Governor Josh Shapiro took office last January riding the crest of a landslide election victory and brought with him a reputation as a competent administrator who, in his own words is able to “get s— done.” For a few months he lived up to that reputation.
When a tractor trailer accident destroyed a key bridge along I-95 near Philadelphia disrupting traffic on one of the nation’s most heavily travelled routes Shapiro swung into action and within days had a temporary structure in place and traffic once again flowing. It was a remarkable display of his ability to “get s— done.”
His job in cutting through regulations and bureaucracy to accomplish that feat was indeed admirable, but in the process, he demonstrated just how unnecessary many of those rules and regulations are and how they are actually a costly and time consuming impediment to progress.
Since then, however, his reputation as an effective leader has, well, turned into a pile of the previously mentioned excrement.
As the last week of June dawned it appeared as if Shapiro’s first state budget was headed for clear sailing through the legislature his having negotiated a deal with Senate Republicans to include many Democrat spending priorities in the budget in exchange for a nominal expenditure to give new educational options to children in the state’s most underperforming school districts.
But then powerful education establishment interests – which have no moral problem trapping minority children in underperforming schools – engaged their legislative allies in the Democrat-controlled House in opposition to the deal. Shapiro folded like a cheap suit, broke his promises to Senate Republicans, and line item vetoed the scholarship program. The budget was passed; but the legislation needed to enable much of the spending was not and a stalemate ensued.
In one fell swoop Shapiro shattered his working relationship with Senate Republicans and triggered a months-long budget crisis – one that to this day remains partially unresolved. Not exactly a feather in the cap of a chief executive who claims to be able to “get s— done.”
That, however, is not his biggest problem. It has come to light that one of his top aides, Secretary of Legislative Affairs Mike Vereb resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations lodged by a staff member. A taxpayer funded monetary settlement of $295,000 was paid to the victim.
The settlement included a confidentiality clause that prevents either side from discussing the allegations effectively, as one media outlet reported, creating a “wall of secrecy” around the matter. As Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Shapiro crusaded for the rights of victims of abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church. Those cases became signature accomplishments of his tenure as the state’s top law enforcement official. However, his ham-handled handling of the allegations against Vereb have essentially wiped out the political capital gained while he was Attorney General.
As female members of the General Assembly demanded more answers Shapiro himself made the situation even worse. Responding to criticism from Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward he testily retorted “consider the source.” Such a demeaning reproach to the highest-ranking female lawmaker in the legislature further rankled women lawmakers and prompted Ward to announce the convening of a hearing into the governor’s handling of the Vereb situation. That ensures the issue will remain in the headlines for weeks to come.
Shapiro has also been unable to find his footing on the controversial Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The multi-state compact that was entered into by former Governor Tom Wolf immediately caused the shut-down of a coal fired power plant in Indiana County resulting in the loss of hundreds of high-paying union jobs. The issue is currently before the courts as legislative Republicans have challenged the agreement which is a defacto tax imposed without legislative approval. Shapiro has attempted to walk a tightrope on the issue, occasionally sounding for RGGI and occasionally sounding against it, in the process pleasing nobody.
All of this threatens to undermine the governor’s goal of running for President of the United States. His recent trip to New Hampshire to speak at a state Democratic Party dinner confirmed his ambitions. While dipping his toes into the waters of presidential politics he is threatened at home by a tidal wave of stumbles that have dulled the early luster of his administration.
At this point, the Shapiro Administration’s lack of transparency, and frayed relations with legislative Republicans, needs to be corrected and repaired if he has any hope of restoring his faltering reputation for being a skilled leader who can “get s— done.”
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])
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