By Dick Miller
WE.CONNECT.DOTS: Sunday, November 8, 2015 – Is Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in a race to the bottom for who can be the least effective Keystone Chief Executive?
At least in modern times, that distinction now belongs to Tom Corbett. In the previous four-year term (2011-15) he had solid control of both houses of the General Assembly. Republicans ruled the roost, but Corbett failed to dent the strength of government labor unions, privatize liquor sales or the lottery, or reduce personal or property taxes.
Republican governors in other “blue” nearby states (Ohio and Wisconsin the most notable examples) were far more successful in delivering a national GOP strategy designed to make it easier to put one of their own in the White House in 2016.
Corbett’s signature accomplishment was to trash public education. This was ultimately the reason he was the first PA governor to fail to win a second term.
Last year Wolf entered the mix with a simplistic objective.
Using his own money he handily defeated three other “heavyweights” in the 2014 Democrat gubernatorial primary. He believed that if he campaigned primarily on restoring a balance between state and local funding of public education he would be the next governor.
Wolf did it his way and was elected.
Sometime in late summer or early fall when Corbett transitioned from the race “leaning Republican” to “Corbett doesn’t have a ghost of a chance,” Wolf continued to pour it on. Believing that if he won with a huge mandate (which he did) Wolf could waltz into Harrisburg and have his way.
Wolf could not have been more wrong.
In 2006 when it became clear that Democrat Ed Rendell would sweep to re-election over Lynn Swann and Bob Casey was going to remove Rick Santorum from the U.S. Senate by an equally impressive margin, local Democrat leaders got the call. “Re-direct all Democrat resources for the balance of the campaign to help legislative candidates.”
Wolf did not do the same in 2014.
As a result, there were two conflicting mandates at last year’s state elections.
Wolf may have sent Corbett packing, but Republicans increased their margins in the General Assembly. The GOP won eight more House seats and three more in the Senate, increasing their margins to the largest in both chambers in decades.
(In the only state legislative “special” election Tuesday, Republicans won another Senate seat. The 31-19 margin enjoyed by the GOP is the largest since 1932.)
The best excuse Wolf could offer if engaged is that no amount of effort on his part could offset a brutal re-apportionment of legislative district lines by the opposition party and an increasing tendency for Western Pennsylvania to vote conservative.
That said, Wolf introduced his first and only budget where he proposed raising most existing taxes, impose some new ones and – in total – erase all the damage Corbett did in four years in his (Wolf’s) first year in office. That budget was “dead on arrival” the day he presented it for adoption to the legislature.
It has shown no signs of life as we are now in our fifth month without an operating program for state government. Illinois, where the new governor is a neophyte Republican and the legislature is solidly Democrat, remains the only other state without a budget.
There are only two versions of a budget on the table – Wolf’s and the second by the GOP legislative leadership. Democrat legislative leaders are not in the mix. Wolf does not consult with them for reasons unknown.
Nothing is more “underwhelming” than Wolf’s advancement in political savvy and power.
After his primary victory last year, state Democrat Committee rejects his choice, Katy McGinty, as the new party chair. Wolf opted instead for a separate and confusing second statewide political apparatus committed exclusively to creating his mandate.
The Wolf Committee, under McGinty’s leadership, seemed more intent on collecting funds intended for the state committee while providing lip service to joint campaigns with local legislative candidates.
Elected in November, Wolf’s first appointment was McGinty as Chief of Staff. Obviously, McGinty was Wolf’s first choice to help carry out his mandate, including his first budget.
Rare for any governor, he dispatched McGinty statewide to promote the budget. Chief of Staff for most Governors is seldom remembered. Here’s Mrs. McGinty serving as Wolf’s budget explainer to local business groups.
Then when national Democrat bosses decided Joe Sestak was “too independent” to be their choice to unseat GOP Senator Pat Toomey next year, Wolf releases McGinty – in the middle of this budget battle – to run for that seat in 2016.
Bottom Line: What is more important? The budget or pleasing Democrat bosses in Washington. What the hell ever happened to “duty first?”
With the recent installation of Marcel Groen as state Democratic chair, Rendell will be running Pennsylvania next year for Hillary Clinton. Wolf will be a figurehead. McGinty was a Rendell cabinet member.
Wolf obviously concluded his “second” choice for Chief of Staff would be able to get his budget through the legislature as easily as his first.
Next week, learn why any budget settlement – no matter how soon — only kicks the can further down the road.