Pa. House Dems who signed letter to Gov. Wolf about retaliation note possible reversal
House Democrats who said they were being punished by Gov. Tom Wolf's administration for backing a Republican-crafted state budget said Monday the alleged retaliation may have subsided.
Eleven Democrats sent a letter to Wolf, a fellow Democrat, last week that said their ability to resolve constituent issues was being hampered. Instead of working with a contact person at each state department to solve constituents' problems, the lawmakers said they had to go through Wolf's office and lacked the ability to follow up on issues.
The letter led to a war of words.
Lawmakers called the policy change “childish” while Wolf called the allegations “fairly ridiculous.” His spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, denied that the constituent request process had changed for any lawmaker.
The House members, however, insisted their constituent requests were redirected to the governor's office until Monday. They said they've requested a meeting with Wolf and House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, to discuss the issue.
Sheridan said Wolf had no plans “at this time” to meet with the lawmakers.
“There's been no official word it's been lifted, (but) we called one office and they've taken our call,” said state Rep. Frank Burns, a Cambria County Democrat who signed the letter to Wolf.
State Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Uniontown, said he received a call about 7 p.m. Friday from the legislative liaison at the state Department of Education to tell him they could meet this week.
Mahoney, another letter signer, said last week that the department refused to provide him with policy information he requested for legislation he's drafting on school district consolidation in Fayette County.
The apparent reversal comes less than a week after the Tribune-Review reported the allegations of retribution for the budget vote that found 13 Democrats voting with Republicans to send the final portion of the 2015-16 spending plan to Wolf's desk.
Burns said that although his staff was able to contact their point person on Monday, a constituent whose case Burns highlighted last week was still pending.
Burns held up Chuck Onder as proof that Wolf's policy change was doing a disservice to constituents. Onder sought help from Burns in navigating state bureaucracy to fix a swelling creek behind his Portage home that threatened to wash away his backyard deck.
Onder said Monday that he hasn't heard anything from state officials for 14 days.
Media attention surrounding Onder's case prompted Sheridan to detail what happened.
He said the issue was referred to the regional Department of Environmental Protection office on March 28, the same day the request was received. The contact person in that office is on medical leave and the local offices in general are understaffed because of budget cuts, slowing the response time, Sheridan said.
Sheridan added that DEP doesn't regulate this issue but usually tries to determine which entity has jurisdiction, often the conservation district.
“Everything, as it always has, is being responded to in a timely and efficient manner,” Sheridan said Friday.
Allegations that government services were altered based on a political vote surprised Chuck Ardo, a longtime Democratic staffer who served as press secretary to former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.
Ardo said political repercussions for votes are usually confined to the political realm.
“It's possible that a sitting governor may hesitate to help a recalcitrant party member raise money, or if that governor is popular, he or she may refuse to appear with a given candidate,” Ardo said. “But certainly (a governor) wouldn't use the leverage of government to punish people for their votes.”
Kari Andren is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.