(This piece is part of an ongoing series of editorials from candidates for governor of the Keystone State. Broad + Liberty is dedicated to sharing relevant information and perspectives from leaders in our region
Surprisingly, one of our least ideological and more pragmatic presidents—Gerald Ford—issued this warning in 1974 because he saw the danger of an ever-growing government. President Ford could never have imagined the world of today—and the breadth and depth of government power exercised over the last 19 months.
For generations, the Republican Party warned of the ills of big government. It’s been part history lesson, part philosophy class. Thoughtful conservative authors, scholars, and political leaders warned us of the harms—even the evilness—of big, authoritarian government. From Ayn Rand to William F. Buckley and President Ronald Reagan, they wrote and gave speeches about how authoritarian governments can take away property and wealth and—even worse—take away hope and individuality and crush the human spirit. I’m not sure they could’ve imagined life in 2020 and 2021.
Suddenly, without warning, Americans—especially those of us in Pennsylvania—were forced to live under an ever-growing, authoritarian government, the likes of which we’ve never seen. Whatever the motivation or objective of the governor and his cabinet, Pennsylvanians were confronted with absolute government power on a scale we’ve never endured. To this day, government is still seeking to micromanage what we can and cannot do.
Only those working in “life-sustaining businesses” could go to work, crushing most small businesses. (We still don’t know what a “life-sustaining” business is.) Indoor dining was prohibited. Gyms were closed. They tried to close churches: we were even told not to congregate outside. Long-term care facilities were ordered to take-in COVID-19 patients.
Whatever the motivation or objective of the governor and his cabinet, Pennsylvanians were confronted with absolute government power on a scale we’ve never endured.
Then, as if they thought we were stupid, they told us things that defied common sense. You could buy a refrigerator or a plant at Home Depot but not at a neighborhood appliance store or nursery. Public schools were closed, but most parochial, private, and some charter schools stayed open. You could fly on an airplane to Los Angeles, but you couldn’t go to the barber shop.
Then, a little freedom was “granted” by the courts, but those rulings were made without metrics. Remember Red, Yellow and Green counties? One could buy a beer at a bar only if you also ordered food—and a sandwich counted, but pretzels didn’t. Then, the state Secretary of Health set-up a hotline and webpage so neighbors could “rat” on each other for violating COVID rules.
We went to bed in America and woke up in the Soviet Union.
We were in a society not seen in America since the days of King George. The governor took away our rights, and we had to plead to get them back.
Suddenly, every column, book, and speech warning us of big government—taking away our livelihoods, our freedoms, crushing our spirit—became real. This was not a story about theories or would-be harms. This was reality, and we were left with fear, loneliness, and hopelessness.
To make it worse, Wolf was out-of-touch, unresponsive—and arrogant. He gave updates but didn’t offer metrics or timelines—or hold live press conferences, let alone town halls. He would stand at a podium while reporters emailed questions to his staff, who would then select which questions would be asked—with no follow-up questions.
We finally began our path to normalcy—to life as it should be—with the #VoteYES victory in May. Together with the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry and a coalition of business and civic leaders, as well as countless parent groups and private citizens across the state, I worked to amend our state constitution so that no governor of any party could ever again wield such authoritarian power.
I have recounted these ways we were harmed, ignored, and disrespected not merely to anger us but to remind us what absolute power looks like, and to remind us that our work is not done.
I have recounted the success of #VoteYES to remind us that we can push back, win elections, and succeed.
Next, we must fully reopen all local businesses and get all employees back to work and ensure our children are in school, learning.
Pennsylvania’s government must never again threaten to take away everything we have.
The next governor must not only help local businesses, their employees, and our students; the next governor must return normalcy to our communities, to our parents, and to all citizens.
The next governor must also be a leader who knows that it is his or her duty to lead, not dictate; to build consensus, not issue orders; and to restore liberty to private citizens and reduce the power of the governor.
Pennsylvania has too many assets, too many hard-working citizens, and too much common-sense to be held down forever. After Wolf, we can chart a path forward—a path built on hope.
Here, in Pennsylvania—the home of the Declaration of Independence—we must restore our commitment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Guy Ciarrocchi is on leave as the CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry as he runs for governor. Contact him at GUYforGOV.com.