Voters in Pennsylvania issued a referendum on how well they think their governor handled the COVID crisis, and it looks like he didn’t earn very good marks because his constituents chose to approve amendments that would give the legislature much greater control over any future disaster declaration by a governor.
The first approved amendment gives the legislature the power to end or extend a governor’s emergency declaration, while the second will end an emergency declaration after 21 days unless extended by the legislature.
Republicans see the vote as a referendum on Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s heavy-handed COVID restrictions. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel tweeted, “Last night, Pennsylvanians voted to reject Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf’s overreach of executive powers after his failed COVID response — a clear sign of accountability coming in 2022.”
Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas said, “Last night, Pennsylvanians voted to end the lockdown, restart our economy, reopen our schools, and put a stop to Gov. Tom Wolf’s dictatorship.”
Wolf opposed the amendments, calling the measures a “thinly veiled power grab.”
After the vote, he began discussions with the legislature and said, “So we’re starting that conversation. You can’t just flick a switch and make the change, but the voters have spoken, and we’re going to do what I think the voters expect us to do and make the best of it.”
He added, “There’s no question that I opposed this. I said that many times in many different ways. But the voters have spoken, and Pennsylvania wants to change the rules. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to do the best we possibly can to make those rules work.”
Some argue that the amendments won’t change much and would have no effect on orders such as mask mandates or business closures.
J.J. Abbott, a Democratic strategist and former press secretary for Wolf, believes the move will be a political minefield for the legislature. According to Abbott, the legislature would have to take responsibility for emergencies. “This seems like a huge political boondoggle on their part,” Abbott claimed. “And not something they really thought through in seeking this political retribution.”
Whether or not these ballot measures will have the desired result remains to be seen. One could argue that giving power to the legislature is a less efficient way to manage emergencies, but the reasoning for the amendments is clear.
Executives across the country overstepped their bounds during last year’s pandemic and have continued to wield an unparalleled amount of authority. Heavy-handed responses to COVID by different governors, including Wolf, have raised questions about the very foundations of America, such as whether personal safety is more important than personal liberty or whether worship services can be unilaterally shut down.
Voters clearly do not want a governor acting as a dictator whereby the fate of small businesses, schoolchildren, and religious worship would rest in the hands of one person.
George Washington said, “The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.”
Pennsylvania voters saw what a rogue governor can and will do when given these emergency powers and they have decided that it is too much power for one person. Whether the new method will prove superior or not is unknown, but it is encouraging to see the will of the people rising up against any threat to liberty.