Bill Scranton, a moderate Republican governor and presidential hopeful in the mid-1960s who remained a national presence in public and business life, died Sunday of a cerebral hemorrhage at an assisted-living facility in Montecito, Calif. He was 96.
Pennsylvania Republicans were despondent in 1962. They had lost the past two major statewide elections to Democrats David L. Lawrence and John F. Kennedy in the gubernatorial and presidential races of 1958 and 1960, and for the first time they were out-registered by Democrats by nearly 200,000 votes. With reluctance, Mr. Scranton -- a freshman congressman representing the city named after his family -- met with former President Dwight Eisenhower at his farm in Gettysburg.
The patrician World War II veteran was seen as a "Kennedy Republican" who voted with the administration on urban renewal projects, the Peace Corps and the minimum wage. As governor he would later raise sales and liquor taxes, build the community college system and cut the state's unemployment rate in half, but first he had to be persuaded to get into the race.
"What it all comes down to, Bill, is a four-letter word -- duty," said Mr. Eisenhower, as recounted by Paul B. Beers in "Pennsylvania Politics, Today and Yesterday." He would go on to crush Democrat Richardson Dilworth, the former mayor of Philadelphia, by 486,000 votes and take 62 counties to Dilworth's five.
Pennsylvania governors at the time were restricted to one term. In his four years in office from 1963-1967 unemployment went from 7.5 percent to 3.6 percent. He increased state government spending to a then-record $5.21 billion over his term, compared to $3.78 billion by his predecessor Mr. Lawrence, the former Pittsburgh mayor. The average blue-collar weekly paycheck increased nearly $23 over the four years.
"Many who serve as governor today are still measured against Bill Scranton's leadership -- some 50 years later," said his friend Elsie Hillman, the philanthropist and former state Republican National Committeewoman from 1975 to 1996.
The assassination of Mr. Kennedy 10 months into Mr. Scranton's term and the ascendency of conservative Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater within the GOP drew Mr. Scranton into a late and bitterly contested bid for the party's presidential nomination in 1964. He would never fully recover politically and by 1966 stated he would never run for public office again.
He was still pressed repeatedly back into public service -- including 10 months as ambassador to the United Nations -- where his demeanor did not change.
After Ohio National Guardsmen fatally shot four students at a Kent State protest in May 1970 and another student shooting followed at Jackson State University in Mississippi, President Richard Nixon asked Mr. Scranton to chair a nine-member Commission on Campus Unrest. He issued a report to the White House saying the Kent State shooting was unjustified, which Nixon hated. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew called it "pablum for permissiveness."
"Those were the times," Bill Scranton III said Monday, recounting his father's report. "He was a man of integrity and would say what he thought."
While his father stayed out of public life, Bill Scranton's mother did not. Marion Margery Warren Scranton was publicly calling for the women's right to vote by age 16 and served as the state's national GOP committeewoman from 1928 to 1951. She took Bill to his first Republican convention when he was 11. Called "The Duchess" by some, she initially thought her son would be too weak for politics and campaigning, due to childhood problems with asthma.
He graduated from Yale University in 1939 and left its law school two years later -- before the attack on Pearl Harbor -- to enlist in the Army Air Forces. He returned to earn his law degree in 1946, attending alongside future U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Potter Stewart and President Gerald Ford. (He would stay in the Air Force Reserve through his time in Congress, where his commanding officer was Gen. Goldwater, and he retired as a lieutenant colonel.)
He married Mary Lowe Chamberlin, an analyst in the War Department, in 1942, worked in business and law for a few years, and became a special assistant to the Eisenhower administration's Department of State in 1959-1960. In his successful 1960 congressional run, which came just a few months after his mother's death, he beat an incumbent Democrat in a Northeast Pennsylvania district that gave Mr. Kennedy a 15,000-vote edge in the same election.
Mr. Scranton not only took the governor's mansion two years later but helped Republicans take control of both the state House and Senate. Complaining of a $14.5 million deficit, Mr. Beers recounted in "Pennsylvania Politics," he won approvals of a 5 percent sales tax, a 15 percent hike in liquor taxes, put $23 million in teacher salaries, opened the first of 14 community colleges, created the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency to help the poor attend college, and expanded nursing and hospital care for seniors and the needy.
For businesses, he expanded research and development grant exemptions for businesses, leading to the expansion or location of 755 facilities in the state his first year. Via a special session in 1964 he pushed through unemployment compensation reforms that closed worker loopholes and enraged Democrats.
Pennsylvania Republicans had largely ignored labor and minorities since the Great Depression, but Mr. Scranton reversed course, talking broadly about addressing civil rights and urban problems. That is partially what got him into the doomed race for the GOP presidential nomination in 1964.
Mr. Scranton got into the race just a month before the July 13 Republican convention in San Francisco, partially due to anger that the Arizona conservative had just voted against the Civil Rights Act.
Trying to get Mr. Goldwater to debate him at the convention, he signed a letter dismissing "Goldwaterism" as "a whole crazy quilt collection of absurd and dangerous positions" that would be rejected in the November election.
Mrs. Hillman joined with family members in Texas and Rhode Island to serve as 1964 convention delegates.
"He worked hard to follow his convictions and lead our country in a more tolerant and compassionate manner. Unfortunately, the ugliness and meanness of that convention led Bill Scranton out of elected politics, but not out of public service," she said Monday.
Mr. Goldwater would again strike: his massive 22-point loss to Lyndon B. Johnson that November also flipped 33 state House seats, giving Democrats control of the chamber and a platform for shooting holes in Mr. Scranton's agenda for his last two years in office. He still pushed money into mass transit and schools, had Pitt and Temple classified as state-related universities and approved the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966.
"Gov. Scranton was a world-class leader in government. He will be remembered as a man of humility, honesty, dignity and integrity," Gov. Tom Corbett said in a statement.
Pennsylvania Republican chair Robert Gleason called Mr. Scranton "one of Pennsylvania's great leaders" and "a dedicated public servant and a national figure in American politics. Following his retirement, Gov. Scranton remained an important figure to the people of Pennsylvania and we cherish his contributions to our commonwealth and country."
Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from the city of Scranton, recalled how the former governor reached out after Mr. Casey's father defeated Scranton's son, then lieutenant governor William W. Scranton III, in the 1986 governor's race.
"After that tough election he sent a letter to my father congratulating him and talking about how much he would enjoy serving as governor," Mr. Casey said. "It was a very gracious letter."
The generational connection is echoed in the Capitol office of House Speaker Sam Smith, where there is a framed ad touting Scranton's endorsement of his father, L. Eugene "Snuffy" Smith, in a February 1963 special election.
"You know 'Snuffy' Smith and he knows you and the problems that Jefferson County are faced with," the ad says. "This is why Bill Scranton needs him in Harrisburg to work with him to help build a better Pennsylvania."
The senior Smith served until 1986, after which he was succeeded by his son, Sam.
After leaving the governor's mansion, Mr. Scranton helped the push for a state constitutional convention in 1967-68, where he largely pushed for a failed referendum in 1969 for merit selection of state judges. He then served in a string of public service positions in the Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations, including the United States Railway Association in 1974-76; President's Commission on a National Agenda for the Eighties, 1977-81; President's Intelligence Oversight Board, 1977-81; and United States National Group in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, 1983.
He also served as ambassador to the United Nations from 1976 to early 1977, succeeding Daniel P. Moynihan. Former Gov. Dick Thornburgh found he was still remembered there when he became under-secretary general for administration and management at the U.N. a quarter-century later in 1992.
"He had a more moderate approach to the government process and had wide respect," said Mr. Thornburgh, whose lieutenant governor from 1979 to 1986 was Mr. Scranton III. "He was still remembered as a man of great diplomatic tactics and skill."
In June 2000 Gov. Tom Ridge presented Mr. Scranton with the third Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's Pennsylvania Founders Award. It goes to those representing the ideals of William Penn in individual rights, religious toleration, representative government, public support of education and free enterprise.
Mr. Scranton also served on the board of several international companies, including H.J. Heinz, Scott Paper, American Express, Bethlehem Steel, IBM and the New York Times. He returned often to a home outside Scranton -- and was last there in June -- before returning to the assisted living facility in California where he lived with his wife Mary, age 95.
Funeral arrangements had not yet been completed.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Scranton is survived by daughter Susan Dawson of Scranton; sons Joseph of Topeka, Kan., Peter of Los Angeles and Bill of Scranton; and three granddaughters.
Tim McNulty: firstname.lastname@example.org First Published July 29, 2013 2:30 PM