If the hilarious weakness of Republican Tom Corbett as a Governor has produced a solitary good thing for Pennsylvania, it is the strong field of Democratic candidates competing to succeed him.
All of these Democrats would represent a vast improvement over the incumbent, and any of them would stand out nationally in the top tier of the party’s state Executives.
The advantage of a crowded field of good choices, from an activist’s point of view, is that the candidates will try to outcompete each other on the issues that are important to Democratic voters and high profile groups and politicians aligned with the party. This is important since what politicians say during the campaign is the best guide to how they’ll govern. It’s very hard for outside groups to hold politicians accountable to things they haven’t promised to do, once in office, but the political science suggests they really do try to keep their campaign promises, since it’s easy for voters to see whether they achieved those things or not.
Looking at the policy positions the candidates have been taking, it’s clear progressives have been successful at securing ambitious commitments from the candidates – commitments they can be held accountable to if elected. A 10% natural gas severance tax is now in the discussion. Everyone supports fixing the state education funding formula, universal pre-K and full-day kindergarten. Everyone supports at least some form of liberalization of the marijuana laws. Everyone now supports Bill Peduto’s position vs. the Public Utility Commission on ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
But as we head into the home stretch, it’s clear that the competitive primary has outlived its usefulness as a policy arms race, and is now devolving into an unproductive food fight where candidates with no chance of winning try to cut Tom Wolf down, at the expense of the Democratic Party’s competitiveness in the general election.
It’s time for activists to close ranks around a nominee, and that nominee is Tom Wolf.
The tiny weight of Keystone Politics’s endorsement would have been more helpful to Wolf coming earlier in the process, we realize, when it was less inevitable that he would win. There’s been a negotiating process behind the scenes that’s persuaded three of our four regular contributors to get behind Wolf, and the disappointing attacks of the last few days have added some urgency to come to a decision.
Regular readers know that this blog has long been a fan of Wolf’s impressive policy vision on issues like education, the economy, transportation and land use, health care, and state municipal policy reforms. His record of political leadership with the group Better York fighting school segregation and for PA’s older core cities and boroughs gives us the confidence that he understands and sympathizes with what the Commonwealth’s most at-risk communities need from state government. And critically, Wolf’s status as a self-funder will allow for a comfortable distance between the Democratic Governor and some of the special interest donors who have run this state under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
But most importantly, Tom Wolf is the candidate best suited to beating the ever-loving crap out of Tom Corbett at the polls in November.
While we would love to be supporting the first woman Governor in Pennsylvania history, we do not believe it’s necessary or desirable for progressives to hand this historic distinction to a Third Way Democrat like Congresswoman Schwartz.
It might have been worth it to spend the general election playing defense on a long and easily attackable Congressional record if that record were particularly progressive. But it isn’t. Congresswoman Schwartz’s record as an Obamacare frenemy renders her untrustworthy to implement the law at state level. Her vote for the awful 2005 Bush bankruptcy bill implicates her in the widespread debt peonage that is holding back a more robust economic recovery.
Her record of leading the New Democrat coalition into multiple bad Internet policy votes inspires mistrust that she has any fight in her on issues like municipal broadband and utility reforms. And her recent vote for devastating SNAP cuts that hit Pennsylvania’s poor residents especially hard would make it incredibly difficult for her to create a clear contrast with Tom Corbett’s economic policies, as Corbett himself restored some of Schwartz’s cuts.
By contrast, as a progressive business leader, Tom Wolf is uniquely positioned to deliver the Democratic message heading into November. Every campaign point Tom Corbett will try to score, Wolf is the best man to counterpoint.
Corbett will try to talk about creating jobs; Wolf has. Corbett’s highest private sector job was general counsel to a trash company – he’s never created a job in his life. And as Governor, his job growth record has been uniquely horrible. Even natural gas jobs have been plunging for two years – the single industry the Republicans have been struggling to prop up with all their might.
The campaign writes itself. Wolf will be able to say “Tom Corbett thinks he understands small business. I live small business. Tom Corbett thinks he understands how tax rates affect entrepreneurship. I have lived it.”
With Wolf as the nominee, one of the strongest Republican campaign themes – pretending speak for the best interests of the business community – goes away completely. We already saw a preview of the Democratic message that time Corbett attacked Wolf as a job killer for wanting to levy a severance tax on natural gas drillers, and it was awesome:
“Pennsylvania has suffered from Tom Corbett’s failed leadership while his corporate cronies continue to be rewarded at the expense of middle-class families. Tom Wolf has a plan to give Pennsylvania a fresh start by making gas companies pay their fair share.
“Tom Wolf would impose an extraction tax that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for things like education and infrastructure. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state that does not have an extraction tax, yet our citizens are forced to pay for gas produced in other states like Texas and Oklahoma.
“Tom Corbett thinks he speaks for business – he doesn’t. Tom Wolf built a business into the largest distributor of kitchen cabinets in the country. He pays his workers a living wage, gives them great benefits, and even shares 20 to 30 percent of his profits with employees. Tom Wolf knows how to create jobs, and as governor, he will level the playing field and invest in our future to build a stronger Pennsylvania.”
This message is the real Corbett slayer, and Tom Wolf is the best candidate to deliver it. PA progressives who want to win in November should vote to make him our standard-bearer on May 20th.