HARRISBURG - Gov. Tom Wolf made no secret of the fact that his time as governor would include a focus on openness and transparency.
The only secret perhaps was how serious he was about it.
As it turns out, he was so serious that it meant getting into a spat with Republicans and quickly undermining a whole lot of that talk from last week about how “Wolf understands how to cultivate relationships with the Legislature."
The contretemps arose over a last-minute appointment by former Gov. Tom Corbett to the state Office of Open Records. But, in fairness to Wolf, that's not been the only target of his focus on transparency.
Before he even made it to his inaugural ball, Wolf's first act in office was to sign an executive order banning his administration from accepting gifts (the stuff for the party already being on hand, apparently.)
A few days before that, Wolf’s transition team announced that it would disclose the donations it received to cover the costs of the inaugural celebration.
The cost of these galas have traditionally been footed by private donors, but whose foot and the size of their footprints haven't been disclosed by previous governors, said Reid Walsh, a co-chairman of the Wolf inaugural.
In all, 103 businesses and groups gave almost $1.5 million to Wolf's inauguration, and 49 other business chipped in goods – mostly wine, beer and food – worth $60,000.
Wolf capped donations at $50,000. His company, The Wolf Organization, was one of seven to max out the limit.
Not surprisingly, another big donor was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It led a list of five labor groups that chipped in $100,000 for the event.
But it’s nothing new. Unions threw open their money bags for Wolf as soon as he won the nomination. AFSCME, which represents about half of the state’s 73,000 employees, gave Wolf about $1.2 million during the campaign.
Wolf’s cozy relationship with unions has been fodder for conservatives, but the new governor’s first steps indicated that he would take care to make that - and other associations - clear enough.
This is about transparency, after all.
“It’s a breath of fresh air. The governor is leading by example,” said good-government activist (and admittedly a Democrat) Gene Stilp on Thursday.
He added that the Legislature ought to follow the example by banning lawmakers from accepting any gift whose value is greater than that of a cup of coffee.
Stilp - and John Hanger, now Wolf’s director of policy - noted the connection between donations to Corbett and some of his high-profile appointments. As for how Wolf's relationships will be manifest in the new administration, “We’ll have to wait and see,” Stilp said.
We won’t have to wait to see Wolf pick his first fight, though.
On his third day in office, the governor canned Erik Arneson, the former Senate Republican aide whom Corbett named to head the Office of Open Records on Jan. 9, presumably as the now-former governor was cleaning out his desk.
Wolf’s anger at the move was clear that very day, when he complained (without directly acknowledging the irony) that the hiring had been masked in secrecy - “rushed through at the last minute” and “done behind closed doors.”
Wolf said his administration is launching a national search to find Arneson’s replacement. That's left Arneson asserting that he was named to a six-year term and arguing Wolf can’t fire him.
Republican leaders, meanwhile, have pledged to return the favor by taking a long look at Wolf's nominees, leaving him to assume office with a Cabinet full of acting secretaries.
“The confirmation process includes submitting ethics forms, other paperwork and hearings that allow the Senate to do a thorough review of a nominee’s experience before voting,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Thursday afternoon.
Wolf burst into the Capitol calling for transparency and something as innocuous as open government.
As a key Senate aide opined to an Associated Press reporter, it's increasingly transparent that, less two weeks into the his administration, “the honeymoon is over."