Primary Choices: Evaluating the 2014 PA-Gov Field

It’s July 31, 2013. The Pennsylvania primary is in May 2014. So it’s time to decide who I want to be the Democratic nominee for governor.

You may ask why I’m looking to make my choice roughly 10 months before the actual primary election. Wouldn’t it be wiser to wait and see what the candidates say and do during the campaign and then make my choice at the last minute, with the most information possible?

By the time next May rolls around, the field will have shaken out. Some candidates will have been able to break out, get name recognition, and gather support. Some will not. There will be a lot more polling data that shows who’s leading and who’s not. I’ll have to make a tactical choice at that point, and decide which of the viable candidates is most preferable.

Right now, the field is relatively wide open. No one has much name recognition throughout the state. And tonight is a quarterly filing deadline. So by choosing a candidate now, and making even a small donation, I can help whichever candidate I think is the very best in the field have a slightly better chance of still being around when it’s time to make that tactical choice. And since fewer people are paying attention to the race now, my pebble will make a slightly bigger ripple in the pond.

This is one small part of the idea that being a citizen in a democracy requires more than just voting in elections. It requires involvement in the process from a much earlier point.

Now the truth is I have been following the Democratic primary out of one corner of my eye so far. So today I am going to change that. I am going to go through each of the candidates’ websites and see what I can learn, and decide if any of the candidates deserve my early support. I’ll try to supplement that with whatever news coverage or interviews I can find.

Before I start, here are the three issues I am going to pay the most attention to, although I reserve the right for a candidate to wow me with a proposal on some other front.

Education: I am a teacher. My wife works for a higher education institution. My daughter is a public school student. This is the ultimate case of self interest. It’s also vital to the future of the city I live in and the state as a whole, so I think I’m justified in putting it at number one. I’m looking for a candidate who has thought through how to more fairly fund education throughout the state and who won’t pour what resources we have into excessive use of standardized tests.

Environment/Energy: There’s a natural gas boom in Pennsylvania. I want to support a candidate who will make sure that the companies that profit from this boom are making a substantial contribution to support the state and to mitigate the environmental impacts of fracking. I also want to see a candidate use the funds from that boom to invest in greener forms of energy so that natural gas is a transition, not an end state.

Infrastructure/Transportation: I’d like to see a plan to invest in the state infrastructure, not just to build and repair roads but also to improve mass transit.

And I will give a slight edge to a candidate from the Philadelphia area in southeast Pennsylvania. There is a clear geographic rivalry in Pennsylvania. Many people in other areas of the state do not like the southeast. At the same time, a Democratic candidate can run up the score in the southeast and lose in many of the state’s other counties, and still get elected. So if we’re going to have this regional dynamic, we may as well take advantage of it. Plus I want the eventual governor to know that he or she relies on the southeast as a base of support and therefore be willing to fight on its behalf.

OK, so those are my criteria. I’m going to start going to each candidate’s website in alphabetical order and I will share my impressions as I do. The bold name at the start of each section links to the candidate’s website. I took screen captures of each home page, so you can get an idea of what I saw.

John Hanger

John Hanger was a Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commissioner under Governor Casey and the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection toward the end of Governor Rendell’s term. As I get to the home page the first thing I see is “Support Public Education.” Scroll down, and there’s a six point agenda. There’s also a link to a blog item about the state wasting money on failing cyberschools. The home page has definitely grabbed my interest, so let me see what he has to say about the issues.

There’s nothing specific about revising the funding formula, but he does want to restore the money that Governor Corbett cut from education starting in 2011. He’s actually more specific in the “8-Point Strategic Jobs Plan” that’s available as a PDF – he wants the state to chip in 50 percent of the costs of public education. I wish that were in the section on education, but I’m going to cut some slack based on the idea that not everyone who visits the website is going to want as much policy wonkery as I am. The jobs plan has specifics about issuing bonds to pay for sewer and water infrastructure, and implies that he wants billions more for transportation funding over the next few years. The jobs policy also wants to double investment in alternative energies. It is probably a smart move to tie a lot of the agenda items into the effort to create new jobs.

Hanger’s blog has short items every day or two that talk about the campaign or events that he can connect back to the agenda items. It’s not a ton, but it is definitely good to see him constantly adding content and trying to use social media to share it. (I also like that he has a brief post supporting the idea of replacing the death penalty with life without parole.)

OK, I am definitely impressed by the website. It has detail, I don’t see any suggestions I can not support, and his priorities sync up pretty well with mine. The rest of the candidates are definitely going to have to show me why they’re better than Hanger.

Jo Ellen Litz

Jo Ellen Litz is a county commissioner from Lebanon County. I knew absolutely nothing about her until today, when I found a newspaper article from a month ago when she announced her candidacy. Let’s take a look at her website.

OK, that is just a muddled mess that gives me no confidence that Litz can run a good campaign. She’s touting herself as being from a rural county in south-central Pennsylvania, so I have no confidence that she will be engaged in helping the state’s urban areas. Her policy platform is not very specific, and I don’t know why a candidate for governor has “Provide for a strong national defense” as the number three issue on the agenda.

Rob McCord

Rob McCord is currently the state treasurer. He has not officially announced that he is running, so his website still reflects his last run for treasurer. So many news accounts have suggested that he is going to declare his candidacy in the fall, so I felt like I should check him out. But if he’s not going to officially ask me to support him for governor, I can’t give him my support.

But seriously, take a look at the guy’s Twitter account. He’s running.

Katie McGinty

Katie McGinty was also a Secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection under Governor Rendell. The biography page on her website is hugely impressive. She grew up in northeast Philadelphia, graduated from the same high school that my mother did, and went to St. Joseph’s University. So the local link is definitely there. She clerked in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, was an aide to Al Gore when he was a senator, and then chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Clinton. Given that background, I assume she is not personally responsible for the typos on the page.

Her Vision page is very light on specifics; to the extent that there is a focus it is on the connection between environmental sustainability and jobs. The word “education” does not appear on the page. The media section includes press releases about milestones in the campaign, such as endorsements and poll showings, and a few criticisms of Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania legislature. Someone as brilliant as McGinty’s bio suggests ought to have more ideas about how to improve the state, and someone who wants the public’s support ought to be willing to share those ideas.

McGinty seems like the kind of person I would really like to support. I’m not sure I can do it with the lack of specifics.

Max Myers

Max Myers is a pastor and businessman. He is another person who was completely off my radar before I started this research today. His website is just as polished as Hanger’s or McGinty’s. The top item on his website is an open letter to Governor Corbett, dated July 1, that urges Corbett not to attack the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in order to boost his re-election prospects. It’s well-written and sets an interesting tone – it’s not slamming Corbett, it’s appealing to him to do the right thing. I like the approach, even though it’s obvious that Corbett’s not listening to the advice.

His Vision page says that he has four primary priorities, and then lists only three: Poverty, Employment, and Leadership. There are no details on how he would address these. His additional priorities are Energy, Arts, Equal Rights, Education, Environment, and Seniors. Again, no specifics are provided.

Myers seems like a good person, but he would have to overcome his lack of government experience with some seriously good and innovative ideas, and they’re just not here.

Allyson Schwartz

Allyson Schwartz is the U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 13th District, which includes my neighborhood. Before that she was a member of the Pennsylvania state senate, so she has experience with the state government. She is considered a front-runner for the nomination.

This status can not possibly be a result of her campaign website, which is a single page that contains links to press releases. There are 20 press releases in total. 14 of those 20 releases are about polls, endorsements, or campaign milestones. The other six are almost utterly devoid of detail.

OK, maybe Schwartz is playing it safe and trying not to give anyone any ammunition for either the primary or the general campaign. But I have to say that this just smacks of entitlement. It seems like we are expected to support Schwartz because she’s already winning, not because of anything in particular she wants to do.

Given the resources at Schwartz’s disposal, I expect much more from her.

Tom Wolf

Tom Wolf is a businessman and was the Secretary of Revenue under Governor Rendell. His website’s home page features a biographical video about his business background, a message supporting Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s decision not to defend Pennsylvania’s law against same sex marriage, and a criticism of Governor Corbett’s job record. His issues section includes pages on Jobs, Education, Infrastructure, Seniors, and Fairness. The education page criticizes Corbett’s cuts and wants to establish universal pre-K. Other than that it is light on specifics, such as how this would be funded. The job page cites clean-energy jobs as a way to boost Pennsylvania’s manufacturing. The infrastructure plan mentions broadband access in addition to the usual roads and bridges, which I think is a nice touch. Under fairness, Wolf combines support for higher taxes on corporations, support for marriage equality, and support for abortion rights.

Like McGinty’s site, there’s nothing here that knocks Wolf out. But there’s nothing that makes me say, “Yeah, I want him!” If he were the Democratic nominee, I’d have no problem supporting him. But I can’t find a compelling reason why he should be the nominee and not anyone else.


So where am I after all of this? Intrigued by McGinty, and hoping she expands her platform. Irritated at Schwartz. But for now, I feel like not only is Hanger saying more things that I agree with, he is running his campaign itself in a way that I agree with. So while I reserve the right to change my mind as the campaign progresses, for now I am going to make a contribution to Hanger’s campaign. I want to do my part to show that there is a reward for telling the voters what you want to do, and hopefully nudge the other candidates toward some of Hanger’s positions. I’ll keep following the campaigns, and check in with another post at the end of the next quarter.

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