Senate rejects Wolf's State Police nominee

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Marcus Brown, acting head of the Pennsylvania State Police, fields questions from senators on a range of issues. (MARC LEVY / Associated Press)

HARRISBURG - In its sharpest rebuke yet to Pennsylvania's first-term governor, the Republican-led Senate on Monday rejected Gov. Wolf's controversial choice to lead the state police and signaled it would be unlikely to reconsider.

Hours after Wolf tried to withdraw the nomination, the chamber ignored his request and voted, 26-22, against the permanent appointment of acting Commissioner Marcus Brown. Observers said it was the first time they could recall the full Senate shooting down a governor's cabinet pick.

GOP leaders, who had opposed the nomination for months, said it was time to move forward.

"The state police need stability. They need to know who their leader is going to be," Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) said after a vote largely along party lines. "We asked the members if they needed more time to vote, and they said no. . . . It was time to bring this matter to a close."

Wolf said he continues to have "full faith" in Brown. But his next step was not immediately clear.

He could keep Brown in place as acting commissioner, although such a move would exacerbate his already strained relationship with Senate Republicans and would come as both sides wrestle with a much more contentious issue, the state budget.

Wolf could also resubmit Brown's nomination, although Republican leaders signaled that would not change the outcome.

Spokesman Jeff Sheridan would say only that the governor was weighing his options.

Brown was unavailable for comment. In a committee hearing last week, he insisted that not one senator "has said I am not qualified for this job."

The 50-year-old career officer has faced questions and criticism since Wolf appointed him in January to lead the Pennsylvania agency, which, with 6,000 employees, is one of the largest law enforcement forces in the country.

Much of the controversy swirled around Brown's decision to wear the state police's gray uniform despite never having attended the agency's academy. A small but vocal group of retired troopers has called Brown's decision a sign of disrespect to those who have gone through the rigorous training.

Democrats in the chamber on Monday complained that Brown, despite an impressive law enforcement resumé, was collateral damage in the political tension between Wolf and Senate Republicans.

Several also said they believe Brown, who came to Pennsylvania after running the Maryland State Police, was being toppled because of his long history of making organizations for which he has worked more racially diverse.

"Some people have not moved forward in America, some people have not moved forward in Pennsylvania, and some people in [the state police] will never move forward," Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D., Phila.) said.

Corman denied those allegations, saying his colleagues were concerned with how Brown reacted to a slew of controversies in recent months. He said many senators had decided to reject Brown's candidacy and did not need any more time to consider the nomination.

"If the governor would have withdrawn [Brown's] name and gone for a new nominee, we would have honored that," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) said Democrats would encourage Wolf to resubmit Brown's nomination.

Corman said he hopes that doesn't happen. "I think the governor should respect the Senate and our process as we respected him and his process," he said.

A Senate committee last week declined to endorse Brown - an unusual step - and sent the nomination to the full chamber without a recommendation. Behind the scenes, the administration and leaders of the GOP-led legislature were in talks to salvage the nomination, but apparently could not.

The Senate has 30 Republicans and 19 Democrats, though a 20th will be sworn in Tuesday. Rep. John Sabatina of Philadelphia won the seat formerly held by Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.

Senate Republican leaders this spring asked Wolf to withdraw Brown's nomination, saying they lacked confidence in his ability to lead the agency. The state trooper's union echoed the sentiment soon after.

But Wolf has stood by his nominee, and did so again Monday.

"Col. Brown has been in law enforcement for 25 years and has improved each agency he has led. The Pennsylvania State Police are the commonwealth's top law enforcement agency, and Col. Brown has the experience necessary to serve in the role of commissioner," Wolf said in his statement.

He also claimed it is "common practice" for governors to recall nominations to allow time for additional discussion. His statement cited four instances in the last two decades, but did not elaborate.


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