Jake Corman

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman

A Republican senator from Williamsport is challenging Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, of Centre County, for the Senate’s top position, saying leadership should not have close alliances with consulting firms or special interest groups.

Sen. Gene Yaw, a Lycoming County lawyer, sent a letter to all GOP senators Wednesday asking for votes in next week’s race for Senate Pro Tempore against Corman, a Republican long believed to be the heir apparent to Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, who is retiring.

Yaw promised "leadership which does not function as an island."

Allegiance to any special interest group while running the Senate “is just inappropriate,” Yaw also wrote in  a letter obtained by The Caucus, LNP Media Group’s state capitol publication.

Yaw, 77, stressed he had no “ill-will” toward anyone in the current leadership and promised transparency under his leadership for rank-and-file members.

“My candidacy is about creating a new vision and leadership philosophy for our caucus,” Yaw wrote. “It is about listening to our committee chairs. It is about keeping members informed. It is about utilizing the expertise of our caucus members.”

“I will assure you that I have no allegiance to any lobbying organization, political consulting company or special interest group,” Yaw wrote.

His remarks apparently were a veiled reference to the close relationship Corman has with lobbyist Ray Zaborney, founder of The Mavericks, whose clients include VGT (Video Gaming Terminals) interests.

With little warning, Corman, backed by Scarnati, proposed a vote in June on a measure legalizing thousands of VGT terminals at clubs and taverns. They are currently allowed only at truck stops.

Corman, 56, declined comment through a spokeswoman. Zaborney also would not comment.

The sudden emergence of a VGT bill available only in draft form aggravated some  senators. The bill was never brought to a vote due to lack of support at that time, The Caucus and Spotlight PA reported.

The leadership election could take place behind closed doors as early as Tuesday.

Thousands of skill game machines already exist in gas stations and sandwich shops. None are taxed.

Yaw filed a bill to regulate and tax skill games. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

The VGT industry and Pace-O-Matic have been waging a stepped-up behind the scenes war for political support.

In June, Corman had said his effort to expand VGTs would also have regulated skill games.

The skill games industry objected to the tax rate.

In August, The Caucus and SpotlightPA reported that Corman was the featured speaker at a fund-raiser held at a California golf report in March to help a nonprofit political group that Zaborney launched six years ago. The Growth and Opportunity Fund was registered at Zaborney’s Harrisburg business address. It is a dark money group. Most of its contributions are not publicly available. Jen Zaborney, Ray’s wife and business partner, organized the fund’s golf outing.

A month after that story was published, Corman hired a partner at Zaborney’s firm, Krystjan Callahan, as his chief of staff in the Senate, The Caucus and SpotlightPA reported.

Callahan, former chief of staff to ex-House Speaker Mike Turzai, was hired because of his experience, Corman’s spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said at the time. Corman should not have been precluded from hiring the best person for the job, she said.

The President Pro Tempore runs the institution of the Senate and is typically a powerful voice on legislation and the state budget. The Majority Caucus - Republicans -- chooses the Pro Tem. In January, the full Senate -- Republicans and Democrats -- vote on each party’s  nominee.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Yaw has been a client of Long Nyquist & Associates.