Outside of southcentral Pennsylvania many residents of Penn’s Woods might have difficulty locating Lebanon County on a map. Situated between Hershey and Reading the county of 142,000 people boasts an abundance of bucolic farmland, a small diverse county seat, and the quaint enclave of Mt. Gretna.
Lebanon County is one of the brightest red counties in the state. The GOP dominates every office from congress to dog catcher. Republicans there are of the Ronald Reagan variety and are possessed of the independent streak exhibited by our forefathers who gathered a few miles away in 1776 at Independence Hall to declare a new nation.
Rarely does Lebanon County play a major role in statewide politics. But in this year of Coronavirus it has become ground zero in the battle against the draconian policies of the Wolf Administration. And that resistance has in turn brought out the worst of the governor’s penchant for petulant political payback.
The battle lines were drawn as the state moved through its childish red-yellow-green phases of re-opening following harsh lock-down policies.
The fuzzy metrics and constantly changing benchmarks used by the state to determine which counties advanced into less restrictive phases fueled mounting frustration among county officials across the commonwealth.
A boiling point was reached in mid-May and a number of counties announced they would move into less restrictive phases on their own regardless of state policy. This prompted a gubernatorial temper tantrum followed by threats to with-hold state funding from any county that defied his orders.
While most counties retreated following the governor’s diatribe Lebanon County stood strong. Its Republican commissioners with the backing of the county’s legislative delegation moved forward into the green phase in defiance of the governor’s orders.
Wolf fired back calling all of the above “cowards,” claimed they were enabling the spread of the virus by moving forward with re-opening too quickly. In an act of incredible hypocrisy, in violation of his own orders placing strict limits on in-person gatherings, the governor then joined thousands in protest marches.
Lebanon County continued to rebel. Its legislators were prime movers behind the General Assembly’s passage of a resolution to end the governor’s emergency powers. The resolution passed, only to be declared unconstitutional by the labor union-dominated state Supreme Court. Representatives Frank Ryan and Russ Diamond then joined in co-sponsoring articles of impeachment against the governor.
Citizens joined in the fray. A local diner, and a small Italian restaurant known as Taste of Sicily re-opened early at fully capacity. Elected officials including the county’s congressman, state senator, state representatives and commissioners converged on the eating establishments to lend their support.
Then it was time for political payback: Wolf announced he would with-hold $12.8 million in federal CARES Act funding from Lebanon County because they “did not follow the rules.” That prompted both a lawsuit from the Lebanon County Commissioners and a legislative resolution demanding the county be given its funding.
After leaving Lebanon County twisting in the wind for a few weeks the Wolf Administration agreed to a settlement. But there was a price to pay: the county would be required to spend $2.8 million on an educational campaign to get citizens to wear masks. That amounts to spending nearly $20.00 for every man, woman and child in the county on a mask campaign that will have little or no impact.
In opposing the settlement, County Commissioner William Ames said: “The governor’s insistence on these conditions is one more example of his petty politics and his callous disregard of the true needs of Pennsylvania’s citizens.” He added sarcastically, “I’m sure his decision was based on science.”
There is good reason for Ames’ sarcasm as the Wolf Administration’s COVID-19 policies have had little to do with science and everything to do with petty politics. And while the governor insists on wasting $2.8 million in federal funding to assuage his ego rather than actually fight the virus because Lebanon County “did not follow the rules,” he and his administration continue to flaunt both the rules and the actual law.
The Department of Health is fighting Right to Know requests for the data used to determine its policies and has ignored a subpoena issued months ago by the state Senate for information on its bungled wavier program for essential businesses.
For Tom Wolf its do as I say, not as I do. Much like their forefathers in Philadelphia stood in defiance of another tyrannical regime, Lebanon is one county that is not about to be deprived of its right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
(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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