The calendar says it’s July, but the political ads on TV make it feel like October, when campaigns are closing in on Election Day and throwing everything they’ve got at their opponents.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has a new ad that brands Republican candidate Scott Wagner as “the ultimate Harrisburg insider” and a champion of big oil, Wall Street sharks, and tax-dodging corporations.
You can see why the Wolf camp would want to define Wagner this way.
Wagner’s first ad cast him as an outsider to politics; an entrepreneur who built a successful trash-hauling business from scratch; and someone understands what a paycheck means. The ad shows Wagner driving a tractor and finishes with an announcer saying, “Scott Wagner, the straight-talking, trash-hauling businessman for governor.”
The Wagner ad isn’t all positive – it begins by saying that Wolf’s answer to the struggles of Pennsylvania families is higher taxes.
Wolf’s ad begins by saying, “Meet Scott Wagner, the ultimate Harrisburg insider — the No. 1 champion for big oil and gas.” It also says that after drilling lobbyists spent a fortune to influence the legislature, “Wagner blocked a shale tax.”
It’s true Wagner has opposed a tax on shale gas extraction, but his fellow Republican lawmakers have been doing that for years. He also favors loosening government regulations on all businesses, including oil and gas drilling.
I called some environmental activists to get their sense of the two candidates’ records on issues they care about.
“They’re both pro-gas,” said Joe Minott, executive director and general counsel of the Clean Air Council, “and the difference may be in their willingness to regulate natural gas. The governor has shown himself more supportive of regulation.”
Wolf has pushed unsuccessfully for a shale tax, but he’s also drawn criticism from opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipelines, which transport liquid natural gas products to a terminal in Marcus Hook.
David Masur, executive director of Penn Environment, said the Wolf administration had proposed a package of tougher environmental and health regulations for gas drilling, which sparked a battle in Harrisburg.
“Sen. Wagner and a variety of other senators really worked tooth and nail to weaken those proposed protections,” Masur said. “And at the end of the day, the governor was able to salvage half of them.”
As for who is or isn’t a Harrisburg insider, it’s worth noting that both Wolf and Wagner spent most of their careers in private business before entering politics and becoming powers in Harrisburg.
And as veteran Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer pointed out, Wagner got into the state Senate by running against his party’s leaders.
Wagner campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said that Wolf “running a negative ad like this as early as July shows that the Wolf campaign is panicked and the public polls [which show Wolf well head] are wrong.”
Romeo said Wolf’s tax and regulatory policies have harmed the state’s economy, and he repeated Wagner’s recent accusations that Wolf proposes school funding cuts and has abandoned his earlier commitment to property tax reform, both assertions Wolf strongly disputes.
“It’s clear he thinks his only saving grace from that failed record will be to bombard the people of Pennsylvania with ridiculous attack ads that not even the Senate minority leader of his own party agrees with,” Romeo said.
State Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, an Allegheny County Democrat, had some kind words for Wagner after he gave a farewell speech as he resigned from the body to run for governor.
“What we had, which I think was beneficial to this commonwealth as a whole and certainly this chamber, was respectful, honest, and informed dialogue about issues affecting Pennsylvanians,” Costa said.
Not sure how many more kind words we’ll hear between now and November.