Pennsylvania rebuffs Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf with vote to curb emergency powers

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Pennsylvania voters became the first in the nation to rein in their governor’s emergency authority, approving two ballot measures in what was viewed as a referendum on Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s increasingly unpopular pandemic orders.

The Associated Press called the election Wednesday in favor of both questions after Tuesday’s balloting, spurring cheers from Republicans and other critics of the governor’s COVID-19 disaster declaration, which Mr. Wolf signed 14 months ago and extended four times.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party said Wednesday that voters “took the crown off Tom Wolf’s head.

“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,” tweeted Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. “Congratulations to Republicans for keeping our seats RED!”

The two constitutional amendments, both of which were leading Wednesday by 54% to 46%, shift the balance of power on emergency declarations from the governor to the General Assembly.

The first measure gives the General Assembly the authority to end or extend declared emergencies without the governor’s involvement. The second automatically ends an emergency order after 21 days unless renewed by the General Assembly. 

The amendments were placed on the primary ballot by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and opposed by Mr. Wolf and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, which had urged voters to “keep partisan politics out of Pennsylvania’s disaster response.”

The vote comes as both parties gear up for the 2022 gubernatorial election to choose a successor to Mr. Wolf, who is term-limited.

At least nine states have acted to curb their governors’ unilateral disaster authority following last year’s pandemic orders, which saw states shutter businesses, empty classrooms and impose mask orders, but Pennsylvania was the first to bring the issue before the voters.

Charles Mitchell, who heads the free-market Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, called it a “momentous day in the history of Pennsylvania and the United States.”

“It is prudent to allow executives to act quickly and decisively in case of an emergency,” Mr. Mitchell said. “However, the principles of representative self-government dictate that such decisive action cannot be maintained in perpetuity, without any valid check on executive power.”

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