Sen. Orie wins leadership post

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HARRISBURG -- Jane Orie of McCandless, a former Allegheny County assistant district attorney, wasn't even in the state Senate six years ago. Now she's the third-ranking leader.

Ms. Orie, 45, who was elected to the Senate in a special election in 2001, yesterday became Republican whip in the new two-year legislative term that starts in January. She defeated Sen. John Gordner of Columbia County in a secret ballot for the No. 3 post.

Ms. Orie is part of a youth movement -- at least in political terms -- that took over the GOP caucus yesterday. Sen. Joseph Scarnati, 44, a Jefferson County business owner, was chosen for the top spot of president pro tem. He succeeds departing Sen. Robert Jubelirer of Altoona, who lost in the May primary as a result of his support for the repealed legislative pay raise.

The president pro tem would become acting lieutenant governor if something happened to Gov. Ed Rendell and Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll had to step up.

The GOP caucus obviously had geographical balance in mind for its new leaders, choosing Sen. Dominic Pileggi, 49, the former mayor of Chester in Delaware County, as majority leader, the No. 2 leader, who runs the day to day voting calendar in the Senate. Another member of the team, Sen. Gibson Armstrong of Lancaster, will run the powerful Appropriations Committee. Ms. Orie's job as whip will be to round up votes for GOP-sponsored bills.

The three top GOP leaders are relatively new to the Senate. Mr. Scarnati won a special election in 2000, running as an independent to replace former GOP Sen. William Slocum, who had been sent to jail. Mr. Scarnati, whose family owned restaurants, personal care homes and a motel in Jefferson County, won re-election in 2004.

Mr. Scarnati defeated two challengers for the top spot, Sen. Jeffrey Piccola of Dauphin and Sen. Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery. Mr. Piccola reportedly left the GOP caucus room in a huff after losing.

Mr. Pileggi won a special Senate election in 2002 and re-election in 2004. Ms. Orie won a special election in 2001 to replace former state Sen. Melissa Hart of Pittsburgh's North Hills after she was elected to Congress. Ms. Orie was re-elected in 2002 and this year.

Senate Democrats retained their top three leaders yesterday: Minority Leader Robert Mellow of Lackawanna, Whip Michael O'Pake of Berks and ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee Vincent Fumo of Philadelphia.

Ms. Orie said she had campaigned hard for the whip post since the Nov. 7 election. She said a southwestern Pennsylvania person was needed in GOP leadership, because Senate leaders in recent years didn't include someone from the Pittsburgh area. She said Sens. John Pippy of Moon and Bob Regola of Westmoreland County supported her bid. Ms. Orie also thought a woman was needed in leadership.

She said she is the first female senator elected to one of the top three spots.

"We need a strong voice for southwestern Pennsylvania," Ms. Orie said. "There had been a void there" in Senate leadership. She called her election "huge for Allegheny County."

She didn't specify exactly what regional projects she would pursue, other than to vow to strengthen funding for roads, bridges and mass transit.

However, she, like most other state legislators, declined to say what taxes she would increase to raise the necessary funding.

She, like most other legislators, has not embraced a new transportation panel report calling for a 12.5-cent increase in the gasoline tax and higher vehicle registration fees.

Ms. Orie has taken strong positions on other controversial issues, including voting against the legislative pay raise in July 2005 and pushing to amend the state's casino gambling law by eliminating the middlemen called slots suppliers.

Mr. Scarnati didn't say much about what Senate Republicans will seek in the new term, other than the usual GOP call to "create jobs, expand the tax base and keep spending under control." Mr. Armstrong said he would seek to limit state spending in 2007 to no more than the statewide inflation rate.

Mr. Scarnati did say that as a businessman, he began work at 8 a.m. and may seek to have senators begin their deliberations over bills in the morning rather than late afternoon, as has become the custom.

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at or 717-787-4254.


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