March 14, 2013

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Tom Wolf is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Pennsylvania.

No one in their right mind could possibly want to see Tom Corbett reelected governor of Pennsylvania. And polls indicatethat voters are more than ready for a change. But does "a change" mean replacing a corporate shill like Tom Corbett with a corporate shill like Allyson Schwartz? As we saw the other day, many Democrats would prefer a more progressive candidate than Schwartz, who, until a couple weeks ago, was a vice chairman of the corrupt, Wall Street-tainted New Dems. Last week, PPP released a new poll showing that any of the top Democratic contenders could beat Corbett.

Tom Corbett-- already among the country's most unpopular Governors-- has seen his position worsen considerably over the last two months. Only 33% of voters now approve of his job performance, compared to 58% who disapprove. His net approval rating of -25 is 11 points worse than it was in early January at -14 (38/52). The only 2 Governors in the country with a disapproval rating higher than Corbett's are Pat Quinn of Illinois and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

In January we tested Corbett against Allyson Schwartz, Joe Sestak, Rob McCord, John Hanger, and Tom Wolf and he led all five of them. Now we find him trailing all five of them, in some cases by double digits. Corbett is down by 11 points each to Schwartz, Sestak, and McCord all by margins of 45/34. Tom Wolf leads by 9 points at 42/33 and John Hanger's up by 7 at 41/34.

What's particularly noteworthy about the substantial leads all of the Democrats have is that they come despite them all being relatively unknown. Sestak has only 52% name recognition and that makes him the famous one of the bunch-- Schwartz is at 38%, Hanger at 31%, McCord at 30%, and Wolf at 22%. Most of the undecideds in the match ups are Democrats so it's possible that as the eventual candidate becomes better known they will build up an even bigger lead.

Saturday evening we looked at former environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger, one of the progressives running in the Democratic primary. The other progressive in the race is former Pennsylvania Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf. I had a long talk with Tom last week and he prepared this biographical sketch for us.

Guest Post
by Tom Wolf

Pennsylvania has inherent qualities, strengths and resources that give it the potential to be one of the most dynamic states in the country. The progressive agenda provides the specific policy prescriptions that could give Pennsylvania the tools to transform its latent strengths and powerful potential into real success, and I have the background, skills, and experience to credibly use the progressive tool set to achieve this constructive transformation. I am an unconventional Democratic candidate for Governor, and that’s precisely why I believe that I am the right person to carry the progressive message.

I am not a career politician; I have spent my professional life in the private sector. I am not from one of the traditional pockets of Democratic strength (i.e. Philadelphia or Pittsburgh); I’m from the South Central portion of the state, traditionally a bastion of Republican strength. Finally, despite my private sector background, I’m not a complete political outsider. I’ve served on blue ribbon statewide panels and commissions, and for almost two years served in Ed Rendell’s cabinet as the Commonwealth Secretary of Revenue. I even have an academic background in politics, having earned a Ph.D. in political science. This unconventional background gives me a unique perspective on state politics, an unusual set of reasons for holding progressive political values, and a useful set of organizational skills and managerial experiences.

I grew up in a small town in south central Pennsylvania. In fact I still live in the house I was brought home from the hospital to. It was my grandparents’ house at the time, and my parents’ home (located eight blocks away) was not yet finished. The house was originally built by my great-great grandparents in the 1850’s next to the railroad tracks. My wife (of 38 years) and I eventually bought this house, raised our two daughters there (they both graduated from the local public schools), and continue to reside there today.

Life after my small town start included two years at a Pennsylvania boarding school (The Hill School), Dartmouth where I earned a BA in three years (magna cum laude), service in the Peace Corps (I actually dropped out of Dartmouth to join the Peace Corps) in a remote village in India, a Master’s degree from the University of London, and ultimately a Ph.D. in political science from MIT. My dissertation was well received, and it earned a number of awards including the Schattschneider Prize (from the American Political Science Association) as the best dissertation in American politics presented in 1983.

I researched and wrote my dissertation back home in central Pennsylvania and while I was at it, also took jobs as a truck driver and warehouse worker in the family business, a distributor of lumber and other building products headquartered in York, Pennsylvania. The experience in the business led me to transfer my attention from academia to commerce and in 1981 I began working full time as a company employee.

My first full time position was manager of one of our smaller facilities, a TrueValue hardware store located in Manchester, Pennsylvania. In 1986, my two cousins and I purchased the company in a leveraged buyout (my family did not understand the meaning of the word inheritance). I was Chairman and President of the company. For the next twenty years, my two cousins, our employees, and I built the Wolf Organization from one with annual sales of $70 million doing business in five states to one with annual sales of $385 million doing business in thirteen states. In 2006 we sold the majority of the company’s shares to key employees and a private equity firm in a very public sale (The transaction was actually reported on the front page of York’s leading daily newspaper). Like my cousins, I retained a modest 11% stake in the new company.

My business partners and I achieved business success in part because of the engagement of our employees at all levels of the company. We recognized the importance of our employees in a number of different ways. First, we offered competitive wages and salaries to all employees; second, we provided above-average benefits including health and life insurance, disability programs, and a robust retirement plan; third, we made sure the ratios of top compensation packages to the average compensation packages were low (the current Wolf ratio is less than 8 to 1); fourth, the company distributed a large portion of its annual net profit to all employees as a cash dividend (Wolf currently distributes between 20% and 30% of its net profit); fifth, the company offered a wide array of training and education opportunities to all employees. Wolf’s success has always depended on the kind of customer satisfaction that could only be delivered by employees who cared deeply about their responsibilities. Wolf’s compensation and benefits programs have always recognized this and helped encourage it.

During my business career, I indulged my interest in public service by participating actively in civic affairs. I served as Chair of the York County Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the United Way of York County, Chair of the York County Community Foundation, Chair of the York College Board of Trustees, President of Better York (a CEO civic organization dedicated to the improvement of the City of York), and as a board member of the York Jewish Community Center and the Memorial Hospital of York. I also served as Chair of regional organizations like the Lancaster-York Heritage Region and WITF, Inc. (The regional public broadcasting system affiliate in Harrisburg), and I served on the boards of the Keystone Research Center (a progressive think tank in Harrisburg), the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry and the Pennsylvania Business Roundtable. I also served as Chair of the Administrative Board and later Lay Leader of my hometown church.

During this time I also served on a number of state commissions. Governor Robert Casey appointed me to his Economic Development Partnership Board as well as his Hardwoods Development Council and the PA 2000 Business-Education Partnership. In 1998 (I believe) I was appointed by the House Democratic Caucus to serve on the bi-partisan Legislative Commission on Urban Schools and in 2004 I was named to Governor Ed Rendell’s Business Tax Reform Commission. Finally, in February 2007 Governor Rendell named me Secretary of Revenue for the Commonwealth, a position I held until November 2008 when I resigned in order to launch a campaign for Governor of Pennsylvania.

I took the job as Secretary of Revenue in the spirit of public service. Thus, I didn’t avail myself of the benefits package (either insurance or pension); I paid my own expenses when I was on state business, I drove my own car, and although I was compelled by statute to take the salary, I donated all of it to charitable organizations. My wife and I also placed all of our assets into a blind trust (using the Maryland statute since Pennsylvania doesn’t have one) to make sure my decisions were made in complete ignorance of the exact make-up of my investment portfolio. This veil of ignorance also extended to the activities of my former company.

In early 2009 as I was preparing to announce my bid for the governorship, I was therefore surprised by a phone call from one of my former business colleagues informing me that our old company was in danger of failing. As a result of the economic recession (and especially the steep slide in residential construction activity) in 2008, the company could not meet its bank obligations. I suspended my campaign, returned to York County and negotiated a repurchase of the company. After assuming control of the company as Chair and CEO in February 2009, I oversaw the payoff of a large portion of its debt (at 100 cents on the dollar). Since then, the company has changed its business model and has been transformed from a traditional wholesaler selling branded products in tightly controlled markets to a sourcing company which designs, procures, markets and sells a wide range of building products under the Wolf label in an increasingly large segment of the North American market (we’re now doing business in 22 states).

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