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A Wolf in pols' clothing

| Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Let it be stipulated that Tom Wolf is a really nice guy.

He's affable, quick to smile and, seeing his greeter sporting a beard — “I didn't realize you had a beard” — equally quick to share amusing anecdotes about his well-kept facial hair.

Yes, Mr. Wolf, 65, sometimes can be quite wonkish, for which he regularly, and in self-deprecating fashion, seeks humble forgiveness. Still, those periodic lapses into wonk mode are more engaging than overbearing. For he is a serious thinker. Yet there's an understated, almost boyish, enthusiasm that is, well, charming.

But such endearing qualities alone are not qualifications enough to be governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And despite a still-healthy lead in the polls — one has his lead in the race with Republican Gov. Tom Corbett growing, two others suggest Mr. Corbett is narrowing the gap — there are serious questions about the Democrat gubernatorial nominee, from his policy prescriptions to what kind of leader he would be.

Mr. Wolf, with, to his credit, only his press secretary in tow, visited the Trib last Tuesday for a wide-ranging, nearly 90-minute conversation. And while he has generalized policy prescriptions for a number of top issues that stand out for the wrong reason — that flashing red “Raise taxes!” light comes on — a number of quirky things stand out more, and in troubling fashion.

Some might find it refreshing for a fella running for governor of one of the largest states in the union, when asked a question for which he has no answer, to — GASP! — say he doesn't know enough about a subject. Indeed, too many pols break out the shovel and waddle into the manure pile when faced with a question they shouldn't answer but do.

Wolf, however, pretty much demurred on too wide an array of issues — from online gaming to legislative per diems and from dealing with onerous new federal EPA regulations to the state pension crisis.

But he did throw out a rather startling proposal, “proposal” being a word to be considered loosely because he was more thinking out loud than offering an actual policy.

Asked if he didn't agree with the premise that government shouldn't operate, say, a kitchen cabinet business (the same kind of business on which the Wolf family has built a very profitable enterprise), Wolf didn't see much wrong with the state running a giant liquor business. In fact, he talked of expanding Pennsylvania's existing cluster-cluck of a monopolistic system to supply other states.

Given Pennsylvania's volume buying power, Wolf sees the Keystone State as something of a regional, if not nationwide, liquor broker and reaping a huge windfall. “Pennsylvania, State of Liquor”? Think again.

And then there's Wolf's tap dancing around an odoriferous campaign commercial perpetuating the blatant lie that Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from education spending. Then there's another commercial in which Wolf takes Corbett to task for sticking it to the middle class with his massive increase in the wholesale tax on motor fuels. Wolf's right. But sitting with the Trib, he wasn't about to say he'd work to reverse course.

Tom Wolf, a first-time political candidate, insists he's “new” at the political game. In many regards, he is a novitiate, especially when he naively thinks he'll be able to work well with a General Assembly likely to maintain its Republican majority.

But in regard to so many issues, he's quickly becoming a dodging and weaving political pro. And that's not a very flattering reflection on the bearded, bespectacled and affable fella of York who wants to be Pennsylvania's next governor.

Colin McNickle is Trib Total Media's director of editorial pages (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

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