Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 7/22/2005 [Archive]

Pennsylvania Politics Bill Scranton Wants to be Governor in 2006

Pennsylvania Politics: Bill Scranton Wants to be Governor in 2006

By Bill Steigerwald

Bill Scranton almost became governor of Pennsylvania in 1986 when he lost one of the closest gubernatorial elections in commonwealth history to Robert Casey. Scranton, who was Gov. Dick Thornburgh's lieutenant governor from 1979 to 1987, is one of the leading Republican candidates vying for the chance to challenge Gov. Ed Rendell next year. The son of former Gov. William W. Scranton who also has extensive experience as an executive in direct marketing and insurance, Scranton calls himself a "progressive conservative" who believes "in limited government and strong free markets." I talked to him by telephone on July 20, his 58th birthday.

Q: Pennsylvania is by all accounts and all measures an economically stagnating state, with probably too many taxes and too many regulations left over from the New Deal. Is it fixable?

A: Yes.

Q: How would you fix it?

A: Cut the cost of government, return private tax money to the private sector, and tighten education so that it is meeting standards. Those are the most important.

Q: And these things can be done without spending more money, without raising taxes?

A: Itís got to be, because weíre not competitive right now. We donít have a choice.

Q: Whatís the most pressing problem the state has now -- something the governor can do right now?

A: It is not competitive. We are not attractive to new jobs, not attractive to new investments. We are not keeping up with our sister states or, on a more compelling basis at the moment, other nations of the world. ... Government in this era has to be conducted on a very lean basis, with an eye toward creating an investment climate that is compelling.

Q: Does that mean throwing subsidies at companies to bring them in here?

A: The exact opposite. Weíve been playing that game in Pennsylvania for 50 years and we are 47th or 48th in this nation in economic growth. ... That tells you we are on the wrong path. Instead of government making political decisions about where subsidies ought to go, letís put money back into the private sector and let the private sector make decisions about where its investments are going to be. ... (I)investment will come into this state as a matter of course.

Q: Is there any one worst thing that Gov. Rendell has done that you would try to fix or reverse as soon as you took office?

A: The worst thing heís done is waste time. He came in with a mandate to change Pennsylvania and has not done it. Heís raised taxes, heís borrowed money, heís brought in gambling -- none of which has made a bit of difference to this state.Now, what a governor has got to do is very quickly take costs out of government, very quickly lower taxes, very quickly make ourselves more attractive to investment.

Q: Would you have vetoed the legislative pay raise?

A: Yes.

Q: What would have happened then? Would you have been over-ridden by the Legislature?

A: I donít think it would have been. I blame the legislative pay raise on the governor. I think that was his deal to get his budget. If the governor isnít prepared to make that deal, there is no pay raise. Were I governor, it wouldnít have been a bill.

Q: How do you define your politics?

A: I donít have a glib, two-word answer. But I would say "progressive conservative." That is to say, I believe in conservative means to progressive ends -- that is, to growth, to change. I am one who embraces the future but believes in limited government, strong free markets and strong free people.

Q: How have your ideas about the role of state government changed over the last 18 years?

A: Iíve become less convinced that government programs are answers to economic problems. Iíve become impressed with the power of the New Economy and how it can reap greater opportunity for more people. The older Iíve gotten, the more Iíve learned, the more I believe in the power of free people and free markets, and I believe itís the governmentís job to support and protect both of those.

Q: No incumbent governor in modern state history has lost a run for re-election. What makes you think you will be able to make Gov. Rendell be the first?

A: Because I think I have a compelling vision for the state. I think the people recognize that he has squandered his opportunity. And I know there is a real appetite for change right now in Pennsylvania.

Q: Where in the state is Rendell most vulnerable?

A: I think heís most vulnerable in Western Pennsylvania. The farther you get away from Philadelphia, the more vulnerable he becomes.

Q: The people in Western Pennsylvania are Johnstown Democrats -- conservative social Democrats. There's still a lot of union thinking going on around here. Why would he be vulnerable here?

A: I think itís because he promised a new Pennsylvania and didnít deliver. And people in Western Pennsylvania are wise enough to know that the old days dominated by steel mills and heavy manufacturing are gone and they want something new and they look around the world and see that it is possible and ask why canít it be possible here.

Q: Can you win back any of those rich Republicans in the Philly suburbs who voted for Rendell in 2002?

A: Absolutely, because many of them have been disappointed by his leadership. They are Republicans. They are willing to vote Republican with the right message and, obviously, I need to get to them.

Q:You will probably have to comment with your interest in Transcendental Meditation, which became an important issue in the final days of your 1986 campaign against Bob Casey (when the Casey campaign unearthed photos of a younger Scranton in long hair and beads). How will you deal with it?

A: Itís pretty simple. First of all, people donít like the kind of personal negative advertising that went on in 1986 and theyíve shown that. Second of all, 20 years on, the idea of somebody closing their eyes every once in a while and relaxing their mind and releasing some of their tension is not a foreign idea anymore. And thatís all this is. James Carville clearly tried to make it into something ugly and it backfired on them, actually. A lot of people donít understand this, but it did. The (poll) numbers after that came out began to erode for Bob Casey, but unfortunately for me, they didnít erode fast enough.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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