Scott Wagner Leaves Senate, Vowing To Work To Fix PA's Problems

Jun 4, 2018

Scott Wagner, who once warned that he would carry a baseball bat into Pennsylvania's Senate to get things done, bid farewell Monday to the institution that he had barged into as a write-in candidate four years earlier to concentrate on his Republican campaign for governor.

Wagner, who will challenge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's re-election bid in November, told the chamber's members in a 15-minute farewell speech that he had gone to the Senate to change the culture.

Now, he said, he can do more as governor.

The waste-hauling millionaire also seemed to acknowledge that he had been a lightning rod in the Senate, apologizing if he had ever offended anyone, and vowing to work with senators to fix the state's problems if elected.

Wagner said later that he had made the Senate a different place and created an environment for better dialogue.

"Listen, there's one thing in life and business. You can fight like cats and dogs. Let's go have lunch. I mean really, that's what we do in business," Wagner told reporters afterward. "If the people in Pennsylvania ever see everybody in the Senate holding hands and singing 'Kumbaya,' I'd head out of town as fast as possible. You need spirited conversation and you need dialogue."

Wagner even vowed to work with one of his most strident critics, Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, who once loudly and repeatedly called Wagner a "boil on the butt of progress" during a rally yards from Wagner's office in the Pennsylvania Capitol.

Wagner also seemed determined to change perceptions of himself.

As part of his apology, he said he had come to Harrisburg "with a strong personality and a strong will to get things accomplished."

Wagner, who once said that "we'd never miss them" if 10 percent of the state's teachers were laid off and said in the primary that the state spends "enough money" on schools, repeatedly stressed the importance of fixing problems in public schools.

"People have branded me as a person who wants to cut funding," Wagner said during his floor remarks. "That could not be further from the truth. I want to make sure more money is getting to the classroom."

Wagner announced his intention to resign last week.

Wolf's campaign quickly attacked Wagner's resignation, calling it proof that he is only interested in furthering his political career following a Senate record spent "trying to slash public education funding, roll back peoples' health care coverage and throw seniors out of their nursing homes."

Wagner, 63, has campaigned on a business-friendly platform of cutting spending and regulations, saying he is "on a mission" to protect people's paychecks from a tax-hiking Wolf.

Wagner won the GOP's three-way primary fight last month, fueled by a personal spending spree that had helped make him the GOP's endorsed candidate.

He took office in 2014 as a tea party-aligned Republican after winning a bruising and expensive write-in bid over the GOP's hand-picked candidate. Before that, he had donated heavily to conservative candidates and causes, even if it meant challenging sitting Republicans.

During his time in the Senate, Wagner has been particularly critical of public-sector unions and the institution of government, and he was unafraid to clash with fellow Republicans with whom he had disagreements. He was rated by the American Conservative Union as among the Senate's most conservative senators.

If Wagner wins the race for governor, he plans to keep his ownership of the York County-based waste hauler Penn Waste. That would make him the state's only chief executive in at least a half-century to take office with a deep financial interest in a business heavily regulated by the state.