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John Baer: Sen. Scott Wagner, the trashman, formally announcing run for governor




It’s no insult to call Scott Wagner a trashman.

He owns the title. It’s what he does. It’s how he made his millions.

And it’s no stretch to suggest his politics track his profession. He wants to haul away the collected garbage of bureaucracy — as trashman-in-chief.

So for two days, Wednesday and Thursday, the maverick, rabble-rouser, first-term Republican state senator plans a route across the state to formally announce a run against incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf for governor in 2018.

It’s been expected. And he’s got reasons.

Spending is out of control. In Harrisburg, metaphorically, “the bathrooms and toilets need cleaned and nobody wants to do it;” state government’s “plagued with entrenched bureaucracy” and it’s “starving” for leadership.

“I’m gonna rock their world,” he says.

The 61-year old York County trash, trucking and recycling magnet (he owns three companies with 600 employees) already is a political force.

He made state history in 2014 as a write-in winner in a Senate race in which his party opposed him.

Through aggressive, some say bullying, tactics he forced out a moderate Senate leader, now Judge Dominic Pileggi of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

Then, with his checkbook, he backed select conservative candidates to increase the Senate GOP to its first veto-proof majority in nearly 70 years.

More recently, he led a move that shuttered some state Unemployment Compensation call centers, which led to 500-plus layoffs. Mr. Wagner blamed Mr. Wolf, saying the centers lacked “fiscal responsibility.”

“I’m here to change the status quo,” Mr. Wagner tells me in a pre-announcement-tour interview.

He’s a conservative, anti-union workaholic who travels in a “mobile office,” a chauffeured van with a desk. He hates government regulations and snipes at teacher salaries: “Teachers in my district average $88,000 for 180 days” of work.

He’s a self-made multimillionaire with no college degree. But he’s not predictably hard-right and he’s certainly no insider.

He supports increasing the minimum wage. He backs enacting laws against LGBT employment and housing discrimination. He won’t seek a second Senate term. And he thinks lawmakers shouldn’t get automatic raises: “We don’t do that in the private sector.”

If you’re thinking, hmm, successful, outsider, brash businessman sounds familiar, you’re right; though he insists he was Trump-like before we saw what Trump’s like.

Mr. Wagner is to announce his candidacy at six small businesses, including a bakery and a donut factory, in six counties but not in Philly.

Three (Blair, Schuylkill, York) are Republican; three (Bucks, Erie, Westmoreland) are Democratic. But five of the six voted Trump. And Clinton only narrowly won Bucks.

This is no scheduling accident.

Yet Mr. Wagner says he’ll stump in every county and have full-time staff in Philly. He’s also says he’ll write his campaign a “seven-figure” check.

Why is he out front a year ahead of time?

Likely to scare off others, build his name ID and keep voters who gave the state to Trump interested in non-traditional office-seekers looking to shake thing up.

Oh, and he’s not above trash-talk.

He says Mr. Wolf “has no leadership or vision.” He says, though several others are considered potential GOP candidates, he doesn’t care who else runs: “I’m a racehorse. Ever see a racehorse out front looking back to see who else is there?”

And as to Paul Mango, a wealthy Western Pennsylvania businessman who The Inquirer reports is looking to run as a Republican? Wagner says, “Word is he’s got $10 million to spend. He’ll lose, and some consultant will get $2 million of it.”

Look, next cycle’s a long way off. Mr. Wagner’s certain to have primary company and Mr. Wolf’s certain to offer a strong reelect bid.

What’s uncertain is whether the state, after one year-plus of President Trump, still wants leadership next time akin to the type it wanted last time.

John Baer is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.


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