An open letter to Pennsylvania Gov.-Elect Tom Wolf | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

An open letter to Pennsylvania Gov.-Elect Tom Wolf

We put a lot of faith in you, and now it's incumbent upon you not to break that trust

Dear Gov.-Elect Wolf,

I'll be honest. When I first saw you onstage at Carnegie Mellon University in January, I wasn't very impressed.

Sure, it was tough to get noticed up there with seven other Democrats all licking their chops at the prospect of getting a one-on-one shot at Gov. Tom Corbett on Nov. 4. But, still, you seemed especially timid.

In fact, I had you pegged to be one of the race's first casualties. I knew you would last longer than Jo Ellen Litz or Max Myers, the minister from Mechanicsburg. But if I had to lay a wager, I had you going out before progressive poster-boy John Hanger.

But then you grabbed your old Jeep and used some of the millions you made with your family's kitchen-cabinet company to get on TV across the state and tell a great story. The rest was history. You became the first challenger to oust an incumbent since the state began allowing incumbents. Breaking decades-long traditions is not an easy thing to do, especially in Pennsylvania.

Not only did you oust the incumbent — you did it with 55 percent of the vote. That's a mandate from the people of this commonwealth who were not happy with Tom Corbett's leadership. You told us that you could do better, and we believed you. But now comes the hard part: putting up.

Unfortunately for you, we expect the change you promised, and we expect it yesterday. If Tom Corbett taught us just one thing, it's that you don't have eight years to make a difference. We have a lot of problems. Among them are a $1 billion budget shortfall, a pension system that is broken to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, and a school funding mess that has kept poor districts poor, sent less money to the classroom and forced districts to heap higher and higher tax rates on property owners.

And those are just the initial priorities. We also need medical-marijuana laws to help sick Pennsylvanians; reform of the state liquor-store system; more regulation on the gas-drilling industry, including a severance tax; LGBT anti-discrimination laws; a true Medicaid expansion; stricter gun-control measures; and an end to divisive partisan legislation like making English the state's official language or laws interfering in women's health issues.

And these are just a few off the top of my head. You're the guy tasked with fixing these issues, and while your election has me hopeful, I'm not entering your first term without trepidation. You became the frontrunner in this race in early 2014 and never relinquished that lead. Because of that, you ran a careful race in which what you didn't say was as important as what you did say. That left us wondering how you'll address certain issues, like your much-discussed tax plan.

You said that until you got into office and looked at the numbers, you wouldn't be sure who would see tax cuts and who would see increases. You sketched it out generally, but were very scant on details. I think a lot of that came from campaign strategy — why divulge more than you have to? We put a lot of faith in you on this issue and others, and now it's incumbent upon you not to break that trust.

Your biggest challenge will be working with a GOP-controlled legislature that has a history of being cantankerous at best and obstructionist at worst. Legislation important to Pennsylvanians languishes in committees because that party's leadership doesn't deem it worthy of debate. Working with the legislature will take compromise. And that gives me pause.

While compromise is important, you must remember that what you're giving up can be just as important as what you're getting. Wins in areas of pension reform and education funding are vital to the state's future, but so is the need for LGBT anti-discrimination laws, environmental protection, medical-marijuana legalization and a halt to the attacks on women's health. Oftentimes political victories are won by giving up something that's seen as less important or critical. I ask that when you're making these deals that you do so carefully and thoughtfully.

Finally, you are not a politician. You've embraced that fact, and it's part of the reason that we embraced you. You are soft-spoken and mild-mannered, but when you get to Harrisburg we need you to speak loudly and fight for the things that you promised. The past four years were spent with a governor who didn't listen to what we were saying

And you know better than anyone what happened to him.