr. Wolf’s best hope of enacting a progressive tax and other liberal priorities was to work with Mr. Pileggi to bribe other moderate Republicans with pork. Mr. Pileggi’s district has been one of the biggest recipients of earmarks.
The loss also squashes Mr. Pileggi’s own gubernatorial and Senate ambitions. As someone wryly remarked to us, imagine if only the political career of a rising state senator from Illinois had been nipped in the bud.
By ALLYSIA FINLEY, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 13, 2014