Wolf's first day: New rules, same ride

Gov. Tom Wolf arrives for his first day of work at the Capitol building on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/PennLive.com, Sean Simmers)

HARRISBURG - Gov. Wolf arrived at the Capitol on Wednesday morning - his first day on the job - in the same ride he used when he was secretary of revenue eight years ago.

Only this time, Wolf was not in the driver's seat of his 2006 Jeep Wrangler. A Pennsylvania state trooper, following security protocol for the governor, was behind the wheel.

Wolf's choice of vehicles and commuting routine departs from his immediate predecessors. Tom Corbett favored the standard-issue Chevrolet Suburban; Ed Rendell, a Lincoln Town Car.

Differing also was the main agenda item for the governor, his top staff, and cabinet members on their first full day: a nearly daylong training session on ethics and the state open-records law.

"It's a top priority," said Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan, who added that he thinks it was the first time a governor's cabinet and senior staff has had such extensive training on the topics. "It's important that they understand the law."

That followed Wolf's first official action, signing executive orders banning anyone in the executive branch from accepting gifts and outlawing no-bid legal contracts.

Much of the administration's first day was spent out of the public spotlight. But as cabinet secretaries settled into their new jobs, discussions were already underway with the Obama administration to scrap Corbett's controversial "Healthy PA" health insurance plan. The Medicaid expansion alternative, launched Jan. 1, was aimed at providing insurance for roughly 600,000 low-income Pennsylvanians.

Wolf campaigned on a promise to replace it with full Medicaid expansion, although it is not yet clear when that plan would start. "The Department of Human Services is working with the feds on that transition," Sheridan said.

Unlike governors of other states, Wolf does not need legislative approval to move forward with Medicaid expansion. He does, however, need to get his cabinet nominees confirmed by a majority of the GOP-led Senate.

That process begins in the next few weeks, as cabinet secretaries make the rounds for meet-and-greet sessions with the 50 members of the Senate ahead of confirmation hearings.

Drew Crompton, chief counsel for the Senate GOP caucus,    said hearings would likely not start until after Wolf's budget address in early March - and could last into the spring.

Crompton said members of the Senate would be actively vetting the roughly two dozen nominees who must be confirmed.

He said that some nominees might encounter particular scrutiny from some members for their past positions on certain hot-button issues, but that it would not necessarily endanger their confirmation.

"There will be a lot of due diligence on the nominees," he said.

Crompton said Wolf's nominees for secretaries of labor and industry and environmental protection might expect some tough questions.

He described former Rep. Kathy Manderino of Philadelphia, Wolf's pick to lead labor and industry, as having been "strident" on certain labor issues when she was in the House.

And he noted that John Quigley - former secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, whom Wolf tapped to run the high-profile Department of Environmental Protection - also ran Penn Future, one of the state's largest and most vocal environmental advocacy groups.

The last time a cabinet nominee ran into trouble was in 2003, when Rendell withdrew former Philadelphia State Rep. Ben Ramos' name for secretary of the commonwealth after reports that Ramos failed to file timely campaign expense reports.

aworden@phillynews.com 717-783-2584 @InkyAmy