“There’s a grow­ing wave and mo­men­tum in rec­og­niz­ing how se­vere in­equal­ity is in our coun­try.”

Pro­gres­sive turned prag­ma­tist gover­nor

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page - — JOHN FET­TER­MAN

HAR­RIS­BURG — Since cruis­ing to vic­tory two months ago to win an­other four years, Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf has signed ex­ec­u­tive or­ders to push re­dis­trict­ing re­form and re­duce car­bon emis­sions, and de­clared that the state needs to take a se­ri­ous look at le­gal­iz­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana.

Nearly ev­ery time, lead­ers in the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture, with whom Mr. Wolf has been at a de­tente since his first, tu­mul­tuous year in of­fice, com­plained that the gover­nor was do­ing an end-run around them to ad­vance his lib­eral views.

So when Mr. Wolf, 70, takes the oath of of­fice at his sec­ond in­au­gu­ra­tion Tues­day, the ques­tion many will be ask­ing is: Who will show up to take the oath? The politi­cian who launched his first term as an un­apolo­getic pro­gres­sive or the more prag­matic states­man he be­came?

Sit­ting in his of­fice last week, Mr. Wolf ap­peared al­most amused at the ques­tion.

“I’m pretty much the same per­son I was when I got here four years ago,” he said.

“I think there are al­ways peo­ple who are on the alert for things they might not like, and we do have di­vided gov­ern­ment,” he added. “… But I think that’s more a func­tion of just the re­al­ity of par­ti­san party pol­i­tics in Har­ris­burg.”

Still, for Mr. Wolf, the next four years are it. He said he will not run again for pub­lic of­fice after he ful­fills his term — a fact he called “lib­er­at­ing.”

And though he won de­ci­sively in Novem­ber — cap­tur­ing nearly 58 per­cent of the vote and even win­ning some coun­ties that had trended Repub­li­can in past gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions — the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate for

push­ing through his agenda is not par­tic­u­larly fa­vor­able.

Repub­li­cans lost seats in both leg­isla­tive cham­bers, but they still hold com­mand­ing ma­jori­ties in the Se­nate and House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. And the GOP law­mak­ers who re­main are more con­ser­va­tive be­cause some of their more mod­er­ate col­leagues, many from the Philadel­phia suburbs, were de­feated by a “blue wave” of vot­ers this past Novem­ber.

Mr. Wolf talks openly about his goals: pro­vid­ing ad­e­quate fund­ing for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, tack­ling the opi­oid epi­demic, and strength­en­ing gov­ern­ment ethics, among other ini­tia­tives.

But lurk­ing in the back­ground once again are fi­nan­cial strains, not un­like the ones the gover­nor faced through­out his pre­vi­ous term. The state is pro­jected to have a $1.7 bil­lion short­fall in the fis­cal year that be­gins July 1, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis late last year by the state’s In­de­pen­dent Fis­cal Of­fice.

Few ex­pect a re­peat of his first year in of­fice, which was marked by a bruis­ing, nine-month show­down with the Leg­is­la­ture over the state bud­get. At the time, Mr. Wolf had pro­posed a bold but con­tro­ver­sial plan that would have over­hauled how Penn­syl­va­nia taxes its res­i­dents. Leg­isla­tive Repub­li­cans hated it. Mr. Wolf stuck to his guns for months, un­til it be­came clear that, po­lit­i­cally, he wasn’t go­ing to win the bat­tle.

After that, Mr. Wolf took a less com­bat­ive tack in his deal­ings with the Leg­is­la­ture, which al­lowed him to strike deals on big-ticket pol­icy items like pen­sion re­form, liquor pri­va­ti­za­tion and med­i­cal mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion.

“I think when he came into of­fice, there was a bit of over-op­ti­mism on his part,” said Chris Borick, di­rec­tor of the Muh­len­berg Col­lege In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Opin­ion. “You have to have enor­mous amount of trust across both sides of the aisle to get gi­gan­tic re­forms done, and I think he un­der­es­ti­mated how hard that would be.”

To Mr. Wolf’s credit, Mr. Borick said, he adapted: “He rec­og­nized that he would have to be more in­cre­men­tal in terms of changes he could achieve. And his recog­ni­tion and nav­i­ga­tion of that re­al­ity al­lowed him to be pretty suc­cess­ful.”

Still, since the elec­tion, Repub­li­cans have been closely watch­ing Mr. Wolf, who will be joined by a new un­der­study: Lt. Gov.-elect John Fet­ter­man, who is among the most out­spo­ken lib­eral elected of­fi­cials in the state.

Mr. Wolf’s cre­ation, through ex­ec­u­tive or­der, of a re­form com­mis­sion to study ways to limit par­ti­san­ship in re­dis­trict­ing elicited howls of com­plaint from Repub­li­can leg­isla­tive lead­ers. Their prob­lem, they said, is that Mr. Wolf is step­ping into ter­ri­tory the con­sti­tu­tion gives squarely to the Leg­is­la­ture, which has the power to draw con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive dis­trict lines.

Then, late last month, Mr. Wolf said he be­lieved it was “time for Penn­syl­va­nia to take a se­ri­ous and hon­est look at recre­ational mar­i­juana.” Prior to that, Mr. Wolf had said he did not be­lieve the state was ready for that step, which would re­quire the Leg­is­la­ture’s sig­noff.

Repub­li­cans re­acted swiftly and fiercely, with Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Jake Cor­man, R-Cen­tre, call­ing Mr. Wolf’s po­si­tion “reck­less and ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

Mr. Cor­man is among those who will be lis­ten­ing in­tently to see whether the gover­nor, in his in­au­gu­ral speech, drops any clues that sig­nal a change in the way he will ap­proach gov­ern­ing.

“I’d be ly­ing if I didn’t say I wasn’t a lit­tle con­cerned,” Mr. Cor­man said in an in­ter­view last week. “The last two years, he worked well with the Leg­is­la­ture. Though we didn’t agree on ev­ery­thing, we got sig­nif­i­cant things done.”

Gov­ern­ing by ex­ec­u­tive or­der, Mr. Cor­man noted, will not win him al­lies.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Jay Costa, D-Al­legheny, said he be­lieves that Mr. Wolf can ad­vance a more pro­gres­sive agenda, but that the is­sues he cares about also res­onate with many Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

When Mr. Wolf steps onto the stage Tues­day to de­liver his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, he is widely ex­pected to show­case what he and the Leg­is­la­ture have ac­com­plished, de­spite deep ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences.

He also is ex­pected to do some po­lit­i­cal chest thump­ing of his own, dis­cussing progress his ad­min­is­tra­tion has made in at­tack­ing the opi­oid epi­demic, ex­pand­ing Med­i­caid, and help­ing se­niors live at home as they age.

But he said he also wants to talk about democ­racy.

“This is the his­to­rian and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist com­ing out in me, but I keep com­ing back to the ex­per­i­ment that was launched in Philadel­phia,” he said. “That democ­racy in the United States is one per­pet­ual ex­per­i­ment and that we have to keep reaf­firm­ing the val­ues that make that democ­racy work.”

He added: “That’s what I tried to do the first four years and that’s what we all have to con­tinue to try and do in the next four years.”

Alexan­dra Wim­ley/Post-Gazette

John Fet­ter­man takes a walk with his sons Karl, 9, right, and Au­gust, 4, on Tues­day on the West­more­land Her­itage Trail in Traf­ford. Visit post-gazette.com for a video re­port. In­side: Gov. Tom Wolf looks ahead to his sec­ond term,

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.