Posted: Monday, January 5, 2015 12:15 am
By Lowman S. Henry
For the past four years, Republicans have had a partisan, if not governing, majority in all parts of state government. In a couple of weeks a new Democratic governor will take office, ushering in an era of divided government. Given that the GOP was stymied while holding the governor’s office, what are the odds anything of significance will be accomplished over the next four years with Tom Wolf in that position?
Here are three possible scenarios ordered by their increased likelihood of actually happening:
Scenario 1: Newly installed Gov. Tom Wolf abandons the far left-wing positions he adopted last spring to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary and adopts a pro-growth strategy. For starters, he shelves the labor union’s approach to the state’s public pension crisis and admits there actually is a problem. He works with the Republican majorities in the Legislature to adopt comprehensive pension reform, and then moves incrementally to loosen the state’s monopoly on the wholesale and retail distribution of wine and spirits, thus generating the revenue needed to increase funding to education and other Democratic spending priorities.
Scenario 2: With enhanced majorities in both the state House and the state Senate, buttressed by more conservative leadership in both chambers, Republicans press for and pass pension reform, liquor privatization, paycheck protection and other policy priorities held hostage by a minority of southeastern GOP legislators in the last session of the General Assembly. Despite the fact Gov. Wolf vetoes all of these measures, Republicans draw a bright line in the sand demonstrating to voters the difference between their pro-growth agenda and the Democrats’ big government agenda.
Scenario 3: Gov. Wolf, emboldened by the far left ideologues on his staff and united Democratic caucuses in both chambers, pushes forward a union-dominated agenda and crusades for higher taxes. A majority of Republicans in both chambers stand firm, but amid media criticism labeling the GOP as “obstructionist,” enough Republican legislators in both chambers break ranks and give Wolf the votes he needs to enact his agenda.
The latter scenario is what played out during the Rendell administration, when Democrats stood united and labor unions were able to peel off just enough Republican votes to achieve their goals. During those years, House Republicans were the bulwark against run-away spending, but weak GOP leadership in the state Senate coupled with the power of southeastern Republicans beholden to the unions shattered Republican resistance.
But the playing field has changed a bit since Rendell retreated to the City of Brotherly Love. For starters, although voters rejected Tom Corbett’s bid for a second term, they embraced the Republican agenda by sending enhanced GOP majorities to both chambers. For a variety of reasons, GOP legislative candidates tilted further to the right in 2014, and that proved to be electorally successful.
More importantly, the composition of the state Senate’s Republican caucus has changed dramatically. The union-backed Republican Majority Leader Domenic Pileggi was ousted by the more conservative Sen. Jake Corman. Republicans trounced Democrats in traditionally Democratic districts, picking up two seats in southwestern Pennsylvania. And, exposing as fraudulent the excuse that southeastern Republicans have to toe the union line to get elected/re-elected, newly minted state Sen. Tom McGarrigle defeated an actual labor union leader to win an open seat in Delaware County.
Tom Wolf ran a campaign that was big on ideas and lacking in specifics. That leaves him a bit of wiggle room, but at least at the onset his administration is likely to push the broad agenda outlined during his campaign. The tenor of the next four years will become clear in the GOP response to his policy initiatives. The big question to be answered is will this be a replay of the Rendell years, where each battle ends with Republican capitulation, or have the voters effected enough change for the GOP to stand firm behind the policies on which they campaigned?
My only prediction is we won’t have to wait long to learn the answer.