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Scott Wagner shifts to full campaign mode after resigning from state Senate

Wes Venteicher
| Tuesday, June 5, 2018, 3:27 p.m.
Scott Wagner acknowledges supporters in York on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, after winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Associated Press
Scott Wagner acknowledges supporters in York on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, after winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Scott Wagner entered full campaign mode Tuesday after resigning his state Senate seat Monday to focus on the governor's race.

Wagner, 62, of York, was scheduled to speak Tuesday to the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce about Pennsylvania's unemployment rate, which at 4.7 percent is higher than the national rate of 3.8 percent.

He is scheduled Wednesday to visit Philadelphia. On Saturday, he pledged to cut the grass at Malcolm X Park, which had become overgrown, if Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney didn't get it cut. The grass has been cut since then, despite problems with a contractor, a park representative said Tuesday.

Wagner plans to visit the park anyway “to ensure they did a satisfactory job,” his spokesman said in an email Tuesday.

Wagner won election to the state Senate through a write-in campaign in 2014 and won re-election the same year.

His decision to resign Monday to run full-time for governor drew criticism from his fall opponent, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, whose campaign said it showed Wagner is “only interested in furthering himself politically.”

State GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio approved of the decision, saying Wagner's best chance at fixing the “broken” aspects of state government would come if he were elected governor.

Wagner's prepared remarks on the Senate floor Monday totaled more than 2,400 words. They appear below in their entirety:

“Good afternoon – Mr. President.

I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to make some remarks.

As many of you know, today is my last day here in the Senate.

My decision to leave the Senate was a tough decision.

I weighed each side of my decision with counsel from trusted advisors to determine first and foremost what was best for the constituents from the 28th Senate District.

Serving here in the Senate, and serving alongside so many of you, has been an honor that I will forever be grateful to have had.

Before I go any further with my remarks there are some people I want to thank.

First of all, I want to thank the people of the 28th Senate District for writing in my name at the election polls on March 18th of 2014.

I didn't get elected into the state Senate the traditional way.

It was through an unprecedented campaign, where over 10,000 people came out to write in my name on to their ballots and send me to Harrisburg.

I will never forget the historic manner in which I was elected to this position.

I want to thank my staff for their tireless work on behalf of all the people of our district.

You know each and every one of us are the faces of the office, but it is the staff that puts forth the day to day effort to execute and take care of the constituents.

They don't get the credit they deserve and I want to thank them again for all they do.

Over the last four years I also noticed something that some people would not normally recognize – somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of the people who arranged to meet with me or my staff were not from the 28th Senate District – in almost every case we scheduled the meeting and had informative discussions.

I need to thank my family, including my wife Tracy.

When Tracy and I started dating in 2010 I don't think she expected this would be our life.

Nonetheless, she has been supportive beyond belief and I am looking forward to the entire state getting to know her more.

I want to thank my leaders, President Pro Tempore Scarnati and Majority Leader Corman for their help along the way.

Our caucus and our state couldn't have a better leader than Senator Corman, and I am grateful for his guidance, his counsel, and most of all his friendship.

A special thanks to my fellow caucus members for their patience, their support, and their willingness to welcome me into the caucus.

And to my friends on the other side of the aisle, although we have had our disagreements, we've also been able to work together on so many things.

I'm proud of our work on things like the Clean Slate Bill, where I partnered up with my friend and colleague Senator Tony Williams to end the prison to poverty pipeline.

I'm proud of my work with Senator Pat Browne to try to end discrimination.

I'm proud of all of our work to make sure hard working Pennsylvanians get a boost, and to break the cycle of poverty through education reform.

I also want to acknowledge the efforts and leadership of Senator Gene Yaw for leading the Senate's effort to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic.

To both the Republican and Democratic Senators, I am looking forward to working with you again in a few months.

At this time, I would like to do a reflection on my time in the Senate.

Before I joined the Senate in 2014 I was a complete outsider and I had a very strong opinion of Harrisburg.

I first ran for the Senate because I believed that Harrisburg wasn't working for the folks who work every day and the people that employ them.

I came to Harrisburg with a strong personality and a strong will to get things accomplished.

I'll admit that I wish I would have given more thought to some of the things I said when I first took office.

But I'm the type of person, when I dive into projects that I know need close attention and present opportunities, I become very driven and sometimes overly passionate.

If I have offended people inside this chamber, other people in the building or state government, I offer my apology.

When I first got to Harrisburg I immediately noticed several glaring problems.

Pennsylvania does not have a revenue problem, it has spending and mismanagement problem.

Harrisburg operates at a snail's pace – crisis issues take way too long find resolutions.

The best example would be the heroin opioid crisis – how long did it take to get the prescription drug database reporting system passed and implemented?

I report to my colleagues today that I had orthoscopic knee surgery twelve days ago and after my surgery I was given a prescription by the surgeon for pain – an opioid prescription.

Out of curiosity, I asked my surgeon if his office was required to enter my prescription into the prescription drug database.

He responded that he hadn't.

My pain level has been low until yesterday, so I went to a large chain pharmacy to fill my prescription and I asked the shift supervising pharmacist about the drug data base and reporting my prescription – and the answer was not clear if he had done so.

So I walked away without clarity of the protocol.

Why do I tell this story?

Because passing a law is only a first step.

We need to follow up on the work we do and make sure that what we enact is being carried out properly.

But what we do here isn't always about how many laws we're able to pass or bills we can introduce.

I've said from day one, I didn't come here to create more laws.

I came to change the culture.

I'd like to think that my time here in the Senate has put some of that change in motion.

I had the honor of serving as the Chairman of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee in 2015 and 2016.

In August of 2015, the Urban Affairs and Housing Committee held hearings in Greene and Fayette counties.

The morning of the hearings our committee was given a tour of the City of Monessen and Donora Borough with elected officials to see firsthand high levels of blight.

We had a very informative tour of both Monessen and Donora, the hearings were well attended and I had the opportunity to meet good people, who were asking for help to solve the blight issues in their community.

We heard from person after person who said that their area was forgotten, that their area was left for dead and that there was little hope.

And it affected me.

I went home and told Tracy about it and I felt helpless.

That wasn't the only time.

Over the last four years that I've spent going around the commonwealth I've seen it time and time again.

In Shamokin they are literally overrun with blight and drugs -- and opportunities are few and far between.

I've seen the same in Erie, Scranton, Old Forge, Harrisburg, York and Greensburg.

In Philadelphia, there are neighborhoods dealing with staggering violence and unimaginable poverty.

I am very disturbed that elementary school children in Philadelphia are in buildings in deplorable condition, that flaking paint chips are falling from ceilings on to their desks and some children are eating those paint flakes and getting lead poisoning.

I don't care what political party you are from - this is very wrong.

I've heard my colleague Senator Hughes passionately advocate for these schools and I look forward to working with him when I am back here as Governor to try to right this wrong.

I don't understand how ten miles from Philadelphia there are opulent school campuses being built – but in Philadelphia school buildings are crumbling.

I have come to the realization that there is only so much I could do as a Senator on these issues.

Another major issue that I think we have to do more about is education.

People have branded me as a person who wants to cut funding.

That could not be further from the truth.

I want to make sure more money is getting to the classroom.

Let me tell you a quick story.

If you visit my companies you will never hear me talk about profits first.

What you will hear me talk about first is safety and providing good customer service.

Trust me - we are obsessed with safety and service at our companies.

We have built a culture and environment around safety and service.

If we work safe, and provide a good product to the consumer, we believe the profits will follow.

We believe that executing the fundamentals will help us achieve our larger goals.

That's the attitude I will bring to fixing our broken education system.

We need to go back to basics.

We need to retool and reinvent our curriculum and our programs to make sure that we are preparing EVERY CHILD to meet the needs of the modern economy.

Whether our children choose to enter into the workforce, to attend a trade school or to go to college, we need to do a better job preparing them.

Education is the key to many of the crisis issues we have in Pennsylvania.

Our prisons are bulging, we have a heroin – opioid crisis, we have a mental health crisis, we have high dropout rates in our schools, we have a skilled labor crisis, we have a state unemployment rate that is 20 percent higher than the national average.

We have many students that do not have life skills to survive.

We have students graduating with degrees loaded with student debt.

If we can change the way we educate, we can address all of these issues.

I meet employers every single day who are not able to find skilled labor, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, welders, machinists, equipment operators, truck drivers, nurses, the list is long.

Most of the professions I just mentioned have pay ranges from $40,000 to over $100,000 per year or more.

Let's start informing our children about those opportunities and getting them ready for those careers.

Let's take that student who wants to drop out and give him or her a solid job in the skilled labor field.

In addition to curriculum reforms, when it comes to education, we also need to talk about what we are spending our money on.

We currently spend a lot of money on education.

Teachers and administrators routinely tell me that they are being held back by mandates.

I don't know how anyone can know whether each and every dollar we spend on education is being spent wisely.

We need to find out, and we need to find out fast.

I have seen so many issues as I travel throughout our state.

We have the nation's highest gas tax, but our highways are filled with potholes, bracketed with trash, and bordered by overgrown brush and trees.

We have seniors and young families drowning in school property taxes.

Health care costs are out of control.

We have veterans who are homeless, we have a high incident rate of veteran's suicide, and veterans who do not have access to healthcare.

Pennsylvania is now the number four state with seniors aged 85 and over.

Seniors face many issues, access to health care, access to prescriptions, affordable housing, access to personal care and nursing home facilities.

Over the last four years I have seen firsthand more issues than I can count.

Hundreds of people have come to my Senate offices to meet with me and staff members to discuss issues that were and are important to them.

I've toured farms, small businesses, manufacturing facilities, senior centers, coal mines, natural gas drilling sites, nuclear power plants and so much more.

I have learned so much over the last four years from so many good people of Pennsylvania.

We didn't always agree – but we had respectful and honest conversations

No amount of money could ever buy my experience discussing and witnessing issues.

Now on to the really good news.

Most of the issues that we face can be solved, first by a laser focus on education, second by getting our finances under control, balance Harrisburg's check book, implement zero based budgeting, rein in out of control regulations, demand that Harrisburg become more customer friendly to job creators and hardworking taxpayers.

Instead of running all over the country trying attract new business with all kinds of incentives and cash we do not have, we need to focus on the 975,000 businesses already here in Pennsylvania to help them grow and expand.

If we were to be more customer friendly and rein in regulations hampering our 975,000 businesses and they hired just one additional person, we could have 975,000 new jobs on our hands.

Then the question would become where are we going to find 975,000 people that are trained and have to skills to go to work?

Nationwide, we have 10,000 people turning 65 years old for the next twenty years – where in the world are we going to find all of the people needed in Pennsylvania to fill jobs?

Let's get real serious about the things I just mentioned and you will see Pennsylvania's economy grow and the paychecks of hardworking Pennsylvanians will get fatter.

I have come to realize there is only so much I can do as a Senator on these issues - as Governor I can do more.

That's why I am resigning today – because I owe it to the forgotten people all over Pennsylvania to put all of my energy into a campaign to be their voice.

The coming months will determine the direction of their lives more than the direction of mine.

As many of you know, my life has been blessed in so many ways.

I'm not running for governor for people like me – I'm doing this for hardworking, genuine, salt of the earth Pennsylvanians.

I'm on a mission – and that mission requires me to leave the comforts of the Senate and pour everything I have into fulfilling that mission on behalf of the people I want to lead.

A successful mission for me will mean coming back to Harrisburg in another capacity and to work “with” each and every Senate member, House members and state employees from both sides of the aisle to solve issues important to their constituents and their community

Thank you for the time today Mr. President, and thank you for the opportunity to serve.”

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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