Dems want Sen. Wagner comment denounced

Greg Gross

Pennsylvania Democrats are crying foul after York County state Sen. Scott Wagner made a comment — steeped in violent rhetoric, they said — directed at Gov. Tom Wolf over the weekend.

"We had him down on the floor with our foot on his throat and we let him up. Next time, we won't let him up," political news website PoliticsPa quoted Wagner as saying.

Wagner made the comment when discussing the ongoing state budget impasse at the state GOP's Winter Meeting in Hershey on Saturday, PoliticsPa reported.

The often outspoken Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, confirmed he made the comment when reached by phone on Monday but declined to discuss it further. Rather, he said he plans to address the topic in an email blast to supporters and subscribers.

Denounce: Now Pennsylvania Democrats, who called Wagner the "lead Tea Party obstructionist in Harrisburg" in a statement, are calling on U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, state Sen. John Rafferty, Northampton County Executive John Brown and Berks County businessman Otto Voit to denounce the York County senator's comment.

Republicans endorsed Toomey for re-election, Rafferty for state attorney general, Voit for treasurer and Brown for auditor general at Saturday's meeting.

"Sen. Scott Wagner addressed the crowd with incendiary and violent remarks directed at Governor Wolf that tell you everything you need to know about the Republican Party in Pennsylvania that will do anything to block progress and protect the Harrisburg status quo," Marcel Groen, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democrats, said in a statement.

Megan Sweeney, spokeswoman for the state GOP, said she hadn't heard of any plans for the Republican Party to denounce the comment.

"We provided a platform for our party leaders," she said of the meeting, and she deferred to Wagner for additional comment.

Steve Kelly, spokesman for Toomey's campaign, said he it was the first he heard that Democrats want the U.S. senator to denounce the comment when reached by phone on Monday.

Wolf's office also chimed in, saying in a statement that Wagner's comments made it "abundantly clear that the only obstacle to a bipartisan budget compromise ... is Republican obstruction."

"This rhetoric shows exactly what the problem is in Harrisburg and who is responsible for the extended budget impasse," Mark Nicastre, a spokesman for the administration, said.

Past: Wagner, who has been in the state Senate since early 2014, when he won a special election as a write-in candidate and was elected to a full four-year term later that year, is no stranger to controversial comments.

He drew the ire of some Pennsylvanians, including three World War II veterans who spoke out publicly, when he said labor unions, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler are about "power and control" during Senate debate in 2014.

During a phone interview with a radio program just after the 2014 election, Wagner said that he'll be "sitting in the back room with a baseball bat," in reference to getting things done in Harrisburg. In March, he called Bob Kefauver a "smart ass." Wagner didn't know Kefauver was head of York's Democrats at the time of  the exchange.

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