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EDITORIAL: This heat Gov. Wolf earned

The Dispatch Editorial Board
FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo, Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania speaks at a news conference at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa. Wolf is struggling to fight against a Republican revolt over his stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns. Egged on by state GOP lawmakers, counties have threatened to defy his orders while at least a few business owners have reopened their doors despite his warnings. (AP Photo/Marc Levy, File)

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has been many things throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Transparent is not one of them.

Over the past two months, Wolf and his lieutenants have been dragged kicking and screaming into releasing vital public health information. And, throughout, the administration's defense for its basic lack of candor has been inconsistent and subject to change based on political necessity.

The cloak and dagger game started early on in the outbreak, when state Health Secretary Rachel Levine refused to detail the number of Pennsylvanians in quarantine, how many tests had been given or the ages of those infected.

Wolf and his administration claimed it was barred from releasing the information — key to the public's understanding of the outbreak — by a 65-year-old law, the Disease Prevention and Control Law, authored when syphilis ran rampant throughout the state. 

But critics pressed the Wolf administration, especially as surrounding states released far more details, particularly regarding infections and deaths in nursing homes. Just this week, though, Wolf's administration finally relented and released a list of nursing homes with outbreaks.

It took weeks, and substantial political pressure, to produce basic statistics that other states were providing each and every day. 

Either the administration's interpretation of the syphilis law changed or the political realities did. We're going with the latter. 

Then there's the state's clearly troubled waiver program, which permitted some businesses to sidestep Wolf's shutdown order. 

Almost immediately,  allegations of political patronage ran rampant. But Wolf's response was, predictably, that he couldn't talk about it.

Then, this past week, Wolf's administration quietly released a list of every business that received a waiver. But don't mistake that grudging response for some newfound appreciation of openness. Some businesses were having their waivers revoked hours prior to the list's publication, Spotlight PA reported.

The state Senate rightly responded to the business waiver fiasco by flexing its oversight muscle. Hearings were called. Subpoenas were issued.

The Wolf administration ignored all of it and, in so doing, thumbed its nose at the Legislature's constitutional mandate to conduct oversight.

Instead, Wolf is handing the documents to state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a fellow Democrat.

Apparently, like President Donald Trump, only those on Wolf's team are permitted to look over his shoulder.  

It's not a good look for any governor, but especially one who essentially suspended the state's Right-to-Know Law during the pandemic. 

Hopefully, the courts recognize Wolf's abuse of power here and compel his administration to pony up the documents. Wolf's argument that the paper trail contains "trade secrets" should not be enough to quash a Senate investigation, political or not.

Wolf's taken substantial heat throughout the coronavirus crisis, much of it unfair or downright conspiratorial. His lockdowns were generally lawful. His mandates were within his purview. And his actions were not those of a king.

However, throughout the outbreak, Wolf has sought to control information to a degree that's undermined his administration's credibility and winnowed public trust. And, time and again, its defense for its actions was sacrificed when political realities required it.