ShareThis Page
Pennsylvania

Pa. House Dems who signed letter to Gov. Wolf about retaliation note possible reversal

| Monday, April 11, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

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 kandren@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me