HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – “My intention is to run. I’m in the process of building my campaign staff,” Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) said.
And with that, the 2018 race for Pennsylvania governor is under way.
More Republicans will certainly jump in, but for now, there’s a challenger, Wagner, and an incumbent, Tom Wolf, who are both businessmen from York County.
But only one is promising to put Harrisburg on a strict diet focused on fiscal restraint.
“I hope people that are listening hear me loud and clear,” Wagner said when asked about a structural budget deficit estimated at $1.7 billion. Many analysts say a tax increase is inevitable to balance the books. Wagner isn’t one of them.
“We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” he said.
Well before Donald Trump shocked the world, Scott Wagner shocked York County and the state. He became the first write-in candidate ever to win a state Senate seat on March 18, 2014. He says he tapped into “the anger” years before “The Donald.”
“I believe the Donald Trump victory is telling the people in this building and the people in Washington that people are fed up,” Wagner said. “They’re ready for change. They want to see something different.”
There’s no question the owner of Penn Waste and other companies is different. Wagner has battled unions and aggressively criticized state government for not operating more like a business.
He is either bold and brash or an arrogant bully depending on your viewpoint. He engineered a coup of then-Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi in his own party. He’s also recruited and funded several candidates to topple incumbents he doesn’t support. In other words, he has enemies both inside and outside the building.
“That all adds up, in terms of people getting annoyed and people getting angry,” Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Berks) said.” In politics, often there’s payback time.”
Dinniman is one of the few politicians to survive a Wagner-supported challenger.
“Those people who took the short end of the stick so to speak, in opposition, are certainly going to encourage others to vote against him.”
The statewide Democratic Party, as expected, strongly denounces his candidacy. It released a statement from spokesman Preston Maddock:
“Scott Wagner is the personification of everything wrong with Harrisburg — obstructing increased school funding while protecting big corporations and the well-connected from paying their fair share. While Wagner is fighting to safeguard his special interest allies, Governor Wolf continues to reach across the aisle to rebuild Pennsylvania’s middle class.”
But Wagner is less focused on Democratic critics than he is on the people who pulled the lever for Donald Trump, many of whom are Democrats. Wagner believes he has a winning hand and can’t wait to play it.
“It’s like Donald Trump asked his rally attendees one night, ‘vote for me. What do you have to lose?’ I’m not a career politician. I’m not a lawyer. Voters are gonna have to make up their mind, whether they’re happy with the status quo or they want change,” Wagner said, quite confident in what the answer to that question will be.
But the remaining question is which Republicans will join Wagner in the candidate pool? Congressman Mike Kelly, Senator Jake Corman, Speaker of the House Mike Turzai and former Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley are all said to be mulling a run at Wolf in 2018.
But they can’t give Wagner too much of a head start in the race because the self-funding millionaire is already off and running.