On Friday at the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg, an official portrait of the Commonwealth’s 45th governor, Edward G. Rendell, will be unveiled. The unveiling comes after years of resisting the time-honored practice, as Ed Rendell abhors ceremony for the sake of ceremony and values the posterity of his policies far beyond the posterity of his portrait.
Having been governor of Pennsylvania, we both know that Rendell was anything but a typical governor. Indeed, stories of his tenure still amuse and excite the chattering class in the halls of the Capitol on any given day.
His now legendary first budget was finalized just in time for Christmas, but the holdout was worth it in Rendell’s mind as the $21.4 billion spending plan invested $1 billion in education, economic development, and environmental programs he strongly believed would propel the state forward.
When he left office, his tenacity and investments had already begun to pay off. At the time, nearly 300,000 more Pennsylvania students were performing at grade level; eighth-grade reading scores were the best in the nation; the state introduced publicly funded pre-K, unemployment was below the national average, and , nearly two-thirds of the state’s schoolchildren gained access to full-day kindergarten. In the spirit of always moving the needle, regardless of politics, Rendell also raised the minimum wage for the first time in a decade.
Like administrations before him, Ed Rendell was dogged on cutting waste. He ultimately saved taxpayers $1.75 billion through streamlined government sourcing and by trimming state agencies to the bone. Stories of low-budget business cards and senior staffers buying their own pens rippled across the executive offices to the lucky few who collected a “Stolen from the Desk of Governor Rendell” pen — paid for out of Ed’s own pocket.
A legacy program from the Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker administrations, Growing Greener II helped keep Pennsylvania near the top of national rankings for clean energy efforts. When he left office, Rendell had protected 385,000 miles of land and Pennsylvania ranked third in the nation for green energy jobs and second in the nation for solar industry jobs.
Rendell, building on the groundwork laid by previous governors, delivered property tax relief to the state’s seniors. Through his never-rest work ethic and perseverance, he and the Pennsylvania legislature eliminate property taxes for 120,000 seniors and cut school taxes in half for another 108,000. Today, the intent of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act is being delivered.
When you ask Pennsylvanians how Rendell performed as a governor, they usually remember his legendary love of sports. People like to say that he is just like them — like any average guy who they might like to share a beer with. Indeed, he is, but he is also the teetotaling governor who banned smoking in restaurants and public workplaces, and lifted the state restriction on Sunday beer and wine sales.
Rendell is a straight shooter who has practiced brilliant politics throughout his career to advance his steadfast convictions. As governor, he continued to invest in existing programs implemented by his predecessors despite their political origins, and many of his policy initiatives are still working on behalf of residents.
His portrait is a monument to his time leading our great commonwealth, just as the 44 governors who preceded him, and those who followed after. While the portrait will be forever on display for posterity’s sake, we suspect that his boundless energy, infectious charm, good humor, and everlasting presence will continue to buzz through every hamlet, city, and town he visited across Pennsylvania. He achieved the implementation of some of the most impactful policies in Pennsylvania, borne out of his unwavering conviction that every soul matters and that any challenge can ultimately be solved.
Tom Wolf is the 47th governor of Pennsylvania. Mark S. Schweiker is the 44th governor of Pennsylvania.