Whatever else the 2020 elections have taught Republicans, they’ve certainly learned the importance of governors.
Too many of the 2020 state-by-state election controversies revolved around the actions or inactions of Democratic governors in ensuring election integrity. And then there’s their performance with the pandemic, the economy, and oh so much more.
From time to time in my columns for The American Spectator, I plan to focus on those gubernatorial races — and on Senate and House races as well. The first hint of a healthy Republican Party is that a number of these states have multiple candidates vying for the gubernatorial nomination in their state, a sure sign that 2022 may well bring a tidal wave of GOP victories not just for the U.S. House and Senate but governors and the all-important state legislatures.
With that, I will start off closest to home here in Pennsylvania. Having come up through the ranks of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, I know many of the candidates running for the Republican nomination for governor, am friendly with many of them, and certainly respect them one and all. That said, I will start off with one candidate who is, full disclosure, a 40-year friend of mine and has tossed his hat into the ring.
It’s a Wednesday in April 2021.
In the offices of Quantum Communications, a couple-decades-old communications strategy firm long prominently headquartered a block from the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, the firm’s founder and CEO is relaxed and focused on a new venture.
Charlie Gerow is running for governor of Pennsylvania.
Who is Charlie Gerow?
A onetime Reagan campaign aide, Charlie did various projects for the late president over the course of 25 years. Whether it was a Reagan campaign, organizing the by-then former president’s last public birthday party in 1994 with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, or the poignant arrangements for Reagan’s funeral in 2004, Charlie Gerow was there. He is a leading figure in the world of national and state conservative Republican politics and business.
2022 will be a very interesting year to be running for governor in Pennsylvania as a Republican.
Currently the vice chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU) — the organization that runs CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference — Charlie Gerow is a longtime conservative leader and communications executive. In Pennsylvania he has been a prominent television commentator in the state capital as well as in the state capital’s newspaper and its online component — the Harrisburg Patriot-News and Penn Live.
Perhaps most interesting, in an era when legal immigration is an issue, Charlie is himself a legal immigrant with an almost Horatio Alger–style tale to tell. Born into poverty in southern Brazil, his mother had a dream for her new baby: she wanted to get him to America, and she set out to find Americans who would adopt her son. Says Charlie in our interview:
My birth mother told the adoption agency that she wanted her baby to be adopted by Americans and that if he were brought to America perhaps — perhaps — he would be able to learn how to read.
He was adopted, and his new adopted American parents did indeed bring him to America, obeying all the rules to do so. “I carried a green card for many years,” he says now. “I’m a naturalized citizen, a citizen by choice…. Blessed to live in the greatest country in the world.” His parents made a home for him in Pennsylvania, where he has lived for over 60 years.
Charlie’s story since his adoption is in fact the classic American tale of a penniless young man who, through considerable imagination and hard work, becomes an American success story.
He has, as mentioned, lived almost his entire life in Pennsylvania, and once arrived never left. “I care very deeply about this state and love it very much,” he says and then laughs. “Being born and bred for sunshine, in the beginning I wondered what I was doing in Pennsylvania. But I stayed because I love it here.”
He practiced law for a bit, but for most of his professional life he has been in the communications and political world, building Quantum from scratch. It is today a highly successful, multimillion-dollar communications strategy company that has offices in New York City and Annapolis, Maryland, with its central headquarters in Harrisburg.
Pennsylvania with its 67 counties is a big state, and Charlie has been to every county multiple times over the decades, realizing at one point that he has personally driven over one million miles back and forth across the state over the years. “I’m like a cab driver for the state,” he laughs, adding that he has been in every nook and cranny in Pennsylvania. He knows the state’s Big Two — the urban megacities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. But he also has been to the tiny towns and hamlets that dot the state’s geography.
“Agriculture is still the leading industry in Pennsylvania, “ he says, pointing to a fact that is little recognized outside the state’s borders. He is a fan of the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show, a mammoth, multi-day celebration of Pennsylvania agriculture at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg that attracts tens of thousands from around Pennsylvania and the country at the beginning of every year. It formally began 104 years ago in 1917, but it can trace its roots back to William Penn, the Commonwealth’s founder and namesake. In the mid-1600s, Penn organized various agriculture shows for farmers in locations around the then-British colony, and what is now a well-organized tradition began.
In fact, Charlie says, one of the first people to approach him about running for governor was Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Glenn “G. T.” Thompson, who represents 14 rural Pennsylvania counties and is poised to become the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee should the GOP, as many expect, win back the House in the 2022 elections. While many outside the state always see Pennsylvania as the home of the Big Two, the state’s rural areas are both massive and massively productive. There are over 53,000 family farms in the state, located on over some seven million acres of farmland. Politically, one can be certain that the Biden-induced inflation and price of fuel to run all those farms will be a surefire issue in the election.
Another issue that has Gerow’s attention is Pennsylvania’s senior citizens. The state is at this moment eighth in the nation in seniors 65 and over. Like the New York nursing home scandal that saw Gov. Andrew Cuomo insert COVID-19 patients into nursing homes, killing thousands, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Wolf do the same wildly dumb thing.
Gerow notes that Wolf was “taking people out of hospitals and putting them in nursing homes and assisted living facilities where many of them died. Meanwhile he allowed his Health Secretary [and now Biden HHS official] Dr. Rachel Levine to take her own mother out of a Pennsylvania nursing home and putting her in a luxury hotel.” Gerow shakes his head. “It’s an outrage. It’s every bit as disastrous as what happened in New York State but unfortunately hasn’t gotten the media attention that it should have gotten. Nor has it gotten the investigations it deserves yet — and I underline yet — because this was the worst sort of public policy. Of all the mistakes Tom Wolf made throughout the pandemic — and they were legion — that one rises as the No. 1 disaster of his administration.”
He adds as a corollary that, in addition to the high number of seniors in Pennsylvania,
We are losing our younger population. When folks in Pennsylvania have to buy an airline ticket to visit their grandchildren, there is something fundamentally wrong with that and we have to change it. We have to create a business climate and a living climate in Pennsylvania that attracts young people. Where they see Pennsylvania as a hope for their future and a place where their families can do better than they did rather than looking to Arizona or Florida or Texas or somewhere else in the Sun Belt. We’ve got a lot to offer in Pennsylvania. We have to make it even more attractive for people to live and work here.
“This is a high-tax state,” he says, shaking his head. “And there is a reason people head to low-tax states. We have great opportunities here. I’m going to be a governor who goes out and chases Elon Musk and ask him why he’s not building in Pennsylvania.” He adds it is a mistake when leftist groups fight Amazon coming to Pittsburgh. “We should pursue them,” he says. “Make it more attractive for them to be here. An awful lot of getting them here is pure tax policy. The other part is regulatory policy. Regulation is a tax. And when you’ve got a punitive-based regulatory system that over-regulates, you get what you sow.”
Among Gerow’s passions has been using his firm to promote economic growth in Pennsylvania, with a particular focus on the natural gas industry. He talks about seeing the potential for natural gas before many understood the importance of the Marcellus Shale, the massive geological formation that lies under the Appalachian Basin and spreads underneath Pennsylvania and seven other states. The U.S. Geological Survey says the Marcellus “contains about 84 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas and 3.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas liquids.”
This was, as I saw it back then, the bright light for the future of Pennsylvania’s economy. Not only for the jobs that it creates, but for the cost savings that it provides consumers, the reestablishment of our manufacturing base. Natural gas was the greatest thing that could happen to Pennsylvania. A gold mine beneath our feet here. And we still haven’t fully utilized it. So I’m a great supporter of the safe and responsible development of natural gas — of the pipelines that we’ll get ton take the the gas to market … plus the other means of distributing the gas and making Pennsylvania self-sufficient.
To the critics who will say that he wants dirty air and water with his energy policy, Gerow dismisses this quickly — and correctly — as “nonsense.” He adds, “All of us want clean air and water and a clean environment.” He points out that he has been pro-environment for a lifetime. His father, he says, was a card-carrying member of the Audubon Society. “To understand what we need environmentally is very important. I’m not afraid to talk about that. But it’s not incompatible with energy — all forms of energy. I’m not opposed to solar energy and wind energy. I think that American energy and Pennsylvania energy in particular are what we ought to be pursuing. But to say we ought to single out natural gas, to tax it out of existence or to regulate it out of existence, is craziness. It doesn’t make any sense at any level. One of the cleanest forms of energy is probably nuclear energy. We haven’t built a nuclear plant in this country in how long? We just mothballed Three Mile Island right down the street from where we are.”
On the hot topic of Wolf administration, which has received harsh reviews for its conduct during the pandemic and the 2020 election, Gerow says,
I was, and probably remain, as the harshest critic of the Tom Wolf administration from day one, because Tom Wolf’s vision of the Commonwealth is, in many respects, the antithesis of mine. Tom Wolf wants more government. He wanted more taxes. He wanted more spending — without the accountability that should go with any of it. He was from early in his administration the most liberal governor in America. Not an easy thing to do given the competition: Gavin Newsom, Andrew Cuomo, and some of these other characters.
Then you saw how his vision of how government power ought to be applied take form during the pandemic, where he ignored the legislature — constantly — issuing edicts, policy, that shut down business that should not have happened. There were a lot of questions that should have been answered about the rationale behind all of this — decisions to offer waivers for some folks, including his own business, while not allowing them for others. The arbitrary and capricious nature of Tom Wolf’s dealings throughout the pandemic was evident to everybody. And it was an outrage. You look at the restaurants he shut down. Look at what he did to Lebanon County … little tiny Lebanon County, because they dared to defy him. He used government money, taxpayer money, to punish them. He singled them out. And [Pennsylvania Democrat Attorney General] Josh Shapiro was there filing lawsuits and other actions to try and punish those folks who simply wanted to feed their families by keeping their businesses open. And so the economy paid a terrible price, a price that was unnecessary in many respects. Individuals paid an even worse price. Which wasn’t fair. And you saw again what big government, when it’s not controlled properly, really does.
In fact, as I noted in April 2020, over a thousand angry Pennsylvanians gathered on the State Capitol steps to protest what they saw as Wolf’s arbitrary closings of hundreds of Pennsylvania small businesses across the state in the name of the pandemic.
Gerow notes that in 2018 he warned that after Wolf’s first term of liberalism, were he to get a second term things would be worse. Now, he says, he feels vindicated: “The second Wolf term has not been a pretty picture.”
When it comes to prospective Democratic 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Gerow notes that Shapiro is just one more ambitious career politician who has never created a job in his life and has been “measuring the White House for draperies since he was in junior high school.” He continues,
And he has plotted and calculated every single move he’s ever made on the basis of his own political ambitions. He has never finished a job that he started. Has never been willing to tell people that he asked for a vote from that he would finish the job. So I have no doubt that he will run for governor from the attorney general’s office where he was just elected last year. But there will be a lot of questions that come to him from Pennsylvania taxpayers and citizens about some of the things he’s done over the course of the pandemic.
And not to be forgotten: the conduct of the 2020 election in the state, still a topic of hot controversy with Pennsylvania Republicans. At the center of the controversy is, in fact, the conduct of Gov. Wolf and his appointed then-Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar. Gerow gives voice to a view widely shared by many Pennsylvania Republican leaders:
Tom Wolf’s appointed secretary of state moved the goalposts constantly.And when you’re moving the goalposts, you’re both defying the Constitution and the clearly written laws of the Legislature, who were completely ignored in the process — wrongly. Because the U.S. Constitution makes it pretty clear that the state legislatures are in charge of the conduct of elections. But the Wolf administration overstepped its bounds, repeatedly, with the support, sadly, of a [Pennsylvania] Supreme Court which in our state is elected and is now controlled by Democrat political partisans.
My last question to Charlie Gerow, which I will ask of other candidates as well, was this: “So you get elected, you serve eight years. What do you envision as leaving behind as your legacy?” His answer:
I would want to see a Pennsylvania that was thriving, where the Elon Musks of the world bring their business here and not going elsewhere. Where major companies across the country are coming to Pennsylvania with jobs and opportunities. Where we are again an energy producer and supplier to not only the citizens of this Commonwealth but to every country in the world. Where kids are staying here and raising families here and building a better Pennsylvania every single day. That’s what I would like to see.
Suffice to say, 2022 will be a very interesting year to be running for governor in Pennsylvania as a Republican. Gerow believes that a serious unifying force for Pennsylvania Republicans besides Tom Wolf is President Joe Biden. He also predicts that there will be “a growing GOP reach-out to the black, Latino, and Asian communities,” adding that “Donald Trump made the GOP a party of working people,” which in turn gives both the state and national Republican Party “a great opportunity to move ahead.”
The other week I attended the Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) Republican Dinner. There were well over a thousand very enthusiastic Pennsylvania Republicans gathered to hear the speaker for the evening, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. In addition to Charlie Gerow, the place was afloat in Republican candidates for governor and U.S. senator, as both the governor’s chair and the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey will be up for grabs in 2022.
Pennsylvania’s nickname, the Keystone State, was chosen “because it was the middle colony of the original thirteen colonies, and because Pennsylvania has held a key position in the economic, social, and political development of the United States,” as noted by the website State Symbols USA.
It is safe to say that there are many in Pennsylvania — prominently including Charlie Gerow — who believe that role has been damaged in the eight years of the Wolf administration, and there is a serious determination to bring Pennsylvania back.
The Republican primary for 2022 is booked for May 17. And without doubt, Charlie Gerow’s hat is not only in the ring, he is on the trail.
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