Gov. Tom Wolf gets re­minder of his role

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE -

Gov. Tom Wolf was re­minded by Com­mon­wealth Court that he can’t leg­is­late by ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

Gov. Tom Wolf got a rude re­minder re­cently that he is not Barack Obama; just be­cause some­thing flies in Wash­ing­ton, there’s no guar­an­tee it will get off the ground in Har­ris­burg.

The bucket of cold wa­ter was tossed by Com­mon­wealth Court.

It soaked Wolf’s at­tempt to gov­ern by ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

By­pass­ing Congress has been a hallmark of Obama’s reign. You may re­call, for ex­am­ple, that right af­ter he was re­buked by vot­ers in the 2014 con­gres­sional elec­tion, the pres­i­dent didn’t sulk or pout. In­stead, he sent a de­fi­ant mes­sage to resur­gent Repub­li­cans by an­nounc­ing that he would by­pass Congress and act on his own to al­low up to 4 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants le­gal work sta­tus, and give an ad­di­tional 1 mil­lion pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion. It was one of the most widereach­ing ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions in his­tory.

Wolf, a Demo­crat, also finds him­self sad­dled with a Gen­eral Assem­bly dom­i­nated by Repub­li­cans.

So, tak­ing a page from the Obama play­book, he tried is­su­ing his own ex­ec­u­tive or­der. In a sop to Big La­bor, he tried to force union­iza­tion on thou­sands of home care work­ers.

But Com­mon­wealth Court, in a rul­ing handed down Sept. 22, said that the gover­nor had ex­ceeded his con­sti­tu­tional author­ity. Why? Be­cause his ex­ec­u­tive or­der was tan­ta­mount to “de facto leg­is­la­tion.”

Younger read­ers, who have grown up in a political en­vi­ron­ment that fo­cuses al­most ex­clu­sively on the pres­i­dent, may not read­ily grasp what’s wrong with this. Isn’t Congress just some­thing that in­ter­feres with the ex­ec­u­tive? And, like­wise, isn’t the leg­is­la­ture just a build­ing full of politi­cians who say “no” to the gover­nor?

But, as those of us who were sub­jected to classes like “civics” or “POD” (Prob­lems of Democ­racy) in high school were taught, our gov­ern­ment is sup­posed to be made up of three co-equal branches: a leg­is­la­ture, an ex­ec­u­tive and a ju­di­ciary. In fact, that’s the or­der in which they’re listed in both the state and U.S. con­sti­tu­tions: • the leg­is­la­ture makes the laws;

• the ex­ec­u­tive sees that the laws are im­ple­mented and en­forced;

• the ju­di­ciary re­solves ques­tions and dis­putes aris­ing from the laws.

Ex­ec­u­tive or­ders undo this del­i­cate bal­ance by en­abling the pres­i­dent or gover­nor to ig­nore the elected leg­is­la­tors.

Pres­i­dent Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt, who served from 1933 un­til his death in 1945, holds the all-time record for ex­ec­u­tive or­ders: 290.

Since then, his Demo­cratic suc­ces­sors have been more in­clined to is­sue them than have Repub­li­can pres­i­dents, but lead­ers of both political stripes use them.

But Wolf’s Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 2015-05, which tried to cre­ate a means for home health care work­ers to union­ize, was erased by Com­mon­wealth Court. The judges ruled that the Wolf or­der “in­vades the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a di­rect care worker and the em­ployer par­tic­i­pant who re­ceives per­sonal ser­vices in his or her home.”

“Ac­cord­ing to our con­sti­tu­tion, each branch of gov­ern­ment has spe­cific du­ties, and the ex­ec­u­tive’s job is to im­ple­ment or en­force the law, not make law,” said Rep. Mau­ree Gin­grich, a Le­banon County Repub­li­can who chairs the House La­bor and In­dus­try Com­mit­tee. “This is what we have been say­ing all along: The gover­nor may not leg­is­late by ex­ec­u­tive or­der.”

Wolf is­sued that or­der just two months af­ter tak­ing of­fice. It clearly was his way of send­ing a mes­sage to both friends and foes that he in­tended to use what­ever means avail­able to ad­vance his pro­gres­sive agenda.

Since then, Wolf has been schooled in political hu­mil­ity. It started with the bud­get last year when the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship held its troops in line for nine months while dick­er­ing with the gover­nor.

The Com­mon­wealth Court rul­ing is an im­por­tant sec­ond les­son, re­mind­ing Wolf that he was elected gover­nor of an Amer­i­can state, not the strong­man dic­ta­tor of a ba­nana repub­lic.

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