Skip to content

Wolf Wins Governorship, GOP Expands Control of General Assembly

Tom Wolf will become Pennsylvania’s 47th Governor after he cruised to a double-digit win over Gov. Tom Corbett in Tuesday’s election, but far from being a mandate, his election was accompanied by a huge Republican gains in the House and Senate.

Republicans went five for five in competitive state Senate races Tuesday, expanding their majority by three seats and defeating Democratic Senator Tim Solobay, which gives the GOP a 30 to 20 controlling majority. 

In the state House of Representatives, Republicans gained eight additional seats, with only incumbent Mike Fleck, who was forced to run as a Democrat, losing re-election. Along the way, Republican candidates defeated several incumbent Democratic members, including Jesse White in Washington County, Rick Mirabito in Lycoming County, and Mark Painter in Montgomery County, widening their margin of control in the House to 119-84.

Nationally, Republicans took control of the US Senate, and expanded their control of the US House to levels not seen for the GOP since the 1920’s.  Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation remains 13-5 Republican, with the only change coming with the election of Rep. Brendan Boyle.

Elections and Energy, Environment

In his victory speech, Governor-elect Wolf talked about what PA can do “together.”  That is the key.  Democratic spokesmen and women are saying that Wolf’s win creates a situation where the public will demand the General Assembly help him achieve his goals.  But that’s not been the case in the last four years, when Republicans controlled the House, Senate AND Governor’s office. 

Tom Wolf, as a Democratic Governor, will have to find ways to not only craft a majority of support, but also create an environment where GOP leadership is willing to allow policies and legislation to come to the floor for a vote.  Wolf will have to learn quickly, be a listener and a negotiator to succeed, especially facing the growing GOP caucuses in the State House and a Republican Senate.

While Governor-elect Wolf led with education as a top priority in his acceptance speech, energy wasn’t far behind. He indicated a desire to work with both the state’s energy and logging industries to “take advantage of [Pennsylvania’s] natural resources.”

He also noted that coal is an ongoing part of the energy solution. Although no mention of how coal or other outdated energy sources would play into the EPA Clean Power Plan that will be largely directed by his Department of Environmental Protection staff yet to be appointed.

Wolf had said that within his first 100 days in office, he would: appoint qualified individuals to lead the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who will address climate change and bring greater transparency to drilling activities, submit a budget that includes additional funding for the DEP so that it is sufficiently staffed and able to provide oversight of natural gas drillers, and introduce legislation to enact a five percent extraction tax on natural gas.

While it is undeniable that the handing of the state’s natural gas industry played a role in this gubernatorial election cycle, the end-game is unclear and enacting Wolf’s proposal to replace the current impact fee with a 5 percent tax on the market value of natural gas is a big lift.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) took heat earlier this year for saying what many were thinking that such a tax is only a matter of time. However, most conservative Republicans, especially those vying for leadership positions in their caucuses, are opposed to such a measure. For Wolf, introducing the bill will be the easy part.

The Governor-elect had promised not to allow more drilling in the state parks and forests, and supports a moratorium on drilling in the Delaware River watershed. Restricted drilling and watershed moratoriums may be great for forests and watersheds, but it will further slow Wolf’s goals of using drilling as a fundraising mechanism for specific budget items, like education, and reaching national emissions goal. 

When it comes to renewable energy and energy efficiency, Wolf has said he is an advocate of expanding the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards and restoring some funding to the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority. He would also like to see new investments in energy efficiency retrofits of commercial and residential real estate.

Governor-elect Wolf had also promised to move Pennsylvania to join RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which sets emission caps and uses revenue gained to invest in renewable energy. The addition of Pennsylvania would effectively double the footprint of the cap-and-trade program, while bringing in a state with a more diverse energy mix, but likely would require legislative approval.

The General Assembly

How the General Assembly will handle energy issues in the coming session will come down to leadership. Both the House and Senate remain in Republican control, and expanded that control on election night.  The General Assembly returns to Harrisburg on November 12 for caucus elections and reorganization for 2015-2016.

The retirement of Speaker Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) will create a ripple effect on GOP leadership posts. At least two dozen Republican members are rumored to have tossed their hats into the ring for one leadership position or another.  Several vacancies will create a shakeup in key committee chairmanships.  House Democrats are likely to have a similar internal battle for at least two leadership positions.

Meanwhile Senate GOP leaders have found themselves publicly attacked by some members of their own caucus, a fact that could lead to a showdown, with newly elected Senators, including Scott Wagner (R-York), fueling the fire by promoting unrest in the ranks.

Related News

In Philadelphia, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to make the Office of Sustainability, a temporary create of Mayor Michael Nutter, a permanent part of city government.