However a young Tom Wolf persuaded Indian farmers to adopt high-yield rice strains - a feat he portrayed as proof of his capacity to cultivate a hostile legislature - it probably didn't involve forcibly yanking the old crop out of the fields. And yet by unceremoniously firing a longtime legislative aide chosen to head the state's public-records office, the Democratic governor appears to have driven a bulldozer into the Republicans' rice paddy.
Just two days after he took office last week, Gov. Wolf rescinded more than a score of recent nominations to boards, judgeships, and other positions. The most prominent was that of Erik Arneson, a longtime aide to Senate Republicans who had been named executive director of the Office of Open Records. Former Gov. Tom Corbett appointed Arneson and the rest on his way out the door, following a political tradition that's time-honored if not particularly honorable.
There is something refreshing about Wolf's resistance to backward-looking politics as usual. But particularly in Arneson's case, the governor's worthwhile statement of principle creates more problems than it solves.
Besides unnecessarily provoking the Republican legislators he has to work with, Wolf made a poor choice of villains. Having helped develop the state's Right-to-Know Law while working for its sponsor, Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), Arneson has relevant experience for running the office that enforces the law. He has also worked extensively with the press, a prime constituency of the records office, and earned a reputation for straight shooting.
Most important, Arneson's position comes with a six-year term designed to make it independent of the governor - a necessity given that the office handles disputes between those seeking public records and the executive branch officials who don't always want to divulge them. Wolf's contention that he has the power to fire the director at will threatens to effectively emasculate the office.
Arneson has made a point of showing up for work anyway - even occupying a legislative intern's desk - and Senate Republicans sued the governor on his behalf this week. That put the dispute in Commonwealth Court, which should move to protect the records office's integrity. Better yet, Wolf could admit that in his zeal to signal a departure from eleventh-hour political appointments, he mistakenly trampled a qualified choice for an office that must be protected from gubernatorial whims, however well-intended.