FILE PHOTO: Joe Scarnati

HARRISBURG — The top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate announced late Wednesday that he is not running for reelection, becoming the second ranking GOP lawmaker in the Capitol to seek retirement in a pivotal election year.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said in a statement that his decision was “personal, not political,” and that he looked forward to spending more time with his family after nearly 20 years in the legislature.

“I have worked with five governors and throughout this time I am proud to have been a leading advocate for rural Pennsylvania values,” Scarnati said in a statement.

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He declined to comment further when reached by phone Wednesday evening.

Though he largely worked behind the scenes, Scarnati has for the better part of a decade helped set the policy agenda in the Capitol. Unlike some Republican leaders in the Capitol, he was widely viewed as able to compromise with Democrats at a time of increasing partisanship.

His willingness to work with Democrats at times became a double-edged sword, with more conservative Republicans complaining that he compromised core GOP ideology for the sake of cutting deals.

Early in his tenure in leadership, Scarnati also came under scrutiny for accepting a free trip to the Superbowl from a natural gas driller (he later said he intended to repay the company).

And last year, a series by Spotlight PA and The Caucus revealed that Scarnati topped the list of lawmakers who shielded lavish campaign spending — including overseas trips and expensive meals — by not reporting the details to the public.

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Scarnati is the second top Republican in as many months to announce his retirement. Earlier this year, House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said he will not run for another two-year-term.

The retirements are expected to be a blow to GOP fundraising efforts in a critical election year. Outside the policy arena, Scarnati, like Turzai, had been a prolific fundraiser for Republican legislative candidates across the state. It is a role he was widely expected to step into again in this critical election year, when Democrats in both chambers are seeking to take the majority from Republicans.

Scarnati’s announcement came just days before the state’s deadline to file petitions to get on the ballot. Several candidates are expected to vie for his seat.

John “Herm” Suplizio, the city manager of the town of Dubois in Scarnati’s district, was introduced earlier this week at the Elk County Republican Party meeting as Scarnati’s replacement candidate.

Grace Jesberger, a longtime member of the Elk County Republican Party, said in an interview Wednesday night said that state Rep. Cris Dush (R., Jefferson) was at the meeting, and spoke to members about his interest in running for the seat. He left nomination papers behind, she said.

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"I am running," Dush, of Jefferson County, told The Caucus. Dush is serving his third and final term in the state House as a result of a term limit promise. The GOP lawmaker said he had made a commitment not to run against Scarnati. Dush is abandoning a bid for auditor general. 

Members of the Elk County Republican Party are “shocked and heartbroken that we will be losing Joe,” Jesberger said.