I don’t know. Maybe it’s the heat. Or the humidity. Or an effort to be heard in a political world that only has ears for Trump.
Whatever it is, it’s created a midsummer silly season in the Pennsylvania governor’s race.
Now, it’s not uncommon for campaigns getting little attention during vacation times to, well, just throw stuff around to see what happens.
But what’s happening these days in these campaigns is worth a little vetting.
Gov. Wolf’s campaign is airing a 30-second TV ad in (at least) Western Pennsylvania markets claiming his Republican opponent, former State Sen. Scott Wagner, is “the very worst of Harrisburg.”
I’ve written about Harrisburg for 30 years. Seen lots of the bad, ugly, and awful. And I mean up close. Pols who went to prison for stealing your money. Pols who used unmonitored, unvouchered expenses to buy houses or go to law school. Pols who took bribes. And an unending parade of public servants from both parties who commit governmental malfeasance just by hanging around, padding their pensions while producing little or nothing of value.
Wagner’s a long way from the “very worst.”
Evidence offered in Wolf’s ad? Wagner’s “the ultimate Harrisburg insider.”
The citation for this is a Harrisburg Patriot-News editorial. But that’s a stretch. The ad implies Wagner’s mired in all the swampy things Harrisburg represents. The editorial, published the day before the May primary, isn’t about that. It’s about Wagner’s political metamorphosis from a 2014 York County Senate write-in candidate opposed by his party to a 2018 party-backed candidate for governor.
It noted Wagner went from “consummate outsider to the ultimate insider, enthusiastically embracing the state party endorsement.”
And Wagner as a senator (he resigned last month) was more of a Harrisburg disrupter than a Harrisburg insider.
The ad also says Wagner is “the No. 1 champion for big oil and gas” who “blocked” a natural-gas severance tax sought by Wolf.
Fact is, the Republican legislature has repeatedly blocked such a tax since Ed Rendell was governor.
Oh, and Wagner’s camp points to what Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa of Allegheny County said on the Senate floor after Wagner’s June 4 farewell speech.
Costa said that while he and Wagner disagreed on “an issue or two,” they had spirited debate: “What we had, which I think was beneficial to this commonwealth as a whole and certainly this chamber, was respectful, honest, and informed dialogue about issues affecting Pennsylvanians.”
Sound like “Harrisburg’s very worst?”
Ah, but silly politics is rarely one-sided.
Wagner’s camp is claiming Wolf is out with a “new” plan to bankrupt rural school districts while pumping more money into city districts.
You know, the big, bad Wolf wants to boost his demographic/geographic base in an election year while sticking it to Republican areas.
Oh, the humanity!
Yes, Wolf said at a June 29 Philadelphia news conference that he’s for pushing all state school funding through a “fair-funding formula” to help poorer, urban districts and growing districts by factoring in tax base, poverty rates, and enrollment.
And, yes, that would mean a major change. Currently, the formula applies only to annual increases. Applying it to all funds would mean a boon to Philadelphia and other urban districts. And, at current funding levels, cuts to districts across the state, especially in rural areas.
But, come on. It’d require approval of a Republican legislature. (Like that’d ever happen.) The whole funding concept is tied up in state courts. And anyone remotely familiar with Pennsylvania knows no big change comes fast, if ever.
This is a nonsensical scare tactic about nothing new.
Wolf has always supported more money for education and a distribution formula fair to all districts.
Wagner, on the other hand, has said the state spends “enough money” on public schools. And if we laid off 10 percent of our teachers, “we’d never miss them.”
This governor’s race offers voters a real choice with stark differences. Issues such as a shale tax and school funding are worthy of debate. And maybe we can get there — if silly season passes.
John Baer is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News