Musical chairs for Pennsylvania governor’s staff

     Katie McGinty, who resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, is expected to launch a bid for U.S. Senate in 2016 after intense courting by national Democrats. She would not confirm Thursday that she intends to run. (AP file photo)

    Katie McGinty, who resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, is expected to launch a bid for U.S. Senate in 2016 after intense courting by national Democrats. She would not confirm Thursday that she intends to run. (AP file photo)

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf Thursday said goodbye and good luck to his chief of staff for the past six months and turned to his legislative liaison, Mary Isenhour, to step in as his top aide.

    Katie McGinty, who resigned Wednesday, is expected to launch a bid for U.S. Senate in 2016 after intense courting by national Democrats. She would not confirm Thursday that she intends to run.

    “Today’s not about that,” McGinty said, all smiles as she stood next to the governor. “I am resigning in order to give due and appropriate consideration to potentially a U.S. Senate run, potentially other public service.”

    Sliding into McGinty’s chair is Isenhour, a longtime Democratic campaign consultant in Pennsylvania. Her promotion comes as Wolf is trying to negotiate a deal with the GOP-controlled Legislature on a state budget that’s already more than three weeks late.

    “Katie has built a tremendous foundation for the governor’s administration,” said Isenhour, visibly less comfortable in the spotlight than her predecessor. “I hope to build on that administration.”

    Republicans lauded the governor’s selection of Isenhour as someone who had cultivated relationships across the aisle.

    “She has done a tremendous job since the transition in meeting with legislators, meeting with the leaders, and working through issues and problems,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House GOP majority leader.

    Isenhour is also expected to take on a less visible role as the governor’s new chief of staff. GOP leaders had locked horns at times with McGinty, who had adopted an aggressive and high-profile approach to advancing the governor’s agenda.

    Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna told WHYY’s Dave Davies that for several decades in Pennsylvania, chiefs of staff to the governor have tended to be “low-key, inside the Harrisburg community, not much given to public appearances.”

    By contrast, McGinty has been “omnipresent,” Madonna said. “She’s been out on the stump, she’s been doing speeches … and some of that has been controversial.”

    McGinty’s biggest tangle with Republicans came in May, when she publicly criticized a Senate GOP proposal to change pension benefits, saying it would help lawmakers “line their own retirement pocket.” Republicans hastened to point out that it was hardly a boon to lawmakers, as they would be taken out of the traditional pension system upon their next election and enrolled in a 401(k)-style plan.

    “Did something fall on her head, or something?” said Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe. “We took ourselves and put us into a 401(k). How did we line our pockets?”

    Wolf defended McGinty against what he called an “unfortunate characterization” of how she  worked with the GOP.

    “She actually has been at the heart of an effort to make sure we have a constructive dialogue with the other side, with the Republicans, and that we all keep our focus on what’s important here,” added Wolf. “And that is coming up with a budget that works for the people of Pennsylvania.”

    New salary information was not immediately available for Isenhour, nor for the governor’s new secretary of legislative affairs, Will Danowski.

    Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna told WHYY’s Dave Davies that for the past several decades in Pennsylvania, chiefs of staff to the governor have tended to be “low-key, inside the Harrisburg community, not much given to public appearances.” By contrast, McGinty has been “omnipresent,” Madonna said. “She’s been out on the stump, she’s been doing speeches… and some of that has been controversial.”

     

    McGinty’s biggest tangle with Republicans came in May, when she publicly criticized a Senate GOP proposal to change pension benefits and said it would help lawmakers “line their own retirement pocket.” Republicans hastened to point out that it was hardly a boon to lawmakers, as they would be taken out of the traditional pension system upon their next election and enrolled in a 401(k)-style plan.

     

    “Did something fall on her head, or something?” said Sen. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe). “We took ourselves and put us into a 401(k). How did we line our pockets?”

     

    Wolf defended McGinty against what he called an “unfortunate characterization” of how McGinty worked with the GOP.

     

    “She actually has been at the heart of an effort to make sure we have a constructive dialogue with the other side, with the Republicans, and that we all keep our focus on what’s important here,” added Wolf, “and that is coming up with a budget that works for the people of Pennsylvania.”

     

    New salary information was not immediately available for Isenhour, nor for the governor’s new secretary of legislative affairs, Will Danowski.

     

     

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.