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Wolf rebukes lawmakers over tactics

Governor says opposition to virus policies could cost ‘a lot of lives’

Gov. Tom Wolf scolded the Republican-led General Assembly on Thursday for its continued opposition to the administration’s COVID-19 policies, including a lawsuit that has voiding provisions in the governor’s emergency declaration, bills intended to lift restrictions on restaurants and bars and a bill seeking to ensure school districts retain local control of extracurricular activities.

Republicans have “repeatedly tried to overturn the very mitigation measures that are keeping case counts (in Pennsylvania) low,” Wolf said in a webcast news conference. “If they succeed, we lose a lot of lives.”

The scolding is actually Wolf’s “projection” of his own missteps — overreaching orders that have damaged many businesses and the lives of many Pennsylvanians — and an expression of his wish that lawmakers would just let him have his way, according to State Rep. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona.

“I’m sure this governor would love for the majority party in the General Assembly to play tiddlywinks between now and the general election,” Schmitt said.

But that’s not happening, he said.

“He doesn’t get to dictate to the majority party,” Schmitt said. “(We) will continue to do what we believe reflects the will of the people.”

Pennsylvania has been successful in containing COVID-19, as praise from White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx shows, along with statistics and other indicators, Wolf said — citing a study that showed people who test positive are twice as likely to have dined indoors at a restaurant as those who test negative.

Yet the Republicans “repeatedly try to deny my administration the critical tools I need,” the governor said.

“Now is not the time for grandstanding.”

It’s not the Republicans who are “pumping (themselves) up like a swamp frog every time they see a camera,” Schmitt retorted.

The governor was deliberately drawing attention to himself to help Democratic lawmakers who recently made “tough votes” — initially in favor of the school district autonomy bill, then against it, to avoid an override of the governor’s successful veto, according to state Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg.

“It was purely political,” he said. “He was taking bullets.”

The lawmakers for whom he was taking those bullets have been “hearing it back in their districts” about the governor’s restrictions on attendance at football games, Gregory said — although for now at least, those restrictions have been lifted because of the lawsuit.

Schmitt sees Wolf’s speech from another perspective.

“He’s running scared,” Schmitt said.

His party’s lawmakers are putting heat on him, because he put them in an awkward position, Schmitt said.

“A good leader doesn’t expose his troops to fire,” Schmitt stated.

Some Democratic members are starting to desert, mainly those whose seats are threatened, Schmitt indicated.

“Party loyalty only goes so far,” he said.

Still, governors have leverage, because they control lots of resources that go to individual districts through grants and other means, according to Schmitt.

Lawmakers who switched their votes from approving the bill to disapproving the veto override “chose the governor over their constituents,” state Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, said.

Cambria County Democrat Frank Burns wasn’t one of the switchers.

He was “deeply disappointed” in the failure to override, Burns wrote in an emailed news release.

The governor ought simply to accede to the will of the people, according to Schmitt.

“He ought to put away his red pen,” Schmitt stated. “Quit vetoing commonsense bills that a majority of the people want.”

Wolf seems to equate anything aimed at undoing what he’s done as a loss, even though he has followed up his successful vetoes with actions that have provided the very relief originally intended by those bills, Schmitt said.

“It’s as if he can’t allow the legislature to have a win,” Schmitt said.

The autonomy that the school district bill would have granted made sense, according to Ward.

“Face it, this state is very diverse, and what might work in a larger area may not work in a smaller or more rural community,” Ward said. “I feel local communities should be able to make those decisions.”

They can deal with the coronavirus safely by following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Ward said.

Wolf said lawmakers should focus on grants and loans for struggling small businesses, hazard pay for front-line workers and paid sick leave legislation, rather than on fighting him.

That’s ironic, because the governor’s mitigation orders are what caused the problems those actions would seek to alleviate, Schmitt said.

“He throws them off the boat, then tells us to throw them a lifeline,” he said.

Wolf also urged lawmakers to consider ethical and electoral reforms.

Those are reforms he supports, generally, Schmitt said, adding that he’d need to see specifics.

All such suggestions to the General Assembly are probably attempts to “deflect” attention from administration policies “that have really hurt Pennsylvanians,” Ward said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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