Wolf sworn in as Pa. governor

Amy Worden and Angela Couloumbis, Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG - Tom Wolf, a businessman from York, took the oath of office Tuesday as Pennsylvania's 47th chief executive, proclaiming, "I am an unconventional governor."

Wolf, a Democrat who made history by ousting a sitting governor in last November's election, called for "rebuilding the middle class" through a government that partners with business, while stressing his diverse personal background, which includes running a forklift at his family's cabinetmaking business and serving as a Peace Corps volunteer.

"I am not a product of our political system," said Wolf, without mentioning his stint as revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell - or his doctorate in political science from MIT.

With his wife, Frances, and daughters Sarah and Kate by his side, Wolf, 66, was sworn in outside the Capitol on a milder January day than many previous inaugurations, with outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett and his predecessors Rendell, Tom Ridge, and Mark Schweiker looking on.

Wolf told the crowd of 4,000 that he had three goals for his first term: "Jobs that pay. Schools that teach, and government that works."

Hammering home his chief campaign promise, Wolf said education must be the highest priority and that school funding must be equitable.

"Our state will never be as strong as it needs to be if some schools have all the resources they need and other schools are cutting band and football just to keep the lights on," he said.

After an inaugural party Tuesday night in Hershey, Wolf is set to begin the tough task of addressing a projected $2.3 billion budget shortfall with a Republican-dominated legislature that has not indicated it will embrace his priorities, including a natural gas drilling tax to boost education funding.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said Wolf's speech laid out goals - better education and more jobs - that the GOP caucus supports.

"How we reach some of those goals is the question," Scarnati said. "I think it's going to be a spirited time here again."

One thing is for certain, said Scarnati: His caucus does not support higher taxes, and, he said, neither do voters.

"They did not go to the polls to vote for higher taxes," said Scarnati, noting that voters ushered in stronger Republican majorities in both legislative chambers.

Hundreds of cheering supporters lined the east side of the Capitol for the ceremony, and Wolf invited bands and choral groups statewide to perform, including the Chester Children's Chorus, which sang an a cappella version of the O'Jays hit "Love Train," written by Philadelphia's Gamble and Huff.

The event also drew protesters - more than 100 natural gas drilling opponents who stood behind barricades waving signs and chanted, "Ban fracking now."

York County Court Judge Penny Blackwell administered the oath as Wolf placed his hand on a family Bible dating from the mid-19th century.

In his 15-minute address, Wolf touched on Pennsylvania's history of the "Holy Experiment" built on tolerance and inclusion that pursued the idea that "all things are possible with boldness and courage."

Wolf, a millionaire who drives a 2006 Jeep Wrangler, compared improving the jobs climate in the state to his successful effort in turning around his family business - one that just a few years ago teetered on bankruptcy.

"I had to get everyone to buy into one mission," he said.

He drew on a principle he learned as a businessman, Wolf said, that government and the free market should work as constructive partners.

"That means our government should not do everything, but it cannot do nothing, either," he said, while decrying the climate of frustration that he said had led to cynicism about government and the future.

Wolf said his economic objective is to make strategic investments and take advantage of natural resources - but to do so responsibly while seeking to "level the playing field for all workers."

"With a large deficit, stagnant wages, and a shrinking middle class, there is no question that our challenges are great," he said. "But let's remember: The last time that America went through a great transformation, it was Pennsylvania that led the nation through the Industrial Revolution. We led then, and we can lead today."

In a nod to anti-fracking protesters - several of whom were arrested for disrupting the ceremony - Wolf urged them to work with him to find a way to develop solutions in a "safe, clean, sustainable way."

But at his inaugural party later in the evening, it was all about celebrating. Wolf entered a packed ballroom as the YWCA Temple Guard drill team from York pounded a steady beat on drums and the crowd noshed on a generous spread of Pennsylvania favorites, from kielbasa to something called "hunter's elk meat loaf."

Wolf urged supporters to enjoy the night because come Wednesday, he and his administration would have to start the challenging task of governing the state while dealing with the multibillion-dollar deficit.

"Tomorrow, we have to get to work," he said. "We've got to actually deliver."

Earlier in the day, former State Sen. Mike Stack, 51, of Philadelphia, was sworn in as the new lieutenant governor in the Senate chamber.

In his inaugural address, Stack said he would work with Wolf to advance an economic vision that focuses on "investment, education, and innovation."

"I believe we need big ideas now. I believe big ideas can be found inside the walls of this chamber," said Stack.

In one of his first actions as governor, Wolf signed an executive order banning gifts for members of the executive branch. He called the ban "a work in progress," but "the best effort to define what we need to do to resist the temptation to take gifts."

Rendell said after the swearing-in that his best advice to Wolf was a line from the singer Kenny Rogers: "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

"Be willing to negotiate," said Rendell. "Understand that they [the legislature] have to have victories, too . . . even if your own members don't like it."

Rendell said Wolf had the "perfect personality" for the job - "an infinite amount of patience and a very well-controlled ego."

As a businessman, Wolf understands the art of negotiating, Rendell said, and comes with leverage because Republicans in the Assembly have their own wish list, including reining in the cost of public employee pensions and privatizing the sale of wine and liquor.

Said Rendell on Wolf's first months in office: "He's got an opportunity."

 

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