With Wolf’s amendment defeats: The first quacks of a lame-duck governor? | Thursday Morning Coffee

May 20, 2021 7:19 am

Gov. Tom Wolf gives the 2021-2022 budget address virtually (Capital-Star Screen Capture).

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Gov. Tom Wolf and his Democratic allies went to the mat during Tuesday’s statewide elections to advocate for the defeat of a pair of constitutional amendments limiting the emergency powers of Wolf and his successors, painting a dire picture of a hamstrung government unable to help the commonwealth’s residents when they needed it the most.

Yet despite jumping out to what appeared to be an early lead, that push wasn’t enough. By night’s end, it became clear that voters agreed with Republicans in the General Assembly, that the executive branch’s wings needed a clipping. That result was affirmed on Wednesday when the Associated Press made its call on the ballot questions.

Wolf, who is term-limited out of office in 2022, expended a massive amount of political capital as he crisscrossed the state to fight the amendments, one of which limits emergency declarations to 21 days without legislative reauthorization. The other gives the Legislature the power to terminate an emergency declaration by a simple majority vote, down from the current and steeper two-thirds margin.

Thus, on Wednesday, it only seemed reasonable to ask: Did the double-barreled defeats accelerate Wolf’s slide into lame-duck territory, or were they temporary stumbling blocks to be overcome as the Democratic administration tries to get the last of its legislative priorities over the goal line in a budget season whose start is only weeks away?

The verdict: It’s a little bit of both, veteran political observers told the Capital-Star.

(Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Historically, voters tend to approve constitutional ballot questions, and “people always vote for more oversight rather than less,” Dan Fee, a Democratic consultant from Philadelphia, said. “Who ever says there should be less partnership and control?”

And while Republicans might be inclined to sharpen their rhetoric (and that happened Wednesday), the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid lubricating this spring’s budget debate will nonetheless make it easier for the administration and GOP legislative leaders to find common ground, Fee added.

“The money will really help,” Fee said.

During a stop in Pottstown, Montgomery County on Wednesday, Wolf extended another olive branch, telling reporters that he planned to respect the outcome of the referenda vote, and was already in talks with Republican leadership on how to proceed from here, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported.

Veteran Republican consultant Charlie Gerow, of Harrisburg, didn’t dispute Fee’s analysis. But, he said, voters did send Wolf a clear message on how they felt about executive overreach — and it’s one he should heed. Republicans spent months during the pandemic lambasting Wolf over his pandemic management decisions, charging that they were made arbitrarily and lacked transparency.

“There was a resounding rebuff to Tom Wolf over his arbitrary and capricious overreaches of the past year-and-a-half,” Gerow observed. “People said ‘We want our power back.'”

But, he added, “the next 18 months will go pretty much the same as what would have happened without the two ballot questions.”

Which means the usual sharpened elbows and partisan sparring likely will continue.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman offers a response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2019-20 budget proposal. (Screenshot from Capital-Star video)

And as two veteran academics point out, despite the influx of stimulus cash, legislative Republicans could be disinclined to be too accommodating as they start looking at the political calendar and as the 2022 race for governor begins in earnest.

“Given the Republicans’ success with the ballot questions, you can expect more challenges to Wolf,” Millersville University political analyst G. Terry Madonna told the Capital-Star. “Success emboldens.”

Chris Borick, a pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown offered a similar analysis, saying that while Wolf may try to extend a hand to Republicans during the budget debate, they may be reluctant to return the gesture.

“Republicans seem to want to use him more as a foil than a partner moving into 2022,” Borick offered. They’ll want to use him as the face of the Democratic Party even though he’s not on the ballot. If he puts the hand out, will he find one waiting for him?”

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin (R) and Saccone at the U.S. Capitol (Facebook photo)

Pa. Senator says Trump will campaign for him.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, who’s been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for governor in 2022 told a local radio station Wednesday that he’d met with President Donald Trump, and that Trump had promised to campaign with him if he chose to run.

“He said, ‘Doug, run, and I’ll campaign for you,'” Mastriano told WEEO-FM in Chambersburg, Pa., during an interview that he broadcast over his Facebook page.

Mastriano, who has questioned the results of the 2020 election, previously met with Trump last November as the former president courted lawmakers in key states as he sought to overturn his loss to now-President Joe Biden.

“The No. 1 issue on his mind is election reform in Pennsylvania,’ Mastriano said of GOP-backed efforts in the Keystone State that could make it tougher to vote. “He is not happy with the Pennsylvania General Assembly at all.”

Mastriano’s comments came just days after Lou Barletta, an early Trump supporter announced he was mounting a Republican run for governor. Mastriano mocked Barletta during the interview, as well as other Republicans he believed were not sufficiently vocal in their support for Trump last year.

“Sadly, Lou and every other potential candidate has been missing in action. Where has he been when we needed him?” Mastriano said.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 and Marley Parish have the full story on the vote on the ballot questions limiting the emergency powers of Gov. Tom Wolf and all his successors.

Tyler Titus, who is transgender and nonbinary, made history on Tuesday as they won the Democratic nomination for Erie County executive. The result put Titus, the president of the Erie County school board, on track to potentially become the first openly transgender county executive in the countryMarley Parish reports.

The U.S. House voted Wednesday to condemn the Atlanta shootings and Asian American racismCapital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa reports.

Our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper explain why the Steel City is above average for non-car transit, and how it might be getting better.

On our Commentary Page this morning, two experts at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences explain, in detail, the toll the pandemic exacted on new mothers. 

(Photo via Flickr Commons)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s
 primary victory on Tuesday was a loss for the Fraternal Order of Police, which worked to defeat him, the Inquirer reports.
The Post-Gazette analyzes Ed Gainey’s historic win in Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary in Pittsburgh.
With one primary in the books, PennLive’s John Baer looks ahead to 2022.
Lancaster County is under an air quality watch todayLancasterOnline reports.
Allentown’s mayoral primary, the convenience of mail-in ballots, and ‘fallout’ from the pandemic boosted turnout in the Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, the Morning Call reports.
The Citizens’ Voice runs down the results of Luzerne County judicial races.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Zach (@philadelphia_southern)

The Philadelphia schools will offer full, in-person learning this fall, WHYY-FM reports.
Two Pennsylvanians were included in a new round of arrests tied to the Capitol insurrection, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
GoErie runs down local election results in Erie County.
The Observer-Reporter talks to local businesses about how they’re adjusting to the new CDC masking guidelines.
State laws intended to curb surprise medical bills might actually be inflating healthcare reports.
Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos must testify in a federal case dealing with student loan forgiveness, a judge has ruled (via Politico).

What Goes On.
9:30 a.m., Cambria County Association for the Blind, Johnstown: House Republican Policy Committee
10 a.m, Live Stream: Senate Democratic Policy Committee
10 a.m., 333 Market St., Harrisburg: Independent Regulatory Review Commission
11 a.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Aging & Youth Committee
1 p.m, Live Stream: House Democratic Policy Committee

Gov. Tom Wolf 
has no public schedule today. 

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to a couple of journalism pals today: Mike Gorsenger, at CBS-21 in Harrisburg, and Katie Meyer, at WHYY-FM, in Philadelphia, both of whom complete another journey around the sun. Congratulations, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a dance-pop gem to get you moving on this penultimate day of the working week. It’s Chris Malinchak and ‘So Good to Me.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina blanked Nashville 3-0 on Wednesday night, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in their playoff series with the Predators‘Canes rookie goalie Alex Nedeljkovic made 32 saves on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.