Funny how when there’s even a thread of common sense woven into the torn fabric of Pennsylvania politics, we get a glimpse of possible repair.
Such a thread was started last week when the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that could change the way our lieutenant governors end up in office.
A small thing, granted.
But the politics of a state impact the governance of a state, and even minor improvements in politics can be good for all.
Especially when you’re among America’s worst-run states: The latest U.S. News & World Report rankings put Pennsylvania in 38th place.
Plus, the change in question is sensible. And you, the voters, get to decide. How often does that happen?
The change would end the current cockamamie system that has our candidates for No. 2 run separately from gubernatorial candidates in primary elections.
This is a system that can, and does, lead to forced political marriages. And messy mismatches in general elections and incumbency.
Remembrances of that in a bit.
The bill in question lets gubernatorial candidates choose their running mates, as presidential candidates choose theirs, after securing a party nomination.
The Senate vote was 46-2. The only “no” votes came from one of the Senate’s longest-serving members, Philadelphia Democrat Vincent Hughes, and one of the Senate’s newest members, Montgomery County Democrat Katie Muth.
Some hard-core pols are coy and noncommittal. Understandable, because the change would mean less politics.
State GOP boss Val DiGiorgio says, through a spokesperson, he plans to discuss it with state committee members and leadership.
State Democratic chief Nancy Patton Mills says, “We are a long way from this reality and the debate will continue. These changes are ultimately decided by the voters, as they should be.”
She’s right about that.
The bill is a first step in amending the state constitution. As such, it must pass both chambers in two successive sessions, then go to voters as a ballot question.
It’s been tried before. Sponsored, then and now, by third-term Sen. David Argall (R., Schuylkill), who says he senses more receptivity this time.
“I do,” he says. And why? “Practice, trial and error. And we were able to get the bill moving more quickly.”
Quickly enough to get it done in time for the next gubernatorial election, in 2022.
Also, House leadership in both parties sounds optimistic.
House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler’s spokesperson, Mike Straub, tells me, “It’s a proposal the leader is open to.”
Democratic Minority Leader Frank Dermody’s spokesperson, Bill Patton, says, “Most on the Democratic side do see the logic of the idea.”
I’ll bet they do.
Argall’s original attempt last session was based on the, let’s say, difficulty Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf had with his primary-voter-picked running mate, former Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.
That 2014 winning ticket was not a good pairing.
Wolf is arguably the least political, least entitled Pennsylvania chief executive ever. He doesn’t take a salary or live in the governor’s mansion.
Stack, a patented product of Northeast Philly politics (enough said), lost reelection in 2018 following reports that he and his wife, Tonya, were abusive to their security detail and domestic staff at the LG’s mansion near Harrisburg.
Wolf’s current lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, won a five-way primary in which Stack finished fourth. Fetterman opted not to live in the LG’s mansion.
Democrats no doubt also recall the, um, team of Gov. Ed Rendell and the late Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll. As different as night and day.
He was the uber-pol, policy wonk, aggressive/progressive Guv. She was the lovable, popular-with-old-school Dems, pioneering woman in state politics. But sometimes politically maladroit.
More than once she referred to Ed as “Edward G. Robinson.” She traveled with her small dog, Boomer Baker Knoll. She attracted national news by attending, uninvited, the funeral of a slain Marine, where she passed out her business cards.
So, there’s proof the current selection method is flawed. There’s reason and opportunity to change it. And even though it’s a minor fix to a system in need of an overhaul — think voting reforms, gerrymandering, term limits, campaign-finance reform, etc. — it’s a step in the right direction.