by Lowman S. Henry
Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal
On August 7, 1974 Pennsylvania’s senior U.S. Senator Hugh Scott along with Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona and John Rhodes, then the House of Representatives Minority Leader, sat down in the Oval Office and informed President Richard M. Nixon that his support in Congress had collapsed and that if he did not resign he would be impeached. Nixon resigned the presidency the next day.
It is rare that there is a specific day and place which can be pointed to as the end of an elected official’s relevancy. Governor Tom Wolf had his Richard Nixon moment on Wednesday, June 3rd when he took what he described as a “real gamble” and walked with protesters through the streets of Harrisburg.
The “real gamble” had nothing to do with the governor taking his chances of getting COVID-19, rather the “real gamble” was with what left of his credibility – it is a gamble he lost.
For months Governor Wolf and his embattled Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine has been lecturing, hectoring, even punishing Pennsylvanians demanding “social distancing” and forcing the closure of schools, churches and businesses. They devised a childish red, yellow, green system to define the extent of their draconian shut-down “orders,” supposedly to stem the spread of the Coronavirus.
When county commissioners and lawmakers in a number of counties threatened to move forward into the next phase of re-opening without his permission Wolf threw a temper tantrum calling them among other things quitters. He said they were engaged in a “cowardly act” and then bludgeoned them by threatening to withhold federal stimulus funding.
When a Cumberland County barber and a York County diner decided they had enough of his business closure “order” and decided to re-open Wolf dispatched his deep state bureaucrats to suspend their licenses and issue fines. He was determined to stomp out anybody who dared to defy him. Again, Wolf chided those opposing him for being “selfish” and suggested they would contribute to the spread of the Coronavirus.
When the state legislature expressed the will of the people by repeatedly passing bills designed to re-open various segments of the state’s economy, Wolf obliterated what few checks & balances remain by vetoing each bill. The governor made it plain that only he and his health secretary would decide what would open and when.
When citizens from throughout the commonwealth rallied on the steps of the state capitol demanding the governor re-open businesses and put Pennsylvanians back to work Wolf and Levine used their hand sanitizer, took to their isolated podium and told them it was unsafe to protest.
Heck, it wasn’t even safe to get a haircut without being lectured by the governor – something Steeler quarterback Ben Rothlisberger learned the hard way.
It was clear – Tom Wolf would simply not tolerate anyone defying what he and Rachel Levine had decided was best for the people of Penn’s Woods. Break the rules and you would be in for a tongue lashing or worse. The governor believed he and he alone held the high ground.
If he ever did hold the high ground he lost it on that sunny June afternoon.
He lost it when he climbed out of his state police guarded SUV – not the old Jeep used for political imaging purposes – but a state police guarded SUV to participate in a protest. The governor who said protests were unsafe, marched in a protest. The governor, who told us to social distance, did not social distance. The governor who told us more than 25 people could not gather together, joined a crowd of hundreds.
The governor broke all of the rules.
He said he took a gamble because the cause was important to him and he was willing to take that gamble. For many Pennsylvanians opening their business is important to them – and are willing to take that gamble. Many Pennsylvanians would like to go eat at a restaurant – and are willing to take that gamble. Many Pennsylvanians would like to (safely) get on with their lives and are willing to take that gamble.
Tom Wolf’s assumption of near-dictatorial powers has always been legally and constitutionally questionable. Whatever moral authority he may have had vanished with his hypocritical stroll through the streets of Harrisburg – and along with it the relevancy of his governorship.
It is time for Rachel Levine to put away her red, yellow and green flash cards. It is time to end excessive state government interference in our lives. It is time to re-open Pennsylvania.