Baer: Wolf and Republicans find yet another fight

Pennsylvania Budget
Gov.Wolf is accused of firing the husband of Sen. Lisa Baker out of retribution.

MAYBE THE once-seen-as-mild-mannered Wolfman is baring his fangs a little bit more.

Perhaps he who pitched "a different kind of governor" is pitching an old familiar brand of hardball.

Could be calling Republicans stupid, their budget "garbage," and suggesting they might want to "find another job" just whetted an appetite for escalation.

Whatever's going on, it seems something new is going on in the ongoing fight twixt Wolf and the GOP.

If you missed it, well-regarded (i.e., not crazy) Republican Sen. Lisa Baker of Luzerne County accuses Wolf of political retaliation on a personal level.

She says Wolf abruptly fired her husband from his longtime post as a regional director for the Department of Community and Economic Development in an act of retribution.

The Feb. 3 firing of Gary Baker, a 16-year DCED employee under five governors of both parties (and promoted by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell), came right after the senator jabbed Wolf in a Jan. 29 news release.

She wrote that Wolf axed funding for two hospitals in her rural northeastern district, putting the hospitals and those they serve at risk, in an action "driven by politics, not fiscal necessity," a reference to Wolf's budget battle with GOP lawmakers.

Baker tells me she's convinced her husband's firing was retaliation. She says he was fired without explanation, was given an hour to pack up and leave his Scranton office, that coworkers were "stunned," and that "our phone is ringing off the hook with calls from people in organizations and community groups" her husband worked with over the years.

The governor's office says the administration does not discuss personnel matters.

I suggest to Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan that when a (not-crazy) Republican senator says a spouse's firing was political payback, and all the governor's office says is that it doesn't discuss personnel matters, it makes me think the spouse's firing was political payback.

Sheridan says, "We don't discuss personnel matters."

This, as you might imagine, isn't sitting well with Senate leadership.

Not that anything involving Wolf sits well with Senate leadership.

So Senate President Joe Scarnati and Majority Leader Jake Corman fired off a letter Feb. 10 to Wolf's DCED secretary, Dennis Davin.

It seeks answers about "this punitive termination," noting, "It astounds us that the same people Gov. Wolf continues to say he wants to work collaboratively with are those he seeks to adversely affect."

Senate counsel Drew Crompton says nothing yet from Davin.

In fairness, the post Gary Baker held at an annual salary of $99,355 is a political appointment filled or emptied at the pleasure of any governor.

But Wolf had more than a year to act on his pleasure in this regard, so timing here seems, shall we say, just a tad suspect.

Plus, it's not the first time Wolf's office has clashed with Sen. Baker.

She claims that after Wolf in December vetoed her bill to make the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency subject to Senate confirmation (the position is appointed by the governor), a senior Wolf aide told her the bill was vetoed because Baker did not support Marcus Brown, Wolf's failed nominee for State Police commissioner.

Sheridan calls Baker's claim "ridiculous."

Overt examples of hardball, claims and counterclaims, controversial hires and fires, all are common in partisan politics. And they're to be expected in a state where politics, especially now, are as partisan as partisan gets.

It's just that when things already are bad, it's difficult to understand why some seem to go out of their way to stoke the smoking embers of animus.

At some point, larger goals of governing, however difficult they are to achieve, need to command the full attention of Gov. Wolf and GOP leaders. And distractions caused by partisan spats - and even the appearance of raw retribution - need to simply cease.