Well, since it’s less than two weeks before the seemingly inevitability of Tom Wolf’s election as our next governor, it’s probably smart to begin envisioning what his administration will look like and what its priorities will be.
Even as the race tightened in its closing days, Wolf’s early double-digit lead in the polls over Gov. Tom Corbett has withstood the incumbent’s nearly $20 million television campaign. Four years ago, this newspaper in front page type warned that Tom Corbett’s election would lead to black people dying due to cuts in health, education and other human service welfare programs. Most of you just yawned, or went out line dancing, or queued the throngs at your favorite lottery outlet instead of crowding your polling stations. Your absence from the voting booth allowed Corbett to win. Since then urban school systems across the state were financially decimated; unsafe roads and bridges rotted for three more years; health care for poor single persons was erased outright; and school nurse programs were slashed so deeply that students did in fact fail to receive medical care which might have saved their lives. Many African American voters have consistently misunderstood the optimum time to extract promises from elected officials. We’re generally so happy to see them show up in our churches on Sunday mornings that we forget to pass the collection plate before we go to the polls. Now is the time to demand that the candidate who gets the majority of the African American vote make a commitment to our constituency. Tom Wolf cannot win Nov. 4 without solid support from black Pennsylvanians.
Blacks were pivotal in the elections of the last two Democrats to occupy the governor’s mansion—Bob Casey and Ed Rendell. We gave both men lots of votes. And what did we get in return? In a word-promises; because when it came to spending state resources with black owned firms very little changed since the days when black laborers were routinely hired to break the strikes by white coal miners in the early days of the 20th century. Historically, Pennsylvania has equivocated for centuries between its pro Union rhetoric and its empathy with the culture of the antebellum South.
Parts of the New South though can teach us something today. Take for example Mississippi, the state with the largest number of black elected officials in office.
However, in modern Mississippi black legislative leaders there want state government to do more business with black owned companies and a few weeks ago they endorsed an online marketplace to do just that.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, the leading newspaper in the Magnolia State’s capitol, Jackson—”We allocate billions of dollars for tools and resources to lure large corporations to this state,” observed state Senator Kenny Wayne Jones, Black Caucus chairman. “Too often, though minority-owned and women-owned businesses don’t get their share of public dollars.” In fiscal 2013, of more than $2.1 billion of state spending only $49 million or 2.3 percent went to companies owned by persons of color. The caucus endorsed WhereToGo411.com, an interactive only marketplace and database that help connect black-owned businesses to local and national buyers.
The state institutions of Higher Learning last year launched its Minority Economic Opportunity Initiative and entered an agreement with the online marketplace. The state’s eight public universities and the University of Mississippi Medical Center now use the database to send quotes, requests for proposals and subcontract opportunities to African American vendors, and the businesses can use it to submit quotes and proposals.
Some form of “WhereToGo” should be demanded of Wolf. We should not settle for promises of a few high profile jobs running this department or that high-sounding commission. A handful of titled jobs won’t clothe, house or feed the 40,000 poor children in deep poverty in Philadelphia. We need programmatic inclusion in all phases of state government that will open whole industries to the under and unemployed in Reading, Allentown, Erie and Pittsburgh as well.
Let us start by asking Wolf how much of the $27.6 million he’s raised and spent as of last week went to black or brown vendors. And if his answer is less than what a reasonable person would judge to be fair he should be warned his next four years could turn into a 21st century Gettysburg.