The top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, is facing criticism for naming the wife of a colleague to the state’s Gaming Control Board. According to a story in the Allentown Morning Call, it raises questions anew “about whether the regulatory panel has become a lucrative landing ground for the politically connected.” Another local paper, the York Dispatch, called it the “friends and family plan.”
The Centre County Republican appointed Frances Regan to serve a two-year term on the board, one of the higher-paid positions in state government at $145,000 a year. Regan is married to Senator Mike Regan of York. She was sworn in with no announcement or press release about her appointment, the newspaper noted.
When asked for Regan’s resume, board officials at first said they didn’t have one; the next day, they produced a biography of Regan saying she served almost a quarter century with the federal probation office, conducting background and criminal investigations. For the past six years, she has been a small business owner, “holding public and private fitness classes to empower women and their personal safety.”
In a February 2 interview, Corman said he chose Regan because of her background in law enforcement, and added that he interviewed five other people for the job.
“Just because your husband is involved in public service doesn’t mean you shouldn’t,” he said.
Of the 31 people who have been named to the Gaming Control Board since 2004, 16 have either served in state government or legislative jobs or have been state lawmakers themselves, according to an analysis by Spotlight PA.
Just last month, state Rep. Frank Dermody, a Democrat who lost reelection last year, was recruited by House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton to sit on the board, a position that could boost his state pension.
Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said the bar should be higher than usual when it comes to political appointments. “You would expect a clear case to be made,” said Borick, “about why you are the person to add value to an important board. That is the missing link. You don’t see that anymore.”
Regan replaced outgoing board member Merritt Reitzel, who was appointed by Corman’s predecessor, Republican Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County. At the time, her appointment drew scrutiny because Reitzel was the sister-in-law of Scarnati’s then-chief of staff. The state Senate has since hired Reitzel to serve as a lawyer to the committee that oversees gaming regulations, according to Corman.