There are some compelling parallels between the last two weeks in Harrisburg and the last two years in Washington, in form, if not in substance.
Consider the narrative: an executive is elected with little or no legislative or executive experience; his ascension is as much about breaking with the past 8 years as it is with his own story, if not more so; he is greeted by overwhelming majorities of his party in the legislature, a fact that leaves any and all within the party drunk with the possibilities; and he proceeds to put friends without the requisite experience in key positions, a weakness that plagues his agenda from “Day One.
”Yup, that was Obama 2008 – and Corbett 2010. And if the Governor is not careful, the result will be two choppy years as we just witnessed – with the potential for far right over-reach every bit as perilous as Obamacare.
The events last week only underscore the position in which we now find our great commonwealth. On Day 7, the Governor unveiled a reform plan that was tepid at best a problem magnified by its failure to be rolled out Day One, as candidate Corbett had promised.
Frankly, I don’t care about the week delay – in operation, the fact is neither roll out date would accelerate the process. But it did show a certain lack of attention to detail. The “Day One” ads were so present that the failure to do something – even symbolically – effectively gave the opposition (which now includes the press) all they needed to slam you.
This was preceded, in true Obama Administration fashion, by the Governor’s office signaling that it would wait and evaluate reforms coming from the legislature. Like letting Pelosi and Reid author Obamacare, allowing the legislature to set the reform agenda is a risky move. It will require executive leadership to genuinely change things. And, given that the body you want to reform IS the legislature, exceptional leadership at that.
The rules committee meeting demonstrated that the House is far from a well-oiled reform machine. The Majority Leader looked like a bully, the Democrats like soccer hooligans for a losing side, and in the wake of it, the Governor appeared absent (imagine Ed not commenting on a scene like that – if you can). Clearly the House is not the best cauldron in which to forge the foundations of reform.
And the Senate, with its internal battles and external sloth, is a terrible place to wager on as well for a reform minded Governor. The Senate is the old hand in this power arrangement; the GOP held a huge majority seemingly forever and most Senators are in no rush to make sweeping changes to the business of Pennsylvania politics.
The bottom line is simple: even with a GOP controlled House and Senate, without a strong executive leading the process, setting priorities and working to enact them the result will be a lot like the luke-warm changes since 2006. Reform needs a strong executive who will use the bully pulpit and political capital to set the agenda. And even a strong executive needs a strong team to push his agenda through.
Which raises the lack of proven hill vets in prominent places in the Corbett administration. Let me begin by saying that I have very little personal knowledge of most of the people who do have these roles, and frankly that is of little import. The real problem is that they all have limited – if any – experience working this legislature, these leaders, and in this climate. Their lack of relationships or “spent blood” with the key staffers and leaders will make managing an agenda tougher.
Sound familiar? Like the President, Governor Corbett has close advisers he knows and trusts. That is to be expected. But he also needs people who can maneuver his agenda through the halls of power. When you look at the roster of Corbett Administration folks, its hard to find the old legislative hands that can do this. In the end, the lack of these people will slow or cripple any Corbett agenda.
Unless of course, like the President, you are willing to let the legislature fill in the blanks behind the broad strokes – a strategy even he would probably decry, given the results both legislatively and electorally.
There is still time. While it is unlikely that the House Rs and Ds will start holding hands, a gesture on the Governor’s part – say, like asking the House to restore the extra committee member – could start things rolling in a more positive direction.
Regardless of any moves (or none at all), the Corbett Administration, needs quickly to realize that there is no honeymoon and that the battle for the future of the Commonwealth didn’t end January 18th – it only began.
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