In a year of colorful tea-party candidates and voter unrest, the Pennsylvania governor's race has barely registered on the Richter scale - at least in this part of the state.
That's surprising, given the next governor faces daunting challenges that will greatly impact residents. Key issues include yawning budget deficits, a looming pension crisis, and developing coherent tax and environmental policies for the booming gas-drilling industry, which could reshape large swaths of the state.
To be sure, neither major-party candidate has the outsize personality to match outgoing Gov. Rendell. But one candidate does have the experience and track record needed to run a complex government and tackle the tough issues facing Pennsylvania.
That person is DAN ONORATO, a Democrat, whom The Inquirer endorses for governor. As the government head of Allegheny County, which encompasses Pittsburgh, Onorato, 49, has confronted budget deficits and demonstrated an ability to reform and shrink a bloated bureaucracy.
Upon becoming the Allegheny County executive in 2004, Onorato eliminated more than 600 jobs, saving taxpayers more than $30 million a year. He abolished six elected row offices, and worked with the city of Pittsburgh to consolidate services. Onorato has not raised property taxes during his tenure as county executive.
That's a record of reform and fiscal restraint that is needed in Harrisburg, where the next governor will face a budget deficit of up to $5 billion next year.
Having spent his life in Pittsburgh, Onorato is an outsider who promises to take on the political establishment and Harrisburg's culture. He wants to eliminate the legislative leaders' slush fund, cut the size of the legislature, reform the Delaware River Port Authority, and cut business taxes.
Onorato has tried to distance himself from Rendell, whose popularity has plummeted. But he wants to continue to boost funding for public education, which has been Rendell's major initiative.
Onorato has not committed to holding the line on taxes, and supports a tax on Marcellus Shale gas drillers. That's one of the key differences that separates him from Republican candidate Tom Corbett.
Corbett, who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from gas companies, opposes the gas tax, arguing that a tax will undermine the new industry. But the state needs the revenue, and the drillers should pay for the resource they are taking from the ground. A large chunk of the tax revenue would go to mitigate the environmental impact of the drilling.
As attorney general, Corbett, 61, distinguished himself with the investigation and indictments of legislators who gave state employees illegal bonuses. He's been an excellent prosecutor, but has failed to make a compelling case to be governor, other than the idea that it's a Republican's turn.