Scranton's legacy: He worked the middle and achieved great progress

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The death of an outstanding public servant is more than an occasion for sadness. It is also a nudge toward an appraisal of the lessons of a good life. Such is the passing of William Scranton, who in his one term as governor of Pennsylvania in 1963-1967 set the standard for good governance.

Gov. Scranton, who died Sunday in an assisted living facility in California at age 96, is remembered long after he left politics not only for his record of accomplishment but the enlightened way he achieved it.

He did not lack for challenges. The first was simply getting elected in a state that Democrats had dominated in the past two statewide elections.

But voters liked the freshman Republican congressman who had graduated from Yale and its law school (but only after taking a break to enlist in the Army Air Forces before the attack on Pearl Harbor). It helped that his name spoke of his family's history in the city of Scranton. He won the 1962 gubernatorial race in a landslide against former Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth.

As governor, he faced problems head on. Unemployment? In his one term as mandated then, he cut it from 7.5 percent to 3.6 percent. Deficits? He dealt with a $14.5 million shortfall by winning approval of a sales tax increase from 4 percent to 5 percent and a 15 percent rise in liquor taxes.

He wasn't afraid to spend money to grow the economy and invest in Pennsylvania's future. He supported higher teacher salaries. He opened the first of 14 community colleges and championed the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency to help poor students attend college. He expanded nursing and hospital care for seniors and the needy.

Help for the business community? He expanded research and development grant exemptions and successfully sought unemployment compensation reform.

As well as his public service during and after his time as governor -- including a stint as United Nations ambassador -- history remembers his Quixotic attempt to forestall Barry Goldwater as the party's presidential nominee, a bid undertaken, as Republican grand dame Elsie Hillman said, to "lead our country in a more tolerant and compassionate manner."

And there lies a lesson. William Scranton was a moderate before moderates were hunted out of his party. Yet because he was not bound by the iron chains of conservative ideology that prevent reaching out to the opposition for the common good, he is mourned on all sides as a giant.



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