Pennsylvania Capitol prepares for transition to Democrat Governor Wolf
HARRISBURG — Democrat Tom Wolf acknowledges he's a bit anxious about becoming the state's 47th governor.
Thousands of people will attend his swearing-in ceremony at noon Tuesday, on what's predicted to be a cold day, behind the state Capitol.
“It's a new job, so I am a little nervous about that,” said Wolf, 66, a York County businessman and novice elective officeholder.
Wolf's inaugural address will emphasize “working together” with a Republican legislature and laying a foundation to improve the state's economy and public education system. He told reporters Monday that he would sign legislation approving medical marijuana if lawmakers send him a bill.
“Pennsylvania voters voted for divided government, but they did not vote for dysfunctional government,” said Wolf, the first challenger to defeat an incumbent governor since voters adopted a two-term limit in 1968. He succeeds Republican Tom Corbett, 65, of Shaler.
On the eve of his inauguration, Wolf completed his state cabinet appointments by naming Pedro Rivera, superintendent of the Lancaster school district, as Education secretary and former Democratic Rep. Kathy Manderino of Philadelphia as secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry. Manderino is the daughter of the late Democratic powerhouse Jim Manderino of Monessen, who was House speaker.
Wolf has attracted criticism for his selection Saturday of Rachel Levine as the state's physician general. Levine, a professor at Penn State College of Medicine and board member of Equality PA, would be the state's first transgender cabinet member if approved by the Senate.
The American Family Association of Pennsylvania said its members are “astounded that Gov.-elect Wolf would name a sexually confused individual to this position to advise the governor and secretary of the Department of Health on medical and public health-related issues.”
Wolf's spokesman Jeff Sheridan told the Patriot News that Levine, who transitioned from male to female five years ago, could remain a senior adviser, if not a cabinet member.
In announcing Levine's nomination, Wolf said it is “important to me that we place equal emphasis on behavioral and physical health issues.”
“Tom Wolf is following the lead of another liberal governor — Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, who just one year ago named Dr. Marissa Levine, another transgender, to be his commissioner of health,” said Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, calling it “a mistake” to normalize transgenderism.
Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said that for some people, Levine's nomination “may be an unpopular choice, and there will be some protest, but for most Pennsylvanians, it's not the type of issue that shapes their view of Tom Wolf.”
Among about two dozen of Wolf's top staff nominations and appointments, nine were secretaries, deputies or high-level administrators under ex-Gov. Ed Rendell, a Philadelphia Democrat, including Wolf's Chief of Staff Katie McGinty. Wolf was Revenue secretary under Rendell.
His inauguration won't be free of protest. Anti-fracking protesters vowed to attend, as they did for Corbett's inauguration, to draw attention to the process used for deep-well drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale fields. Hundreds are expected to march from Grace United Methodist Church in front of the Capitol to Soldier's Grove, just beyond the inaugural site, Pennsylvanians Against Fracking said.
Wolf has suggested a 5 percent extraction tax on gas drilling, which some key Republicans oppose. The state has a fee in place to compensate municipalities and the state for drilling impacts. Some doubt Wolf's plan would raise the $1 billion he projected.
Wolf said he's concerned about the falling price of natural gas but still intends to seek an extraction tax.
The budget will be his toughest struggle — shrinking a $2.3 billion deficit while growing education funding as he pledged.
“We're excited he's here. We're excited he'll be in office,” fourth-grade teacher Jeff Beeman said at the Downey School in Harrisburg, where Wolf spoke for a Martin Luther King Day celebration.
On his first day, Wolf said he will sign an executive order to ban receipt of gifts by members of his administration and a second order bringing transparency to the state's issuance of legal contracts. Those orders would not apply to the Legislature, independent offices or the courts.
He said the gift ban, which he calls the “no thank-you rule,” will change Harrisburg's culture.
In November, Republicans increased their hold on the House and Senate despite Wolf's nearly 10-point victory over Corbett.
The governor's relationship with the Legislature “can't be a worse relationship with Wolf than it was with Corbett,” said Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia public relations consultant with Democratic ties.
“Wolf starts with a huge advantage, not having scared the bejesus out of the General Assembly for eight years like Corbett did” as former attorney general prosecuting lawmakers for corruption, said Anthony May, a former top aide to the late Gov. Robert P. Casey, a Democrat.
As a millionaire businessman, on some issues Wolf may speak the same language as Republicans frequently touting a pro-business agenda, Ceisler said: “Tom Wolf has had to deal with big numbers and big problems” in his furniture-distribution business.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Melissa Daniels contributed.