State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Wolf bests Corbett, faces solidly GOP Legislature

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 5, 2014 2:52 AM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf


Democrat Tom Wolf has toppled Republican Governor Tom Corbett, ending a 40-year streak of incumbent governors in Pennsylvania winning re-election.

The York County millionaire whose early TV ads blasted away his primary opponents handily defeated Corbett, according to unofficial tallies showing a 10-point margin.

In his victory speech, Wolf outlined his plans for the next four years, listing education spending as his top priority. He alluded to policy difficulties, urging supporters in York not to be cowed by them.

"One of the easiest things to do when we talk about change is to inspire fear, and we have got to move away from that fear of the future, because if we don't we're going to continue to be consigned to a dead end," Wolf said. "We have got to get beyond the fear. We've got to get to the point where we actually think we can achieve things."

On the other side of the state, Governor Corbett had just given his concession speech, defending his efforts to push fiscal discipline and limited government.

"I said I was going to do what is right for Pennsylvania, the tough decision, and people may not like it. Well obviously, they didn't like it," Corbett said, to timid laughter. "I said I may be a one term governor, and I am. But I am proud of what we did, what we all did."

The former state attorney general had lagged in polls, going back to his first year in office, largely over claims he cut education spending. He had also taken criticism from conservatives disgruntled that he hadn't secured many of his top policy priorities and reneged on a campaign promise not to raise taxes.

Wolf will be the state's first governor from central Pennsylvania since Governor George Leader was elected in 1955. Wolf vowed to supporters to minimize cronyism and boost the state's economy. When he mentioned taking advantage of the commonwealth's natural resources (natural gas, coal, water, timber, and "open space"), two people in the crowd began shouting. Security guards who escorted them out said the protesters were talking about renewable energy and fracking, neither of which was mentioned by Wolf.

The governor-elect will face a Legislature as conservative as he is liberal when he's sworn in next year. The GOP added to its majorities in both chambers of the Legislature Tuesday. If leaders have little incentive to help Wolf pass his desired legislation, it could stall his policy agenda, leading to some of the same knocks that dogged Corbett.

"Get ready to sign bills you hate," advised one Republican legislative staffer. "People always overestimate the power of the governor."

Bill Dando, a lobbyist with the AFSCME Council 13 public sector union, said a lot will depend on how much push-back Wolf gets from the Legislature early on in his tenure.

"His first budget, what's that going to look like?" said Dando. Newly elected governors deliver their budget proposals to the Legislature in March. "I think that's when the... honeymoon will be over."

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) said Wolf's big win Tuesday night should make the GOP more willing to cooperate.

"This Legislature should care about the mandate," Hughes said. "It should care about where people want the state to go."

But even supporters of the governor-elect say some difficult compromises lie ahead. Joan Fulton, a longtime friend and supporter of Wolf said she understands her party is going to have to give a little.

"Taxation, the pensions -- there's a lot up for grabs and those are thorny issues, and so I think any decisions involve some kind of compromise," Fulton said. "You know, we don't live in a world of absolutes, and I think Tom's someone who can meet the right balance."

Unofficial voting results had Republicans picking up seats in the state House, but more crucially in the 50-member state Senate, where its majority has grown from 27 to 30.


Published in State House Sound Bites

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