Shapiro Must Reset His Legislative Strategy
The recent sexual harassment scandal rocking Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration has made many headlines. And though Shapiro must take these accusations seriously, there could be a silver lining for the governor: Appointing a new head of legislative affairs offers the opportunity to reset his relationship with lawmakers.
So far, Shapiro has burned bridges and has few legislative accomplishments to boast about.
It would be appropriate for Shapiro to learn some lessons from his predecessors.
In late 2011, then-Gov. Tom Corbett faced a similar situation: a relatively high approval rating but few legislative accomplishments and no progress on his biggest agenda items. Corbett didn’t have a public relations team and didn’t self-promote like Shapiro. Regardless, Corbett’s staffers put together a memo to the media, touting his approval rating and comparing it to other first-term governors.
Notably, the memo claimed Corbett’s approval was high because he had avoided tough fights, unlike other governors – including Republicans Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and John Kasich of Ohio.
You probably already know the rest of the story. Walker, Haley, and Kasich rose to national prominence and have been or are on the short list of presidential contenders. Meantime, Corbett’s approval plummeted due to his lack of policy achievements, and he lost his re-election bid. Following his loss, Corbett retired to a quiet life and occasionally teaches a college class.
Regardless of their political party, governors who take bold action and get stuff done go farther than those who don’t. While Shapiro repeatedly asserts, using a more profane phrasing, that he “gets stuff done,” he needs to change his legislative strategy to live up to his bold claims.
To date, he’s been passive and hasn’t accomplished much. While Shapiro remains in a honeymoon period with a high approval rating, most voters can’t identify a single thing he has done.
Shapiro bungled his first budget – which is more than three months overdue, with billions of funds held up without enabling legislation – and has failed to deliver on his policy priorities.
Indeed, no Pennsylvania governor in the last 50 years has signed less legislation than Shapiro. While the governor blames the fact that he must deal with a divided legislature, every state in America with a divided government has enacted more legislation than Pennsylvania under Shapiro.
Shapiro has made no progress on his key campaign priorities. They include reducing tax rates on businesses, eliminating state cell phone taxes, reducing regulations, and expanding energy production.
Most notably, Shapiro has struggled to enact Lifeline Scholarships, known as the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS), something he supported on the campaign trail, and still publicly supports. He sees it as “unfinished business.”
Shapiro has repeatedly failed to get the House – controlled by his own party – to even hold a vote on this education initiative for Pennsylvania’s most underserved kids stuck in failing schools. Meanwhile, the state Senate has passed the initiative multiple times, most recently in its proposed enabling legislation.
Sure, Shapiro can point the blame to a dysfunctional Pennsylvania House, which is rarely in session, doesn’t engage the state Senate or allow input from the minority party, avoids voting on bills whenever there is a vacancy, and seems to have no interest in bipartisan compromise.
Still, it’s up to the governor to broker a deal and get things done. Historically, governors, such as Corbett, who sit back and wait on their legislatures – saying things like “I’d sign that bill if it gets to my desk” – don’t get much legislation on their desk. Successful governors engage in the legislative process.
If Shapiro truly has national aspirations, he can’t just sit back and wait for things to happen. He must lead from the front to get legislation done.
Unfortunately, Shapiro has yet to transition from campaigning to governance.
If Shapiro can reset his approach and engage in policymaking, he could achieve significant bipartisan accomplishments – reducing taxes, reforming regulations, and expanding educational opportunity – that would make Pennsylvania open to business while also delivering for families and students.