Pennsylvania voters face two unsatisfying options in this year’s race for governor. The Democratic candidate, York businessman Tom Wolf, is untested. The Republican incumbent, Tom Corbett of Shaler, already has failed the test of a first term.
Try as we might, it is impossible for the Post-Gazette to endorse either Mr. Wolf, the former state revenue secretary who revived his family’s cabinet manufacturing firm, or Mr. Corbett, who was appointed once and elected twice as state attorney general before becoming governor. Despite extensive interviews with the candidates, both of whom are 65, we believe that neither possesses the strong leadership skills that Pennsylvania needs in a chief executive.
Despite his experience as an elected official, Mr. Corbett became governor four years ago as a novice in dealing with the Legislature, and he never figured out how to win the allies and exert the influence he needed to advance most of his agenda. His supporters say deal-making is not in his nature, but they too freely give him a pass that ignores the amount of plea bargaining and other negotiations that are common in the prosecutor’s office. Regardless, his ability to harness the power of a Republican majority in both chambers never matured and now the Nov. 4 election is a stark referendum on him as an incumbent.
His predecessor may have earned the nickname “Fast Eddie,” but the opposite of Ed Rendell’s approach has been “Paralyzed Tom.” That’s why the governor could not win passage of a list of policies that he has been seeking.
But would Mr. Wolf be any more effective?
Perhaps because he self-funded his primary win and has had a fat lead in most polls, the novice candidate has left some of his views undefined. He has been reticent about the details of his plan to change the income tax structure, claiming he can’t be specific on who will pay more and who will pay less until he has a look at the inside books. That claim rings false.
His zen-like answers to questions on how he would deal with a Republican-led Legislature are unsatisfying, too. If he truly believes, as he says, that lawmakers will come around to his way of thinking if they just listen carefully to what he wants to do, his performance in office could be just as disastrous as Mr. Corbett’s and make him, too, a one-term governor.
Where does that leave the voters?
On most of the major issues facing Pennsylvania today, the two candidates offer conflicting solutions.
Mr. Wolf wants Pennsylvania to join the other states with a robust natural gas industry in imposing an extraction tax on drillers. His 5 percent tax would fund local and statewide projects, especially education, and could shore up the state’s shaky budget. Mr. Corbett, who has received most of the campaign contributions from drillers, has resisted such a tax, arguing unpersuasively that it would hurt the industry.
Mr. Corbett favors a smart hybrid plan to replace the state’s costly public pension system, which has become a burden on the state, municipalities, school districts and taxpayers. Mr. Wolf, who has strong backing from public employee unions, would not act until a 2010 law aimed at curbing costs has more time to play out.
Mr. Corbett is the latest governor who wants to replace the state’s liquor monopoly with licensed private merchants, as exist in 48 other states. Mr. Wolf, despite his business background, surprisingly has no problem with Pennsylvania’s archaic government-owned and -operated system — perhaps in deference again to his union supporters.
Closer to home, a legal alternative to unreliable taxi cabs is elusive because Mr. Corbett failed to mobilize the General Assembly on behalf of Lyft and Uber, the smartphone app-based ride services. A bigger local problem is the coming divorce of health care giant UPMC from health insurance power Highmark; despite some involvement in the conflict, Mr. Corbett failed in the end to head off the separation that will disrupt the care of countless patients in the Pittsburgh region.
The question is, would Mr. Wolf have done any better?
Then there’s the issue of management style. Mr. Corbett has been a poor overseer, installing an inexperienced secretary at the Department of Environmental Protection who resigned in a scandal over sexually explicit emails. He put a crony into a $140,000 position at the Education Department where the adviser didn’t have to report to a boss or produce any obvious work product. If his ineffectiveness means voters deny him a second term, he will be the first Pennsylvania governor to have lost re-election and he will bear the blame for forfeiting eight years of opportunity to make appointments and set policies, after eight years of Democrat Rendell.
As for Mr. Wolf’s style, the non-union employees of the firm that he led, left and then revived to save from bankruptcy offer glowing reviews, but it is hard to tell how his leadership at a small company not open to public view has prepared him for the bare-knuckled politics of working with a Legislature, particularly one controlled by the opposing party.
This is not a pretty picture. After careful scrutiny and a principled look at both candidates, the Post-Gazette does not have enough confidence to recommend either to lead Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, the people should go to the polls Tuesday and let their voices be heard.