By John Celock
A 28-year-old county official who was Pennsylvania’s first elected official to endorse President Donald Trump is now seeking to be the youngest statewide elected official.
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale announced this week that he would enter the GOP primary for lieutenant governor this year. Gale is one of four Republicans seeking the second spot on the party’s ticket to oppose Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf this year. Gale’s campaign echoes themes that Trump brought to the presidential race, saying he wants to “clean out the cesspool in Harrisburg.”
“For too long, the Commonwealth has been disgraced by criminal politicians and unethical judges who have tarnished the offices they held and embarrassed the citizens they served,” Gale wrote on his campaign website. “In recent years alone, state Treasurer Rob McCord pleaded guilty of extortion, Attorney General Kathleen Kane was sentenced to prison and two Supreme Court justices were caught sending pornography on state-issued email accounts. Ending this culture of corruption demands leadership guided by common sense and moral character: qualities which I will bring to the office of lieutenant governor.”
While Gale is launching a campaign against Harrisburg, question persist whether he can hold the job. Gale will be 29 when the term starts in January 2019, turning 30 in March, the legal age to serve as lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania. Gale told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he would just not take office until he was legally old enough in order to meet the constitutional requirement, saying that he had sought legal advice on the issue.
Gale cited the example of former U.S. Sen. Rush Holt (D-W.V.) who waited six months in 1933 to take his seat until he met the constitutional age of 30.
In his announcement Gale takes aim at GOP lieutenant governor frontrunner Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer who switched from a bid for the U.S. Senate to be GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner’s running mate for lieutenant governor. Gale says that Bartos was part of a GOP group that attempted to defeat his bid for county commission in 2015, including backing a party endorsed candidate who has once served on Planned Parenthood’s board.
Gale described Bartos as “an entrenched insider” and said that Bartos has donated to Democrats in the past.
“Despite the sabotage efforts of insider Jeff Bartos and his party boss allies, I was elected Montgomery County commissioner, the first in history to do so without support of either major political party establishment,” Gale wrote.
In addition to Gale and Bartos, former state Rep. Gordon Denlinger and Muhlenberg School Board President Otto Volt, the GOP’s unsuccessful 2016 nominee for state treasurer, are seeking the nomination for lieutenant governor.
Wagner, a state senator, is running against state House Speaker Mike Turzai, businessman Paul Mango and attorney Laura Ellsworth for the party’s nomination for governor.
Gale enters a lieutenant governor race that has been dominated by a growing field of Democrats seeking to unseat embattled Lt. Gov. Mike Stack (D). Stack is facing off against Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, state Rep. Madeleine Dean, Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone, Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman and Iraq War veteran Aryanna Barringer in the Democratic primary.
Stack and his wife, Tonya, have faced allegations of verbally abusing their state security details and staff at the lieutenant governor’s state owned official residence outside of Harrisburg. Wolf has stripped both Stacks of their security details and new rules were put in place for employees at the lieutenant governor’s mansion. Tonya Stack entered mental health treatment last year regarding her behavior towards her security detail, including directing her official driver to use emergency lights and sirens when driving her in a state-owned car.
Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor is a largely powerless office, holding only the official duties of serving as president of the state Senate and chairman the state Board of Pardons. Wolf has also assigned Stack the chairmanships of committees focused on local government, emergency management and the military community.
Gale outlined his record on the county commission in his announcement including voting against hiking taxes and the vehicle registration fee and opposing a plan by the Reading school district to place Planned Parenthood guidance counselors in the high school.
Gale is seeking to become the first Montgomery County commissioner to win statewide office since Democrat Josh Shapiro was elected state attorney general in 2016.
Gale is one of four twenty-somethings seeking statewide office in 2018. Kansas State Treasurer Jake LaTurner (R), 29, is seeking a full term this year, after being appointed to the office last year by Gov. Sam Brownback (R). In Arizona, Republican Jonathan Gelbart, 29, is seeking the party’s nomination for state Superintendent of Public Instruction and in Rhode Island, state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, 27, is running in the Democratic primary against Lt. Gov. Dan McKee. In addition, several teenagers have announced bids for governor in Kansas and Vermont and for Kansas secretary of state.
LaTurner is currently the youngest person holding statewide office in the country, while Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles (R), 34, is the youngest person currently elected to statewide office in the country. Iowa Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg (R),35, is the nation’s youngest lieutenant governor.
Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governorship attracted several young candidates during the 2014 election, with then Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith, then 35, and then state Rep. Brandon Neuman, then 32, both unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. Smith is now a deputy chief of staff to Wolf, while Neuman left the Legislature earlier this month to become a Court of Common Pleas judge in Washington County.
Statewide Officeholders Under 40
Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner (R), 29, (Appointed to Fill Vacancy)
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles (R), 34
North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson (R), 34
North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger (R), 34
Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner (D), 34
Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway (D), 35, (Appointed to Fill Vacancy)
Iowa Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg (R), 35, (Appointed to Fill Vacancy)
North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfried (R), 35
West Virginia Auditor J.B. McCluskey (R), 35
Kentucky Treasurer Allison Ball (R), 36
Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib (D), 36
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), 37
North Dakota Auditor Josh Gallion (R), 38
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), 38
Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R), 39