Last week, we introduced a new series of articles related to the various offices that will be on the ballot in the upcoming November election. This week we want to focus on the very important battle for Pennsylvania’s governor. The Democratic candidate will be the incumbent, Tom Wolf, and the Republican challenger is former State Senator Scott Wagner.
Both Tom Wolf and Scott Wagner have a business background and are from York County, but beyond that, these two are probably as different as two men running for public office could possibly be.
Tom Wolf was born and raised in York County from a wealthy family that was well known for its successful kitchen-cabinet business.
Wagner went to Dartmouth for his undergraduate degree, took two years off to join the Peace Corps in India before going for his master’s degree at the University of London, and from there to MIT where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science.
Yet even though he was offered a tenure-track position at Harvard University in 1981, Wolf decided to go back to York County to help run the family business. He stayed in business until 2014, when he ran for his first elected office — governor of Pennsylvania. In defeating Republican incumbent Tom Corbett by ten percentage points, he was the first person in four decades to defeat a sitting Pennsylvania governor. However, Wolf soon discovered that studying politics is much different than doing it. Immediately entering office, he presented a budget proposal that among other things called for more than $1 billion in new education spending, which was going to be met by increased taxes on natural gas extraction and increases in state sales and real estate taxes. Not surprisingly, these met with stiff opposition from a conservative state legislature.
In 2015, InsideGov, a government research organization, ranked Tom Wolf as the most liberal governor in America, based on a review of his public statements, press releases, campaign platforms, and voting records. Since that time, despite his tremendous pedigree, Wolf has very few and relatively minor political victories he can point to, essentially because he has made almost no inroads in the tug-of-war between the executive and legislative branches of government.
Scott Wagner was born and raised on a farm in York County and went to college for one semester, Williamsport Area Community College, in 1973. He has stated that he enjoyed WACC and the Williamsport area, but felt he would learn better by doing. A year after leaving WACC, he bought a plot of land and sold it two years later for a $4,000 profit. For the next ten years, this would be his pattern — start a business, make it work, sell it off and reinvest in another business. At 30, he had enough capital to start York Waste Management, which would become a $40 million enterprise. He sold that in 1997 and then started Penn Waste, which would eventually employ 400 people.
Scott Wagner was always told what he could not do — and then went ahead and did it. In 2014, a special election for the 28th district in the Pennsylvania Senate was held, and Wagner declared his candidacy. However, the York County Republican Party wanted a more “electable” candidate and chose an incumbent member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives over him. Wagner then did the unthinkable; he ran as a “write-in” candidate and won the election. It is the first, and only, time a write-in candidate has won a Pennsylvania State Senate seat.
In the State Senate, Wagner’s strongly conservative values have run headlong into Wolf’s progressive agenda. Wagner is widely recognized as helping push the General Assembly in a more fiscally conservative direction. This was largely due to his leadership in ousting the ‘moderate’ Republican State Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi with the more conservative Senate Senator Jack Corman. The political experts told Wagner this could not be done, given that Pileggi had held his leadership position for nearly ten years, but Wagner again proved them wrong. And in his gubernatorial campaign, he failed to receive the official endorsement of his party but shocked the experts by winning the Republican primary on May 15th. Scott Wagner is the Rocky Balboa of Pennsylvania politics.
Generally, in an election like this, it is a referendum on the incumbent, but as Scott Wagner is an avid supporter of President Trump’s policies, it may also be a referendum on Trump as well. Pennsylvanians will have a clear contrast in their choice for governor this November election.