The choice between the two Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates couldn't be more dramatic: mild-mannered, steady-handed incumbent Tom Wolf vs. brash, pugilistic Republican challenger Scott Wagner.
We'll take the calm one.
Tom Wolf gets our endorsement not just for his demeanor, but because he has made strides on some important issues in the face of some serious disadvantages.
When Wolf first ran in 2014 he was a (relative) political outsider, a business owner with a Ph.D. who promised to bring reason and business acumen to Harrisburg. Campaigning on restoring cuts to education, he managed to push a Republican governor out of office, even with a Republican-dominated General Assembly — making Tom Corbett the first one-term governor since 1967.
During that first campaign, Wolf insisted that he wasn't daunted by the prospect of a legislative body prepared to fight him on everything. Yet, what followed was a series of state budget debacles that dragged out the process, cost municipalities, and led to a credit downgrade for the state. In 2017, the state actually borrowed $1.5 billion to balance the budget.
The inability to effect great change when it comes to crafting the state budget or for turning the ship of state in a new direction is a weakness of the Wolf administration. The state suffers from sluggish economic growth, underfunded schools, crumbling infrastructure, and a tragic opioid problem.
That the state has managed to encourage the growth of two industries, casinos and fracking, and still has to borrow to make a budget is pathetic. (Wolf is not the first governor who has failed to get an extraction tax passed.)
Of course, this failure is inextricably bound with the failure of the legislature to act. Or to find ways to be effective with those not within their own party. It's fair to expect leadership from a governor, but it's also fair to call out a legislative body that has had years to perfect its resistance to cooperation, as it hones its knee-jerk acceptance of the status quo.
Wolf gets credit for keeping a consistent focus on the opioid crisis, declaring the opioid epidemic a state emergency. He bumped up education spending by more than $2 billion, though that fell short of what's necessary. He increased the minimum wage for state workers and the employees of state contractors. He immediately expanded Medicaid coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act. He imposed a gift ban for executive-branch employees. He remains one of the grown-ups in the room, and given who populates the room, that's saying a lot.
The best we can say about his opponent is that Wagner is entertaining to write about. He publicly threatened to stomp Wolf's face in with golf spikes, and recently, referring to the Honduran immigrant caravan, blamed Wolf for the "oncoming mob of illegal aliens." He has little experience in public office. We did agree with him that a debate between candidates would be a good thing – something that Wolf refused to agree to, aside from one disastrous event hosted by Alex Trebek. That said, it makes Wagner's refusal to agree to an endorsement meeting with this board a bit surprising.
Still, the choice is clear. For Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf is the choice for governor.