A father of five, owner of a swimming pool-maintenance business, Bellevue Council member and Air National Guard reservist, Joe Scioscia didn't need to add to his to-do list. As a lifelong Republican, though, he couldn't sit still when he heard that Michael Diven -- a Democrat until last month -- was likely to represent the GOP in a state Senate race. "I'm not convinced he has a Republican bone in his body," says Scioscia.
Now Scioscia is in the race, and his entrance has sparked a Republican insurgency, pitting party faithful against county and state leaders.
After former Sen. Jack Wagner ascended to the auditor general's post in January, Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll scheduled a May 17 special election to fill out his term. In special elections, party committee members from the district choose nominees. Five Democrats hope to win their party's nod on Feb. 27, and Libertarian Mark Rauterkus is running. Republican committee members will choose their candidate Feb. 22.
Initially, local Republicans coalesced around Scott Township Commissioner David Jayson. Then state Rep. Diven, of Brookline, switched parties and announced his intention to run. Senate Republican leadership embraced him. "It's a very difficult seat [for a Republican to win], but with Michael Diven, it's a winnable seat," says Senate Republican spokesman Michael Long, claiming Diven beats likely Democratic candidates in polls.
Diven has long been at odds with his old party's leadership, calling House Democratic leaders "cowards and thugs" in a 2001 e-mail blast, suing the county Democratic Committee over voting procedures, and twice voting against Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's budgets. "There's been a lot of differences I've had with the ultra-liberal side of the Democratic Party," says Diven, who describes himself as a pro-life, pro-gun "moderate Republican."
"He just changed dance partners. That doesn't make you a Republican," says Scioscia, who carried his party's banner in a 2003 bid for county controller. When Jayson dropped out of the race, Scioscia figured the fix was in. But the self-described "fiscally and morally conservative" Scioscia didn't want to see the local party "add another RINO [Republican In Name Only] to the Harrisburg herd." He boasts significant support among committee members -- a claim other party insiders echo.
Scioscia has had a tough time, though, figuring out exactly who the district's 102 committee members are. He says that when he asked for a list, GOP leaders gave him the runaround, then insisted on sending it by snail mail.
"Mr. Scioscia has absolutely no problem at all getting committee lists," says county Republican Committee Chairman Bob Glancy. "He needs to do things in a civil and procedural way." Glancy calls Diven "an interesting young man who has a great deal of support" in the district.
Scioscia knows he's monkeying with Senate Republican leadership's plan to ensure a 10-seat majority in their chamber. He says those plans were made "assuming that Republican Committee people are patsies" -- an assumption he hopes to disprove.