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Isenhour picked to replace McGinty as Wolf's chief of staff

| Thursday, July 23, 2015, 11:26 a.m.
Mary Isenhour
Mary Isenhour

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf's legislative liaison Mary Isenhour on Thursday became his chief of staff, “a good choice,” a House GOP spokesman said.

“She'll be good at working though issues and problems. She'll be a factor” in budget meetings, House spokesman Stephen Miskin said.

Isenhour, a political strategist who ran former Gov. Ed Rendell's successful 2006 re-election campaign, was an early supporter of Wolf. She was a senior adviser to his campaign last year and co-chaired his inaugural committee.

She replaces Katie McGinty as top aide in the governor's office. McGinty said she resigned Wednesday “to give serious consideration to a potential U.S. Senate run” in the 2016 Democratic primary.

“In Mary, I think I found someone to continue the strong team dynamic we have,” Wolf said.

“Katie has built a tremendous foundation,” said Isenhour, 56, a Kansas native.

As Wolf's legislative liaison, Isenhour's salary was $145,018. It wasn't clear whether she'll be paid the $168,001 that McGinty made as chief.

Wolf is engaged in a testy battle with a Republican-controlled Legislature. A budget stalemate is in its 24th day since Wolf's veto of the GOP-drafted 2015-16 spending plan.

The Legislature isn't expected to return to session until late August.

“For me, it will always be a blessing to have been part of this team,” McGinty said.

McGinty irritated GOP leaders by criticizing a Senate-passed pension bill as providing “lavish payouts” to lawmakers, though Republican senators said it moved re-elected legislators and new members to 401(k)-type plans.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, called McGinty “polarizing.”

“She hasn't been,” Wolf said. “It's an unfortunate characterization.”

Corman believes “it will be nice to have her campaign on her own dollars, rather than taxpayers' dollars,” said his spokeswoman, Jennifer Kocher.

Changing staff likely won't close the deep ideological divide between conservative Republican leaders and the liberal governor, experts said, on issues such as liquor privatization and pension reform.

“In reality, (McGinty) has not been a factor in any of these (budget) meetings,” Miskin said.

McGinty finished fourth in the Democratic primary for governor last year but was widely credited with running a positive campaign. If she runs for Senate, she will take on Democrat Joe Sestak, a former congressman, in an effort to challenge Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in November.

Isenhour is former director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee and ex-executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee. She began her career as a staffer in the Kansas House of Representatives, where she became chief of staff to the Democratic leader.

From 1995 to 1999, Isenhour was national political director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in Washington.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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