By John Celock
Controversies surrounding Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor have led a fourth Democrat to announce plans to launch a challenge in next year’s Democratic primary.
Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman (D) announced last week that he planned to challenge Lt. Gov. Mike Stack in next year’s Democratic primary for the state’s number two post. Lehman’s entry to the growing list of Stack challengers comes in a year where Stack has faced controversies over his and his wife’s treatment of staff and bodyguards and use of the lieutenant governor’s official residence.
“Today’s political environment makes it extremely difficult to solve important problems, both large and small,” Lehman said in a statement released last week. “If we are to move Pennsylvania forward, we need to find common ground and work together. Failing to do so only sets Pennsylvania up for failure. As lieutenant governor, I will work with the other reasoned voices in Harrisburg to help our Commonwealth succeed.”
Lehman, a former budget analyst for the state House of Representatives, was first elected as a Lancaster County commissioner in 2007. He is a former councilman and city controller in the City of Lancaster and has served as president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
Lehman joins Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman and former congressional candidate Aryanna Berringer in the race against Stack. State Rep. Madeleine Dunn (D-Montgomery County) has announced that she is considering entering the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
In Pennsylvania candidates for lieutenant governor run in a separate primary from candidates for governor with the nominees for the two offices running as a ticket in the general election. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is unopposed in the Democratic primary as he seeks a second term next year. On the Republican side, businessman Jeff Bartos is the only announced candidate for lieutenant governor, running on an unofficial ticket with state Sen. Scott Wagner, a candidate for governor.
Stack, a former longtime state senator from Philadelphia, won the lieutenant governorship on a ticket with Wolf in 2014, following his victory in a five-way Democratic primary. Stack’s 2014 primary win was largely credited to his Philadelphia base, in a primary contest that drew candidates from around the state.
Wolf and Stack have had a largely distant relationship with the governor not including Stack in his inner circle. Stack raised eyebrows shortly before his election when he considered retaining his state Senate seat in addition to serving as lieutenant governor. Stack later abandoned the idea and resigned his Senate seat.
As lieutenant governor, Stack is constitutionally the president of the state Senate and the chairman of the state Board of Pardons. In addition, Wolf has designated him to chair committees relating to local government and emergency management, duties that have been given to many of Stack’s recent predecessors. Stack also chairs the Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission and has been active on veterans related policy and in promoting how Pennsylvanians can apply for pardons.
Earlier this year, Wolf stripped Stack and his wife, Tonya, of their state police security details, amid allegations that the couple verbally abused the security details and state employees at the lieutenant governor’s state-owned residence in a Harrisburg suburb. New rules were put in place for the working conditions at the official residence, along with a state investigation into the Stacks’ behavior. In addition, a state House committee launched an investigation into Stack’s spending of $34,000 in state funds for groceries since taking office as lieutenant governor. Stack has said the money was used to buy food for events he hosted at his official residence and for gifts he gave to visitors to his office and residence.
Earlier this year, Tonya Stack entered a mental health treatment center following the revelations of her behavior towards her state security detail, including allegations that she ordered troopers driving her to utilize emergency lights and sirens to clear traffic in front of her state owned SUV.
In 2016, Stack tried to insert a provision into the state budget making it easier for troopers driving him and other officials, including his wife, Wolf and Wolf’s wife, to use emergency lights and sirens, instead of needing an emergency situation to use the perk. Wolf blocked the provision.
Stack has apologized for his and his wife’s behavior.
Wolf has declined to endorse Stack for reelection and earlier this year said he had not thought of endorsing another candidate.
This is not the first time a sitting Pennsylvania lieutenant governor has faced a competitive primary for reelection. In 2006, then Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll (D) faced three challengers in the Democratic primary as she sought a second term. Baker Knoll, who had a distant relationship with then Gov. Ed Rendell (D), did win the primary that year. Baker Knoll, who died in 2008 during her second term, faced criticism in her first term for a series of missteps including calling Rendell “Edward G. Robinson” and handing her business card to the family of a Marine killed in Iraq during the Marine’s funeral service. Rendell chose not to back a challenger to Baker Knoll, a former state treasurer popular with senior citizens, which caused several high profile challengers not to run against Baker Knoll.
Lehman did not directly address the controversies surrounding Stack in the press release announcing his candidacy, instead discussing the “five rules” he says he follows.
“First and most important, it’s not about me; don’t make yourself the issue. Second, be professional; don’t make things personal. Third, be prepared; doing your homework can make all the difference,” Lehman said. “Fourth, be principled; fight for what is the right thing to do and support policies that make sense. Finally, set a good example because tone matters. This is how I will campaign and serve as lieutenant governor.”