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Pa. Sen. Scott Wagner resigning his seat to focus on governor's race

Sen. Scott Wagner to resign from state Senate next week to focus on the governor's race.

Scott Wagner speaks to supporters in York, Pa., after winning this month’s Republican primary for governor.
Scott Wagner speaks to supporters in York, Pa., after winning this month’s Republican primary for governor.Read moreJose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

HARRISBURG — Republican gubernatorial nominee Scott Wagner will resign his seat in the state Senate next week to focus on his attempt to take Gov. Wolf's job.

Wagner, a millionaire businessman and owner of a York-based trash-hauling company, submitted his resignation letter late Wednesday to Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson). In it, he wrote that his last day in the Senate will be Monday, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Inquirer, Daily News, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Wagner could not be reached for comment. But in a statement, campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said: "Scott realizes that the way he can bring about the most change and do the most good for the commonwealth is to devote all his time and energy toward getting elected governor and giving Pennsylvanians a different choice."

Wagner will give a farewell speech on the Senate floor when the chamber resumes its work Monday, Romeo said.

Wagner, a self-described Capitol outsider and fiscal conservative who often draws comparisons to President Trump, beat out two challengers in this month's primary to take on Wolf, a Democrat, in the November election.

Since announcing his candidacy in 2016, Wagner has tried to paint Wolf as a tax-and-spend liberal who lacks the leadership skills required to get important work accomplished in the Capitol.

Wolf's campaign supporters have countered with attacks on Wagner's policies and his temperament, calling him a bully with no experience in governing. Wolf, they say, has been able to work with the Republican-dominated legislature to push through major initiatives, including more money for public schools, breaking the state-run monopoly on the sale of wine, and legalizing medical marijuana.

Political observers say the Wolf-Wagner matchup will be bruising and expensive. Both men are wealthy and have the ability use their own money to finance their campaigns.

The governor's reelection campaign was quick to jump on Wagner's latest move. "Scott Wagner is only interested in furthering his own political ambitions, but his resignation does not erase his long record of supporting education cuts for our children, rolling back health care for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, and throwing seniors out of their nursing homes," said Beth Melena, communications director for the Wolf campaign.

Wagner's sometimes brash style (he once threatened to carry a baseball bat to ensure his Republican colleagues voted in line with him) combined with his access to campaign money has made him a rising  — if unlikely — force in state Republican circles.

He became a senator through a write-in campaign, winning a March 2014 special election without the support of major state GOP players. That November, he was elected to serve a full four-year term.

The establishment was quick to take notice. Shortly after his election, he was given the plum job of running the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee for the 2015-16 cycle, a position that gave him a prominent seat at the table in choosing candidates and propping up their campaigns with cash.

While he was at the helm of the SRCC, the Republican Party grew its already solid majority in the Senate to 34 seats in the 50-member chamber — the largest majority since 1949-50.

Wagner advocates smaller government and limiting spending, and has said that public-sector unions have too much influence in Harrisburg. At the same time, he has struck more moderate stances on some fiscal and social issues, proposing raising the minimum wage and supporting antidiscrimination protections for LGBT residents.

The lieutenant governor, who presides over the state Senate, can call a special election to fill Wagner's seat until the November election. It could not be immediately learned whether Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, a Democrat, intends to do so.