Pa. gu­ber­na­to­rial race: A non-event

The Phoenix - - OPINION - By G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young

Demo­cratic in­cum­bent Tom Wolf is run­ning against Repub­li­can chal­lenger Scott Wagner for Penn­syl­va­nia gov­er­nor. With the tra­di­tional La­bor Day start of the cam­paign, we feel we should say some­thing in­ter­est­ing about it.

The prob­lem is there isn’t much in­ter­est­ing to say so far.

There should be. Both can­di­dates are suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men with sig­nif­i­cant ac­com­plish­ments and im­por­tant things to talk about.

And Penn­syl­va­nia cer­tainly has some ur­gent pol­icy is­sues to dis­cuss.

The gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates just aren’t talk­ing about them.

Yes, Wolf, the Demo­cratic in­cum­bent is lead­ing in the early polls – by dou­ble dig­its ac­cord­ing to the RealClearPol­i­tics av­er­age. And thanks to the state’s no­to­ri­ous gu­ber­na­to­rial lot­tery, AKA, the Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor pri­mary, he has ended up with a col­or­ful, if idio­syn­cratic run­ning mate, the mayor of Brad­dock. Other­wise, Wolf hasn’t said or done much to has­ten the pulse of would be vot­ers.

Wagner, on the other hand, does keep rais­ing pulses a lit­tle, but mostly by say­ing or do­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate things that sur­prise or dis­may some of his own sup­port­ers. Per­son­al­ity wise, Wolf could be a lot more ex­cit­ing while Wagner might be a lit­tle less.

Pol­icy dis­cus­sions have been all but ab­sent in the cam­paign so far – while the in­di­vid­ual pec­ca­dil­loes of both can­di­dates have re­ceived dis­pro­por­tion­ate at­ten­tion. The clos­est thing to a real pol­icy de­bate has fea­tured both can­di­dates making mal­adroit com­ments that have con­fused vot­ers about ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing for­mu­las.

Con­se­quently, this cam­paign has mostly cen­tered upon which can­di­date is rich­est (or poor­est), which is smartest (or dumb­est), which is the bet­ter busi­ness­man (or worse), and which comes from the most (or least) priv­i­leged back­ground.

At least one Harrisburg colum­nist has sug­gested both can­di­dates could be “po­si­tioned,” ac­cord­ing to their name or job: in­cum­bent Wolf be­comes “Wolf­pack” while chal­lenger Wagner gets the moniker “Garbage­man.” Both ef­forts at po­lit­i­cal whimsy re­flect the level of dis­course so far.

So far Gov­er­nor Wolf seems de­ter­mined to keep things at the cur­rent fever pitch of ex­cite­ment by lim­it­ing cam­paign de­bates to a sin­gle one – mod­er­ated by game show host Alex Tre­bek.

Tap­ping the host of Jeop­ardy to moder­ate a soli­tary cam­paign de­bate seems ap­pro­pri­ate since both can­di­dates now seem in jeop­ardy of putting the vot­ers of Penn­syl­va­nia to sleep – while these same sleepy vot­ers seems in even greater jeop­ardy of wak­ing up too late to know an elec­tion is hap­pen­ing.

Can­didly, Wolf may be run­ning an unin­spir­ing cam­paign but Wagner isn’t a great can­di­date ei­ther. (So far, he has threat­ened gays, an­gered la­bor, and pub­licly, al­beit joc­u­larly, sug­gested the Rus­sians will help him against Wolf).

Wolf, how­ever, is not making things bet­ter. His lack­lus­ter cam­paign is the kind of cam­paign that in­cum­bents with large leads of­ten run, trav­el­ing around the state hand­ing out the state’s largess, while count­ing on a big Demo­cratic turnout in Novem­ber to in­sure his vic­tory. His strat­egy is to ig­nore that there is a con­test, im­ply­ing there are no great is­sues to re­solve, no great prob­lems to solve.

Alas, the prob­lems are too real, the is­sues are too clear and the stakes are too high .

State ed­u­ca­tion, how to pay for it and how much to pay is a burning is­sue bound to turn into a rag­ing con­fla­gra­tion dur­ing the next four years;

The state’s chronic long-term fis­cal cri­sis con­tin­ues, with this year as an ex­cep­tion, as each suc­ceed­ing year’s ex­pen­di­tures ex­ceed rev­enues amid a state/ lo­cal tax sys­tem ar­guably the worst in the na­tion.

Both en­ergy pol­icy and en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy ques­tions are rush­ing to the fore­front as the na­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions place more re­spon­si­bil­ity on the states in these ar­eas.

Full and ad­e­quate fund­ing for the public pen­sion pro­grams re­mains un­re­solved.

The next gov­er­nor will in­flu­ence the 2021 re­draw­ing of the state’s con­gres­sional maps al­lo­cat­ing con­gres­sional seats for at least the next ten years.

At this crit­i­cal junc­ture in our state and na­tional pol­i­tics, Penn­syl­va­nia needs and de­serves a full, ro­bust and se­ri­ous gu­ber­na­to­rial de­bate on the is­sues con­fronting it. Wolf and Wagner are not per­fect can­di­dates, nor is our state in per­fect shape or our elec­torate per­fectly in­formed.

That is why we sched­ule gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion cam­paigns.

Right now, we are not get­ting one.

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