The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

June 4, 2014

Unions throw support to Wolf

HARRISBURG — Tom Wolf picked up certain support the moment he won the Democratic nomination for governor. Unions that backed his opponents in the four-way primary have since started falling in line behind his bid to unseat incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett.

Other support isn’t so quickly counted. The undefined group, say political observers, includes big-time donors who might usually hedge by writing checks to both candidates in a race but typically only have to choose one – the incumbent who is the heavy favorite.

Not this time, as polls show that Corbett is vulnerable.

Regardless, G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, doesn’t see fundraising as a big factor this fall.

This despite the fact that Wolf’s personal fortunes figured heavily in the primary, when the former state revenue secretary put $10 million of his own cash into building an early, resilient lead over his opponents.

“Money decided the primary,” said Madonna. “Money’s not going to decide the general election.”

Rather, said Madonna, the Nov. 4 election will be a referendum on Corbett’s first four years in office. He expects both candidates to spend $15 million.

Wolf can probably count on the state’s largest teachers union to shave off some of that cost, though how much isn’t clear.

It took the Pennsylvania State Education Association – which endorsed Treasurer Rob McCord in the primary – just eight days after the primary to throw its support to Wolf.

“We won’t go into detail about how much we intend to spend,” said PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever.

“But we intend to support the Wolf campaign in a significant way.”

The PSEA is the state’s largest government employees union, with 180,000 members. And it will have a vested interest in the governor’s race, in which education funding looms as a key issue.

Madonna said the teachers  union won’t be the only labor group to leverage a political action committee on Wolf's behalf. “It will take about five minutes for all the unions that endorsed McCord to endorse Wolf,” he said.

That likely includes the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, its top executive said Tuesday.

A decision from AFSCME Local 13 could come in as little as two weeks, said David Fillman, executive director of the union that represents more than 60,000 state employees.

“We think this is an important race,” Fillman said. “And we are concerned about the current governor.”

Among the local’s concerns, he noted, are Corbett’s position on anti-labor causes including Right-to-Work and paycheck protection, as well as efforts to “privatize everything.”

Another matter is pension reform, which stands to be a hot topic in the Legislature’s June session and could linger into the fall.

Wolf has come out in favor of preserving defined-benefit pensions for government employees.

Corbett has proposed a more drastic rewrite of pension rules that even most Republicans are unwilling to embrace.

“Even if the (governor’s) idea goes nowhere,” said Fillman, “these kind of ideas are still concerning to us.”

The notable exception to Wolf's labor support is the Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania, which has endorsed Corbett, acknowledging the governor’s effort to pass a $2.3 billion transportation plan last year.

Outside of labor unions, most big campaign donors give money to both camps to make sure they back the winner, said Larry Ceisler, a Democratic strategist and publisher of the political website

Those donors most of the time get to save money on races involving an incumbent governor, because there typically isn’t much contest, said Ceisler.

The last three Pennsylvania incumbent governors to face opposition were Democrat Ed Rendell, who won by 21 points; Republican Tom Ridge, who won by 26 points; and Democrat Bob Casey, who won by 35 points.

But this is shaping up to be a different sort of election, said Madonna, who noted polls that show Wolf with a 20-point lead over Corbett.

He is widely considered the most vulnerable incumbent governor the state has seen since it changed its Constitution in the 1960s to allow the governor to seek a second term.

A Rasmussen poll released Monday had Wolf with a 20-point lead, and a Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday had him leading by 25 points.

Wolf’s momentum could bring out the donors.

Madonna said a challenger with a chance to win presents a unique opportunity. It attracts would-be supporters, he said, and overwhelms any reluctance they may have about giving money to a millionaire candidate who largely self-funded his primary.

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