HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Gary Tennis was the secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs until a Tuesday afternoon meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf.
“He said, ‘would you like to resign or would you like me to fire you?'” Tennis recalled Wednesday.
Tennis said he didn’t feel as if he’d done anything wrong so the governor would have to fire him. Tennis said it was inevitable because the Wolf administration plans to downgrade DDAP to a bureau in the Department of Human Services. Tennis said he could not support that move or the governor’s decision.
“It’s not about my job,” Tennis said. “It’s about these people, these 10 Pennsylvanians a day that are dying, and it’s about those families, those shattered 10 new families today that are dying.”
Tennis is a passionate fighter against opioids and is widely respected at the Capitol. His firing is widely questioned.
“I’m hoping with his leaving that we don’t lose the momentum in the fight against drug addiction,” said Rep. Matt Baker (R-Bradford/Tioga), chairman of the House Health Committee.
“I am just extremely disappointed that he was let go,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolomo (R-Bucks), whose legislation created DDAP in 2010.
Tennis’ firing came one day after a report in the Reading Eagle newspaper suggested he had allowed an industry lobbyist to hire a staffer.
“It is absolutely 100-percent false,” Tennis said of the report. He showed emails to reporters that he said disproved the Reading Eagle article. But he also said it gave Wolf cover to fire him.
“It could look like it was because of this,” Tennis said while pointing to the newspaper story. “Not only am I out the door, but I’m out the door with mud on me.”
Tennis said drug and alcohol providers, addiction counselors, and lawmakers fought hard to get drug and alcohol treatment elevated in 2010. He says downgrading it to a bureau will diminish its clout and power. He says he’ll now join the ranks of those who will fight to save it.
“I’m gonna stand with them even though it means I lost my job,” Tennis said.
The governor’s office issued a statement that read in part, “The Governor has worked tirelessly to fight this public health crisis and would never consider any proposal that would hinder our progress or ability to tackle this challenge.”
The statement also pointed out that several state agencies are involved in the fight against opioid addiction, not just DDAP.