Editorial: Wagner’s words influence run for governor more than actions

Courtesy of Pennsylvania State Senate

Courtesy of Pennsylvania State Senate

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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State senator, gubernatorial candidate and York, Pennsylvania, businessman Scott Wagner certainly had a colorful March.

He spent the month promoting new legislation to seal criminal records and also causing a ruckus with some illogical comments about climate change. The stark contrast between these events raises questions about whether Wagner’s commitment to creating bipartisan legislation for all Pennsylvanians is enough to outweigh his less-than-reasonable ideas.

Wagner is co-sponsoring a new bill that will ensure records of non-violent criminal acts are automatically sealed after 10 crime-free years. He came up with the legislation based on a U.S. Justice Action Network survey that found 92 percent of people in the state support the idea of fewer measures that prevent ex-offenders from obtaining employment. It also found 81 percent said they support the “clean state” legislation — or bills that lock away an ex-offender’s record after so many years — for non-violent criminal records.

The goal of the bill, according to Wagner, is to give ex-offenders better prospects finding jobs and housing after the 10-year period expires. The bill, which is garnering support in the Senate, is a move forward for the state. Wagner is aware of how his work in the Senate will help him in his bid for governor, too. It’s also a successful example of the kind of bipartisanship that makes for good governors, per Wagner’s campaign plan.

“This is one of the reasons I have decided to run for governor of Pennsylvania. I am ready to put party politics aside, provide leadership and address real problems in order to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians,” wrote Wagner on his website.

Wagner also has a record of moderate stances on social issues, conforming to moderates in either party. He was a leader in expanding the housing and employment anti-discrimination protections to the LGBTQ+ community last summer and has also offered legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage — though he’s a staunch conservative on economic issues.

All of this would seem to be good evidence for Wagner to lead a successful campaign against incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf in the coming months. But after an embarrassing episode on WITF radio in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, last week, Wagner’s comments about global warming could garner more negative attention for him than the work he’s done in the state senate.

“The earth moves closer to the sun every year — you know the rotation of the earth … We’re moving closer to the sun,” Wagner said about climate change. “We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off?” he continued.

The comments clearly show Wagner’s lack of common knowledge about climate change and its causes. His campaign manager, Jason High, later clarified Wagner’s comments were meant to show the many theories behind the cause of global warming and reassured the public that Wagner isn’t running to be the top scientist in the state, but to be governor.

But it shouldn’t take a scientist, let alone a top one, to be able to articulate the theories behind what causes global warming. Even if Wagner upholds the standard Republican belief that climate change is not man-made, we should still expect him to be able to consciously speak about other theories and address the counterarguments.

With the Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes going red in the 2016 presidential election, there is a real chance for Wagner to return the governor seat to the Republicans as well. But if he continues to fail on simple issues like articulating the cause of climate change, the committed bipartisan work he’s done in the state senate will matter little to voters. If Wagner wants to have a shot at taking down incumbent Wolf come November, his legislative background might just help him do it.

That is, if he can show us he’s focused on making actual change for the state — and is able to talk about it too.

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