State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Family feud: Wolf's tactics upset some House Dems

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Apr 8, 2016 5:43 PM
Capitol_TimLambert.jpg

Photo by Tim Lambert/WITF


State House Democrats are finding themselves in a family spat with Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, whom they're accusing of rewriting the rules of political engagement.

About a dozen House Democrats say Wolf is interfering with their constituent services in an effort to punish them for voting with Republicans last month to end the budget impasse.

Call it death by red tape: Instead of working directly with a liaison in the relevant state agency, the Democrats who voted for a GOP-crafted budget in March are being forced to re-route the requests through the governor's office.

When asked Thursday about the complaints of retribution, Wolf called them "fairly ridiculous."

And some people agree with him.

"I'm not sure 10 years ago I would've even batted an eye if a member would have brought that concern to me," said Mike Manzo, a lobbyist who was chief of staff to former House Democratic majority leader Bill DeWeese.

Political leaders in Harrisburg have enforced party discipline using a variety of carrots and sticks over the years. Caucus leaders have doled out plum offices and parking spaces to reward the rank and file. Legislative districts have sometimes been redrawn to punish a difficult member. Governors have directed state grants to the districts of those in good favor.

"Governors and mayors and presidents and chief executives in political office usually wield power where they can both dispense favors and dispense sanctions and to try and keep people with them," said Dave Patti, who has worked in the Republican Ridge administration and now is president of the Pennsylvania Business Council. "When it's their own party, then people take the sanctions much more to heart."

Rep. Chris Sainato (D-Lawrence County), one of the aggrieved House members, said throughout his roughly 20-year tenure of observing political payback, constituent service has always been off-limits.

"You can't have people every time they cast a vote, thinking, 'I'm not going to be able to help my constituents if I vote the wrong way,'" said Sainato. "You can't have that."

Like it or not, plaintive House Democrats are playing bit parts in a show stage-managed by Republicans, who are using the disagreement to bolster their argument that the governor can't even work with his own party.

"It's certainly great fun and fodder for the Republican Party," said Patti. "It plays to the political theatre of the governor's opponents and helps them out."

Published in State House Sound Bites

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