HARRISBURG – Two years ago, Gov. Wolf lost a pitched battle with the Republican-controlled legislature over his controversial choice to head the Pennsylvania State Police.
This week, the Democratic governor quietly elevated that onetime nominee, Marcus Brown, to an executive office position with oversight over state public safety, criminal justice, and emergency preparedness agencies -- effectively giving Brown purview over the agency lawmakers once refused to allow him to lead.
Brown will become Wolf's liaison on public safety, helping to advise and coordinate communications and policy involving the Pennsylvania State Police as well as the Department of Corrections, the Board of Probation and Parole, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and other departments.
Brown said he viewed his role more as a coordinator than a supervisor, stressing that the heads of the agencies are the ones who call the shots and report directly just to one person: the governor.
"Each secretary is more than qualified to run their agency," he said late Tuesday, adding, ''In some ways, although it's a new role, it's an extension of what I've been doing already ... working with agencies to coordinate to ensure a good, smooth response by the state" on public safety.
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott stressed that the position is not new: Brown, who became the director of the governor's Office of Homeland Security after his state police commissioner nomination was rejected by the Senate in 2015, will be taking on the duties of a former deputy chief of staff who switched jobs as part of a personnel shuffle in Wolf's executive circle.
He also said that Brown's new duties do not come with a pay bump and that Brown will continue to oversee the Homeland Security Office, which was established in 2012 to help coordinate statewide terrorism preparedness and response.
"This is an attempt to utilize Marcus Brown's incredible experience in public safety and emergency management to benefit the citizens of the commonwealth," Abbott said Monday. "Marcus has been an important adviser on public safety and emergency management for the last two years — this is just an expansion of that existing role."
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) noted that the Senate's concerns about Brown in the past were enough to lead the chamber to reject his nomination as state police commissioner. The vote was largely along party lines. It was the first time in recent memory that Capitol staffers and others could recall the full Senate shooting down a governor's cabinet pick.
"Marcus Brown did not get the support of the Senate to be the commissioner of the state police," Corman said. "But if the governor wants to put him in a different role, that is his discretion."
Within the ranks of the state police, though, there has been private grumbling as word filtered out about Brown's new role.
Despite a lengthy law enforcement career that included leading the Maryland State Police, Brown's nomination faced fierce resistance from the start.
A group of retired troopers and their supporters waged a vocal campaign, organized largely through social media, to torpedo Brown's confirmation.
Later, the union representing active troopers also said it lacked confidence in Brown's ability to lead the state police, one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the country.
The union declined to comment on Brown's new role Tuesday.
Much of the controversy two years ago swirled around Brown's decision to wear the Pennsylvania State Police's gray uniform despite never having attended the agency's academy. The decision was viewed as a sign of disrespect to those who have gone through the ranks of training.
But there were also questions about a tax break he received on one of his homes while heading the Maryland State Police. And a controversy erupted after Wolf nominated him when he was captured on video removing signs that criticized him that had been placed along a public roadway.
Democrats have said they believe that Brown, despite his impressive resumé, became collateral damage in Capitol politics in part because he had a long history of making organizations for which he has worked more racially diverse.
Wolf, too, stood by Brown. After the Senate's rejection, the governor tapped him for the homeland security post, which pays $146,935 annually.
Wolf then named Tyree C. Blocker, a retired state police major, to be the state police commissioner.