Huffing and Puffing, Pennsylvania’s ‘Big Bad Wolf’ Challenges Corbett

Tom Wolf 2Pledging to spend at least $10 million of his own money on his long-shot candidacy, former state Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf entered the increasingly crowded race for the Democratic nomination for governor of Pennsylvania last Tuesday.

An affluent industrialist from York County who served as Secretary of the Department of Revenue in former Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration, Wolf — a genuine job creator in a state where joblessness is rampant and on the rise — was highly critical of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in his announcement.

“Instead of believing in our state and its future, Gov. Corbett has spent his term in office putting politics over policy; corporations over people; and giving away our natural resources to the highest bidder,” he wrote in a spirited email to supporters.  “This governor put 100,000 children at risk of losing health care.  He cut education by $1 billion dollars.  And Pennsylvania has gone from 7th to 46th in job creation.  This is not tapping our potential.  This is wasting it.

“While workers see their take-home pay decline amid a sea of unemployment, Gov. Corbett gives special tax breaks to corporate interests,” continued Wolf, the third Democrat to officially enter the race.  “While the middle class gets a government that puts roadblocks in front of their every effort to get ahead, special interests get a free pass.”

Calling for “an end to the endless special tax breaks Gov. Corbett has given to corporations,” Wolf asserted that Corbett’s policies were shortchanging public education while endangering the future of the middle class.

Wolf, 64, also criticized Corbett, arguably one of the most unpopular sitting governors in the country — nearly surpassing Florida’s deep-pocketed yet despised Tea Party fluke Rick Scott for that ignominious honor — for trying to privatize the $3.5 billion Pennsylvania Lottery.  “I’m proud that instead of privatizing the state lottery, my office actually strengthened it, laying the foundation for millions of additional dollars for senior citizens,” said Wolf.

While the little-known Wolf enjoys a nine-point lead (42% to 33%) over the embattled Republican incumbent in a head-to-head match-up in the latest Public Policy Polling survey, conducted March 8-10, his biggest obstacle will undoubtedly come in trying to capture the Democratic nomination.

The ex-Revenue chief, who spent two years in rural India fighting poverty as a member of the Peace Corps, enters the fray with considerably less name recognition than some of his potential Democratic rivals, but he thinks he can remedy that in the weeks and months ahead.

“I have a good story,” he said with an air of confidence.  “The key challenge,” he added, “is to get that story out.”

Wolf, who lives in Mount Wolf — a tiny borough named for his ancestors — is expected to face a crowded field in next year’s Democratic primary.

Given Gov. Corbett’s growing unpopularity, an unusually large number of Democrats are looking seriously at the race, including U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord, former Navy Admiral and ex-congressman Joe Sestak, former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty, a one-time adviser to Vice President Al Gore, and State Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia.

State Rep. Scott Conklin of Centre County is also reportedly weighing a bid for the state’s highest office while policy wonk John Hanger, a longtime consumer advocate and former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and Max Myers, a relatively obscure former minister with the Assemblies of God church, have already officially declared their candidacies for the Democratic nomination.

Though only in its infancy, Wolf’s candidacy — embodying an extraordinary mix of proven private and public experience, precisely what’s needed in a state chief executive — enhances a potentially impressive field of Democratic contenders, each salivating at the opportunity to take on the increasingly unpopular and mean-spirited Republican incumbent.

In the months ahead, Wolf will no doubt remind voters that Gov. Corbett — no innocent “Little Red Riding Hood,” by any stretch of the imagination — tried to slash funding for higher education by more than 50% in his initial budget in March 2011.  Unlike Corbett, the stalked and frightened little girl in the classic Grimms’ fairytale was merely hoping to feed her grandmother; she wasn’t seeking to punish poor and working-class citizens as Corbett has attempted time and again during his first three years in office. 

Unlike the young girl in the red velvet cap, the newly-elected governor, riding a right-wing Tea Party wave of resentment, proposed draconian cuts of $550 million in funding for public schools (K-12) — an unprecedented ten percent across-the-board reduction — and sought to eliminate a staggering $625 million in state funding for Pennsylvania’s fourteen state-owned universities, in addition to Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln University, one of the nation’s oldest African-American institutions of higher education. 

The austerity-peddling, punch-drunk Corbett Administration, unimaginatively clinging to the worn out, if not preposterous, notion that prosperity can only be found in privatization and by pummeling the poor — something the Republicans never seem to tire of — is one grim fairytale that could have a happy ending if younger Pennsylvanians and their parents and grandparents pull for the wolf to prevail. 

Tom Wolf, that is.

Unlike his seemingly doomed prey, the corporate sycophant and reactionary politician currently occupying the governor’s mansion, the serious-minded and forward-looking York businessman knows that mindless budget cutting measures and austerity aren’t the solution to Pennsylvania’s mounting economic woes.

He could be the state’s most progressive and visionary governor since the late Milton J. Shapp or perhaps even Gifford Pinchot, a man whose “Little New Deal” inspired FDR and in no small measure helped pave the country’s way out of the Great Depression.   Like Wolf, Shapp and Pinchot were both independently wealthy. 

Perhaps it’s time to huff and puff… 


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