What was already shaping up to be a season of change in the Pennsylvania Legislature will be even more so after word emerged that Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati will be retiring at the end of his current term.
Scarnati, a Brockway Republican, has served as the leader of his party in the Senate since 2007; he was first elected to the Senate in 2000 as an independent, defeating both a Republican and Democrat.
In a statement released late Wednesday, Scarnati said he looked forward to spending more time with his family and that he would be “evaluating other opportunities.”
“While I am greatly humbled by those who have once again supported my petition to have my name on the ballot, after many conversations with family and close supporters I have made a personal, and not political, decision that I will not be filing my petitions,” he said. “My concern with leaving office has always been in large part wanting to ensure the 25th Senatorial District is well represented after my departure from the Senate.”
Scarnati’s announcement comes on the heels of a similar decision by House Speaker Mike Turzai last month, meaning that both chambers of the Legislature will have new leadership by the 2021 session even if Republicans maintain their majorities.
The senate president pro tempore – often spoken as “pro tem” when the officeholder is introduced – is technically subordinate to the senate president. The latter job is filled by the lieutenant governor, who generally presides over session but only votes in the case of a tie. As a result, by convention the president pro tempore is picked by the majority party and acts as the chambers chief officer, making committee assignments in concert with the minority leader.
Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, the Senate Majority Leader and possibly next in line to succeed Scarnati, lauded his longtime colleague in a statement late Wednesday.
“We have been fortunate to have Joe’s steady hand at the helm of the Senate, providing critical leadership under circumstances that often were far from perfect,” Corman said. “Joe has set an example for all of us with his unmatched ability to build consensus, encourage civility and ensure common sense would prevail.”
In a news release Thursday, Turzai was effusive in his praise for Scarnati.
“I have been honored to work closely with Joe over the past five years in our respective roles as constitutional officers for our legislative chambers," Turzai said. “I am proud to call Joe a close friend. We have advanced many positive agenda items together to make Pennsylvania a better place to live, work and play for our citizens and communities. He is a proven conservative leader. The Commonwealth will miss his commonsense leadership and forward-looking vision.”
In his statement, Scarnati said he was proud to have worked on many pieces of bipartisan legislation, but he also mentioned his commitment to keeping taxes from rising during his time in office.
“I have always sought to protect working families and their hard earned tax dollars,” he said. “Since the days of Governor Ed Rendell’s Administration, I have actively blocked the massive proposed tax hikes on workers and businesses as proposed by his Administration and others who have followed.”
In contrast to Turzai, who has declined to say for sure if he’ll serve out his current term, Scarnati made clear that he expects to remain in office through the end of the year.
“While the announcement of my future departure comes today, I will still be actively engaged in serving my district and the Senate for the next nine months,” he said. “I also look forward to continuing to lead the effort this year to maintain our Senate Republican Majority.”