Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, Lt. Gov.-elect Austin Davis, and Gov. Tom Wolf speak during a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022 (Capital-Star photo).
Most of the talk about the 2022 general election in Pennsylvania has centered on John Fetterman’s victory in the U.S. Senate race and the new Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
But the results of the election for two other offices deserve scrutiny because of the impact it will have on the future for Pennsylvanians. The new occupant of the Governor’s office and the new Republican leadership in the state Senate are likely to determine the agenda for the Commonwealth over the next two years.
It has been more than 60 years since a Democratic governor succeeded another Democratic governor in Pennsylvania, and the last time Democrats occupied the Governor’s office for more than eight consecutive years was in the 1840s. But Josh Shapiro and Tom Wolf, while sharing a political party affiliation and numerous policy positions, are different in many ways, and anyone expecting the incoming Shapiro administration to simply be an extension of the eight years of the Wolf administration may be in for a surprise.
The biggest difference between the two men is that while Gov. Tom Wolf took office as a businessman and academic who had never run for office before becoming governor, Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro is a political veteran who won election as a Montgomery county commissioner, state representative, and Pennsylvania attorney general.
Wolf brought an outsider’s perspective to the Governor’s office, offering fresh ideas but also struggling with the obstruction of the Republican-dominated General Assembly.
Shapiro, on the other hand, led the third-largest county in the Commonwealth, was a behind-the-scenes leader in the Democratic caucus in the State House, and won statewide election twice as an activist attorney general. He is a political insider who has not been afraid to compromise when necessary.
Having experience winning elections is no guarantee of success in governing, however. Shapiro has stated his priorities upon assuming office will be to “invest in schools, promote public safety and help grow the economy.”
The details of how he will accomplish these goals await the new Administration taking office and producing a budget proposal. Whether they come to fruition will be determined as negotiations with the General Assembly take place.
But the General Assembly was a far different place when Shapiro was a state representative. In 2007, when Democrats captured the State House majority by a narrow margin, it was Shapiro who was a key negotiator in the effort to elect liberal Republican Dennis O’Brien as Speaker when Democratic leader Bill DeWeese lacked the votes to win the office.
Today, the notion of a liberal Republican serving in the General Assembly is laughable, and even “moderate” Republicans are few and far between. Governor Shapiro will be negotiating with a GOP caucus which is increasingly dominated by far-right ideologues.
Republicans will control the state Senate by the same 28-22 margin which they began the 2021-22 session. But the roster has changed.
Five of the most senior Republican senators either retired or were defeated in the primary. This has resulted in a new leadership team with new characteristics – the two top leaders are from the increasingly Republican western part of the Commonwealth, and none are from the former Republican stronghold of the Philadelphia suburbs. It almost goes without saying that everyone on the leadership team falsely questioned the legitimacy of the results of the 2020 Presidential election.
New Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, (the first woman to serve in this role in the state Senate) has said all the right things about working together to solve problems for Pennsylvanians. But Senate Republicans and Shapiro are likely to have differing views on what those problems are, let alone how to address them.
The question for legislative Republicans is whether they can turn away from their scare tactic campaign rhetoric on crime and voter integrity to focus on items that impact the everyday lives of Pennsylvanians in the new session. It is not a good sign the last act of the 2021-22 session of the General Assembly was an absurd partisan impeachment of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Meanwhile the question for Shapiro will be to define exactly how he intends to accomplish his three stated goals. Pronouncements on the campaign trail are one thing, but actually enacting legislation and passing a budget are another, particularly when many of the details of the goals are still undefined.
Pennsylvania faces many challenges in coming years, particularly as our population ages. A new governor and a new generation of leaders in the state Senate must lead the Commonwealth forward in addressing these challenges. It remains to be seen if the quest for partisan advantage, particularly by members of the General Assembly, can be put aside long enough to make meaningful change.
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