- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is facing 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.

The Associated Press on Thursday obtained a letter signed by Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman of Centre County announcing his candidacy for majority leader.

The caucus is scheduled to hold leadership votes Wednesday, and a loss by Pileggi, of Delaware County, 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 the letter presents Corman on a slate of candidates with other Senate GOP leadership holdovers, including President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County. Lehigh County Sen. Patrick Browne, the whip, would take Corman’s place as Appropriations Committee chairman.

“Now, as we prepare to face Governor-elect Tom Wolf’s promise to move the state away from fiscal responsibility, away from focus on the taxpayer, and away from smaller government, we as a caucus must return to the goals set in late 2006,” the letter signed by Scarnati, Corman and Browne said.

Leadership votes are taken by secret ballot, but Pileggi told AP on Thursday he believes he has the support to win.

“If I did not think I would have 16 votes, I would not have circulated a letter asking for support for my re-election,” Pileggi said.

Corman and Pileggi ran for the open post of majority leader in 2006 and Pileggi won by several votes. Corman ran on a ticket with Scarnati, who was elected president pro tempore. But a number of Pileggi’s supporters then have left the Senate in the last eight years and there are many new Republican faces, particularly now that the GOP expanded its majority in the 50-seat chamber to 30 in Tuesday’s election.

The 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 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, Sens. Don White of Indiana County and John Eichelberger of Blair County 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 a May profile story 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 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,” Smucker 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.”

Corman, 50, succeeded his father Doyle Corman in the Senate seat that represents Penn State University’s main campus.

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