May 21, 2021
If you abuse power long enough, you’ll lose it. That was the message from Pennsylvanians to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, the first chief executive in the country to be stripped of some of his executive authority. The blowback — which has brewing for months — was a result of the governor’s COVID policies, which voters have obviously decided were too oppressive and overreaching. To put an end to Governor Wolf’s “dictatorship,” as some called it, they’ve completely rewritten the state’s emergency powers.
It was the first state in the nation to accomplish it — but 44 others could follow. After mask mandates, lockdowns, capacity limits, and church closures, the American people are saying, “Enough!.” The next time there’s a pandemic or other disaster, voters are doing everything they can to make sure more than one person is calling the shots. By a seven-point spread (53 to 46 percent), Pennsylvanians passed constitutional amendments that a) limit emergency declarations to three weeks (not three months) and b) require legislative approval to extend them.
This was a case the state legislature had been making for months. They passed six bills to overturn Wolf’s suffocating COVID decisions, but he vetoed every one. Fine, leaders decided. If he won’t let us rein in his authority, we’ll ask the people to. National Republicans — who’ve been watching similar moves in red and blue states — cheered when voters didn’t hesitate in curbing Wolf’s influence. “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,” said RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.
Top leaders call the vote a victory for “individual rights and freedoms,” a push to “reestablish checks and balances” so that there’s a “functioning, collaborate government.” Wolf, ironically, called the amendments a “power grab,” and wasted no time expressing his displeasure. “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 the best we possibly can to make those rules work.”
It’s just the latest proof that Americans — on everything from elections to COVID — don’t take kindly to Democratic governors acting like tyrants. Ignoring the democratic process and imposing the Left’s will on states isn’t what most voters are looking for in their top leaders. And to prove it, lawmakers in 45 states have put more than 300 measures on the table to reel in executive actions related to the pandemic or other emergencies. In blue states like New York and Massachusetts, even Democrats are getting involved in pushing back governors of their own party whose mandates have gone too far.
Elsewhere, in places like Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, New Hampshire, Idaho, North Carolina, Kansas, and Arkansas, similar debates are playing out. “Our system is set up not to give one person of any party too much power over the lives of Kansans,” House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch argued.
Throughout 2020, Nick Murray warned in NRO, state legislatures were sidelined while governors “assumed total control of the coronavirus.” It’s past time, he argued, that those legislatures fight back. Emergency powers were always meant to be used “sparingly.” “It doesn’t exist to allow one person to control an entire state government for a year or more. He cites a new report by the Maine Policy Institute that ranks states by their power balance in an emergency. Let’s hope, he writes, that one of the silver linings of COVID is that it forces Americans to “reckon with the danger of concentrating power in the hands of the few.”