York County as the center of Pa. politics: coincidence or overdue?
A horde or reporters gathered outside an East Manchester Township cafe Wednesday, May 16, hoping to catch a glimpse of the state's new Democratic gubernatorial ticket.
The focus likely was just a small preview of the attention York County will receive leading up to the November general election.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, of Mount Wolf, was meeting with his new running mate, John Fetterman, a Central York High School graduate, less than a mile down the road from Penn Waste, the trash hauling business owned by Spring Garden Township's Scott Wagner, the Republicans' nominee to challenge Wolf.
Political analyst G. Terry Madonna said he can't recall any other time in the state's history that the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor have both come from the same county.
Elsewhere in the county live the state's auditor general, Eugene DePasquale, and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Stan Saylor.
Before Wolf, the last governor from York County was George Leader in 1959.
Wolf joked with reporters that "it seems about time" for York County to be a major focus of state politics, but most agree that the timing of so many prominent state politicians coming from the area is merely coincidental.
"Elections are won on individual candidates, their message and fundraising," state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said. "A lot of circumstances seemed have to conspired to get to this point."
Alex Shorb, chairman of the York County GOP Committee, said "sometimes stars just have to align" when it comes to a specific politician's rise to power.
Grove pointed to the the Democratic lieutenant governor's race as an example.
The governor's relationship with Incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack publicly soured last year after Wolf ordered an investigation into the treatment of state employees by Stack and his wife, and eventually stripped Stack of state police protection.
"Had Stack not had those issues, would Fetterman have even ran?" Grove wondered.
Saylor, R-Windsor Township, was the first of the current group of prominent York politicians to rise to power, chosen as majority whip during the 2011-12 session.
He said he's encouraged other York politicians to become leaders in Harrisburg because it's important to get things done that represent the values of the county.
"The York delegation is very respected in Harrisburg for its integrity and being straight-forward," Saylor said.
Shorb said he believes York County's population size — about 440,000, according to the latest U.S. Census data — makes it the perfect place for a swarm of prominent politicians.
The county is not so big that corruption takes control of the political environment, but still big enough that voters know what they want and who could succeed on a larger scale, he said.
"Candidates who we put up go through the gauntlet ... (and) gotta work their tails off," Shorb said. "Iron sharpens iron."
Saylor recalled that his passion for politics began as a junior at Dallastown High School, when his civics class — which included Wagner — helped work on the campaign of former state Rep. A. Carville "Peck" Foster.
"He taught me about leadership and commitment to community," Saylor said.
He said believes those same qualities helped fuel the rise of Wolf and Wagner.
Saylor noted that both are successful business leaders who have contributed a lot to their communities and, though they have different visions for improving Pennsylvania, they each rose to prominence within their parties because people saw their commitment and passion for solving problems.
Their success in politics doesn't surprise him, he said.
The fact that two of the state's top Democrats — Wolf and DePasquale, and potentially a third in Fetterman — come from one of the state's most conservative-leaning counties does surprise many.
"It's almost poetic irony," said Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of York County Economic Alliance and a former Democratic state representative.
Grove admitted it's a lot easier for a Republican from south-central Pennsylvania to rise to power because of the conservative voting base.
Either way, many in York are hoping to take advantage of the coming spotlight to highlight all that York County has to offer.
"This is a great moment for York," Schreiber said, noting that the economic alliance is putting together ideas to try to leverage possible national attention.
Grove said he hopes to highlight the county's great educational institutions, its wealth of manufacturing businesses and interesting history.
Saylor said he just hopes others recognize York as a county that focuses on solving problems, not just talking.
— Reach David Weissman at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.