Wagner becomes first Republican to launch bid against Wolf

Pennsylvania Senator Scott Wagner speaks during the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in the Sheraton Hotel in Philadelphia, Pa. on Saturday, June 20, 2015

MANCHESTER, Pa. - State Sen. Scott Wagner of York County on Wednesday became the first Republican to formally enter the race for governor, blaming the incumbent for a struggling economy in Pennsylvania and a lack of solutions.

"Gov. Wolf is a failed governor," Wagner said, standing in the truck shop of his waste management company.

The announcement there was the first of six planned stops statewide, including one in Bucks County, for Wagner, and kicks off what could be a competitive contest to challenge Wolf. The opening of the campaign could also bring a fresh dose of partisan conflict in the Capitol, where the Democratic first-term governor and the Republican-led legislature will soon need to focus on how to close a potential billion-dollar shortfall and pass a budget.

Like Wolf was before winning office, Wagner is a central Pennsylvania business owner who made millions in the private sector, and he has pledged to spend heavily on the campaign.

The 61-year-old joined the Senate by winning a 2014 special election as a write-in candidate, and has since become prominent in the Capitol, where he has argued that public-sector unions have too much influence.

He has also worked to bolster the GOP ranks in his chamber, chairing the Senate Republican Campaign Committee as the Republicans in November's election increased their majority from 31 to 34 seats in the 50-seat chamber - their largest majority since the 1949-50 session.

An advocate of limiting government spending, he takes a plain-spoken approach. In one email in recent weeks, Wagner echoed President-elect Donald Trump, writing that it was "time to 'Drain the Swamp in Harrisburg.' "

Wagner told supporters and reporters Wednesday that the state is at a crossroads.

"Pennsylvania has a pension crisis. Property owners across Pennsylvania are choking on ever-increasing school taxes on their properties," he said. "Unemployment is up. Pennsylvania's economy is stalled."

As long as Republicans control the legislature and Wolf remains governor, he said, "We're going nowhere."

He told reporters he would reverse Wolf's moratorium on the death penalty, and he suggested the state might consider rolling back gas-drilling restrictions to generate more revenue.

A spokesman for the state Democratic Party defended Wolf, saying in a statement that the governor had made schools his priority and expanded treatment for opioid and heroin addiction.

Spokesman Preston Maddock also criticized Wagner for voting against the current state budget, which increased funding for education. And the legislative Taxpayers' Caucus - of which Wagner has been a leader - had recommended the state make changes to its Medicaid program. Maddock said Medicaid expansion has provided tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians with access to drug and alcohol treatment.

"Scott Wagner's the very worst of Harrisburg," he said.

While Wagner has made his name with attention to fiscal and labor issues, he also has ventured into less-trod territory for Republicans on some issues. For instance, he has proposed raising the minimum wage - though not by as much as Democrats would like - and has supported antidiscrimination protections for LGBT residents.

klangley@post-gazette.com

717-787-2141

@karen_langley

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