The Pennsylvania GOP has given its endorsement to Senator Scott Wagner to carry the GOP banner against incumbent Tom Wolf.
then won by write-in vote by an al most 2-to-1 margin. He is Tea Party flavored and much in the Trump style, with some ties to Scott Walker, and he shares Walkers love of unions in particular and the whole democratic process in general. The GOP chose him over House Speaker Mike Turzai and a couple of other also-rans. But it says something about the shift of Pennsylvania's GOP that they are backing for Governor-- over an established pol-- a guy they tried to deny any shot at his current job just four years ago.
Wagner's campaign is founded on the same negativity as Trump's-- his campaign website announces that Pennsylvania is broke and broken:
A dysfunctional political system ruled by entrenched special interests and career politicians has saddled us with enormous debt, high taxes, a weak economy, underperforming schools, and embarrassing scandals. That’s why Pennsylvanians in droves have voted with their feet by moving to prosperous, well-run states.
Wagner claimed an "emboldened" moment after spending time on a plane with Steve Bannon, and he has called Trump a "visionary." But the conservative Washington Times questions whether Wagner is Pennsylvania's real answer to Trump, or whether Wagner is just Trump in his own mind.
In his two state Senate years, he has accomplished nothing headline-worthy that is remotely Trumpian. He did go after a fellow Republican in leadership who he said was blocking anything that betrayed a whiff of conservatism.
In fact, Wagner has spent a lot of time taking shots at his own party's leadership (they weren't confrontational enough with Governor Wolf, he says). His website includes the goal of fixing the bloated PA political system (we have one of the biggest, most expensive legislatures in the country). He wants to slash the money available to legislators and end the revolving lobbyist door, which will be great for wealthy businessmen like Scott Wagner, and a bit more challenging for citizen legislators. Mostly it will pit the governor against a legislature controlled by his own party, though I suppose the PA GOP may turn out to be just a spineless and malleable as the national party.
Wagner has been noted for some bold ideas, like the notion that global warming is the product of more body heat and a planet moving closer to the sun. And he has been outspoken about the cause of poverty-- the laziness of poor people.
But for those of us who care about public education, Wagner is a potential disaster. He is all in for backpacks full of cash following the children wherever their families send them. He is savvy enough to couple this with a call for accountability for all schools that receive public funds, but I call bullshit on this because Pennsylvania has been staring straight at a variety of indicators that our thriving cyber-school sector is a money-wasting scam, and yet the legislature has continued to defend cyber-funding.
Wagner is from the "don't throw money at schools" camp, but that's a hard argument to make stick in a state with one of the worst funding systems in the country. With the state kicking in only a small portion of school funding, our school districts depend primarily on local funding, which means poor communities have underfunded schools. Wagner doesn't have a plan for that.
What Wagner has a plan for is getting rid of teacher unions, ending job protections, and making it legal to fire teachers based on how expensive they are. He also likes merit pay, which in education is always equal to paying teachers less. And he keeps talking about unfunded mandates, but he never talks about exactly which ones he'd like to get rid of.
Oh, and get rid of those pensions, too.
Pennsylvania's political landscape is a wonky one. We have a huge spread between wealthy and poor, and what may be an even huger spread between rural and urban. This is a state that includes Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and my own county with just over 50K citizens and Forest County with fewer than 8,000 people. We're loaded with old folks, and we're currently sort of trying to kind of fix the court-condemned gerrymandering that has given us a legislative majority for the GOP even though we have more Democratic voters. And like every other state, we are not exactly overwhelming with voter turnout (Wagner's write-in victory came with 14% of voters showing up).
So it's never easy to predict what will happen come election time. But I can tell you this-- rural Tea Party Republicans hate hate HATE Tom Wolf, and a drain-the-swamp guy like Scott Wagner will motivate that part of the base. If Dems sit back and assume this guy can't possibly win, Pennsylvania public education will be in a world of hurt come 2019.