This op-ed initially appeared in the York Daily Record on May 24, 2017.
By: Joshua Henne
The day of Donald Trump’s inaugural, I penned an op-ed detailing how Sen. Scott Wagner and our 45th president are two peas in a self-serving pod.
Like Trump, Wagner rails against the establishment while manipulating it for the glory of his political ambition, personal gain and business ventures’ bottom line. Waste-hauling companies like Penn Waste typically make money through municipal contracts, so Wagner literally makes millions off the government. It smells an awful lot like he’s using his businesses to get ahead in politics, while utilizing government to further his business interests.
Immediately, Penn Waste employee Amanda Davidson responded. However, her rebuttal did nothing to repudiate Wagner being a “walking, talking conflict of interest.” In fact, she only served to prove the fact even further.
It’s worth noting Davidson not only draws a Penn Waste paycheck but also served as Wagner’s campaign manager at the time of his launch. Oh, and she was also treasurer of Reform PA PAC – which Wagner created to funnel resources to right-wing candidates around the state. So, Davidson herself is talking up his company and also putting out press releases about Wagner loaning his campaign $4.3 million and about his PAC’s ideals. It can all get pretty darn confusing.
Wagner’s political YouTube page highlights a clip of Davidson gushing about her boss: “I take it personally when I hear anybody say anything bad about Scott. … Because what he does when no one is looking is who he really is.”
However, she whiffed when given the chance to defend Wagner’s shady dealings.
Davidson took particular umbrage with mention of Penn Waste and other Wagner-owned ventures receiving over 30 DEP violations. Incredulously, she claimed he’s “a staunch advocate for protecting our environment.” However, I must throw the red challenge flag on this alternative fact.
Recently, Wagner became a statewide punchline with his laughable global warning explanation: “I haven’t been in a science class in a long time, but the earth moves closer to the sun every year – you know, the rotation of the Earth. We’re moving closer to the sun … We have more people … you know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off?”
This bumbling makes clear why Wagner’s gubernatorial campaign kickoff – at Penn Waste, of course, doubling as a business commercial – was closed to the public. So were all campaign stops those first few days, including one at a doughnut shop. For someone who claims he’ll meet with anyone to talk about his plans for the state, Wagner’s handlers know he must be kept under wraps, lest more embarrassing gaffes ensue.
Moreover, the only “green” Wagner cares about are the dollar bills he makes – often off taxpayer-funded contracts. Wagner intimated to a group of natural gas advocates he’s not an “environmental activist.” At least he’s self-aware. One of only two senators receiving a 0 percent rating from Pennsylvania’s leading environmental groups, Wagner recently bopped it up to a whopping 20 percent. Yet, still he even co-sponsored legislation dangerously allowing operators to use “treated mine water” to help frack.
A case can also be made that Wagner’s trying to better his own business by using his governmental perch to make Waste-To-Energy (WTE) plants more attractive to townships. Legislatively, he’s pushing to move trash-burning into Tier 1 of Pennsylvania’s renewable energy portfolio via WTE plants – a couple of which operate in Penn Waste counties. Essentially, with an enhanced tax credit, WTEs would pay more for trash than landfills. If successful, Wagner would forge a more profitable market for his own company, as well as for at least one of his campaign contributors.
According to Davidson, “The only time someone notices their waste collector is when their waste and recycling hasn’t been picked up.” But that’s not entirely true.
People are really starting to notice Wagner – for all the wrong reasons. They’re seeing him making a mint off government contracts. And they’re realizing Wagner could use his position to influence and potentially benefit his business while using his businesses to boost political aspirations.
Davidson’s original missive wasn’t much of a rebuttal at all. But don’t take my word for it. Ken Christian of York wrote a letter to the editor summing up how her piece “was more of a commercial for the business and its employees of Penn Waste.”
He’s right. Davidson provided no pushback on Wagner using his pocketbook to gain clients or political influence in the corridors of Harrisburg. And she outright ignored fears that Wagner could parlay his newly acquired chairmanship of the Senate Local Government Committee into benefiting or securing clients. All Davidson focused on was what a swell place Penn Waste is and what a great guy Wagner is – just as she’s paid to do.
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