De­spite failed agenda, Gov. Wolf es­capes voter wrath

The Hamburg Area Item - - Opinion -

Will Penn­syl­va­nia’s Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf win a sec­ond term in the rapidly ap­proach­ing 2018 statewide elec­tion?

Or will he be­come an­other “one term Tom,” los­ing his bid for a sec­ond term, as did his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, Repub­li­can Tom Cor­bett.

Since a con­sti­tu­tional change in 1968 per­mit­ted gov­er­nors to seek a sec­ond term, each has done so, be­gin­ning with Mil­ton Shapp in 1974. And all but one, Cor­bett in 2014, won re­elec­tion, most of them hand­ily.

Polls are of lim­ited use this early. Wolf, how­ever, does not face any op­po­si­tion to a sec­ond Demo­crat nom­i­na­tion in the sched­uled May party pri­mary.

On the other hand, he has at­tracted a field of four GOP chal­lengers so far in­clud­ing state Sen. Scott Wag­ner, House Speaker Mike Turzai, at­tor­ney Laura Ells- worth, and busi­ness­man Paul Mango. Wolf has had a bulls­eye painted on his back since be­ing tagged as Amer­ica’s “most lib­eral gov­er­nor.”

In this de­cid­edly mixed mi­lieu, three fun­da­men­tal po­lit­i­cal fac­tors are go­ing to mat­ter most: the na­tional mood; the im­por­tance of “change” to vot­ers; and the Wolf record.

Wolf’s re­elec­tion cam­paign will play out against the back­ground of the 2018 na­tional midterms. At the mo­ment, this back­ground ap­pears un­usu­ally toxic for Repub­li­cans.

One neg­a­tive for the GOP is the tra­di­tional midterm bias against the pres­i­dent’s party. His­tor­i­cally, the rul­ing party in Wash­ing­ton has lost 30 House seats and four Se­nate seats in midterms go­ing back to the 1930’ s.

Then, too, Trump’s his­tor­i­cally low ap­proval rat­ings loom por- ten­tously.

Many an­a­lysts be­lieve a Demo­cratic “tide” is pos­si­ble, one which would sweep away many GOP in­cum­bents.

But the na­tional mood is nei­ther static nor pre­dictable. With the 2018 elec­tion still more than ten months away much can hap­pen to shift sup­port to­ward Repub­li­cans.

This year, the four Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­cans chal­leng­ing Tom Wolf sound sim­i­lar themes, con­tend­ing that Wolf is just an­other lib­eral, tax- and- spend Demo­crat. One of them, Wag­ner, is run­ning as an un­abashed Trump sup­porter.

Ev­ery elec­tion is a ref­er­en­dum on the in­cum­bent, and this one will be no ex­cep­tion. Wolf’s record is largely en­cap­su­lated within four years of bat­tles with the GOP dom­i­nated leg­is­la­ture over bud­gets, deficits, taxes and spend­ing.

Wolf has not shied away from propos­ing in­creases in statewide taxes such as the in­come tax, and more con­sis­tently a Mar­cel­lus shale tax to deal with the state’s multi­bil­lion- dol­lar deficits.

For Wolf’s first three years, this pro­duced an­nual im­passes be­tween a Repub­li­can leg­is­la­ture and a Demo­cratic gov­er­nor — re­sult­ing in late bud­gets, un­der­funded or un­funded pro­grams, and a morass of short term ac­count­ing gim­micks needed to “bal­ance” the state’s bud­get.

By any fair mea­sure, these peren­nial fis­cal gun­fights have ended in a bloody draw — with Repub­li­cans block­ing any sig­nif­i­cant new taxes - while Democrats led by Wolf have kept state gov­ern­ment’s lights on, but they been frus­trated in ad­vanc­ing other pri­or­ity pro­grams.

While Wolf has, Hou­dini– like, es­caped voter wrath for the fis­cal hi­jinks per­vad­ing Har­ris­burg, he has also failed to sub­stan­tially ad­vance any­thing that could be called a co­her­ent agenda.

Di­vided gov­ern­ment in Penn­syl­va­nia has pro­duced gov­ern­men­tal paral­y­sis, pre­sent­ing per­haps Wolf’s largest threat to re­elec­tion. More than three years of vir­tual trench war­fare with GOP leg­is­la­tors has pro­duced more than three years of stale­mated state gov­ern­ment.

Wolf’s great good luck could be that ap­par­ently many Penn­syl­va­ni­ans like that just fine. G. Terry Madonna is pro­fes­sor of pub­lic af­fairs at Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege, and Michael Young is a for­mer pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics and pub­lic af­fairs at Penn State Uni­ver­sity and man­ag­ing part­ner of Michael Young Strate­gic Re­search.

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