When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett undergoes back surgery Monday, he will temporarily transfer power to Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley. The former Bucks County commissioner will become just the second acting governor in Pennsylvania history. The first, Democrat Mark Singel, has some advice: “Stay alert, keep your phone on, and don’t rock the boat,” he said, during a Friday afternoon interview. Singel and Cawley’s circumstances are much different. Cawley will only hold the job for a few hours, while Singel was acting governor for six months, when Gov. Bob Casey recovered from a double transplant in 1993. Still, Singel said there’s always a possibility Cawley will need to make some tough decisions. He pointed to Casey’s 1987 heart surgery.
“When he was actually being operated, right at that exact time, we had a major tanker spill right on the Schuylkill Expressway,” said Singel. The problem was, Casey hadn’t transferred power to Singel, and the Democrat worried he didn’t have the authority to issue an evacuation order–a step staffers were debating, but ultimately didn’t need to take. “The lieutenant governor is required to take action, so you must equip him with the powers to do-so, whether you’re going to be out of it for an hour, or a day, or six months,” said Singel, calling the ’87 non-transfer a mistake. “It’s not a question of politics or power or anything like that. It’s a question of protection of the commonwealth’s citizens. You cannot even for a short time leave the executive powers of the governor in question. Somebody has to hold the pen in his hand.” During a brief hallway interview at the Capitol, Corbett declined a chance to give Cawley some public advice. “I’m not going there,” he said. Cawley did not return a call for comment.
Corbett will remain hospitalized for one or two days after the operation, but will reclaim his authority as soon as he wakes up post-surgery.