Seven months into his first term as Pennsylvania governor, two of Democrat Josh Shapiro’s picks for top cabinet posts have yet to be confirmed by the state Senate.
In practice, the difference between a surrogate secretary and a certified secretary is minimal. Shapiro’s two acting secretaries, Debra Bogen of the Department of Health and Wendy Spicher of the Department of Banking and Securities, have essentially the same powers as ministers approved by state senators.
But Mr. Bogen’s continued role has upset at least two Republicans who want to curtail the acting secretary’s powers.
Shapiro withdrew Bogen’s nomination in late June when it became clear that he did not have the votes to be confirmed in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
Bogen, a pediatrician, served as director of the Allegheny County Health Department during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Republican leadership blamed the lack of support on Bogen’s “past administrative duties.” claimed to be.
The governor has not yet announced whether he will bring Bogen to the state Senate again or name another person to fill a permanent role.
State Senators Christine Phillips Hill (R.York) and Judy Ward (R.B. Blair) said that by allowing the Acting Secretary to serve without the approval of legislators, the governor and the Cabinet would be in control of the state. He said it would circumvent constitutional oversight. . They plan to introduce constitutional amendments in September to limit the powers of these ministers.
“We are supposed to be three equal branches of government, but over the past three years we have seen the executive branch come to power,” Phillips Hill told Spotlight PA. “The Senate’s advice and consent to the Governor’s Cabinet is enshrined in our Constitution.”
Shapiro isn’t the only governor to use acting secretaries. During the final years of Governor Tom Wolfe’s administration, more than one-third of the state’s agencies were headed by officials who had never obtained the approval of the state Senate.
JJ Abbott, Mr. Wolf’s former press secretary, said the governor wasn’t trying to sidestep the state Senate. He told Spotlight PA that it was always difficult to recruit staff for short ministerial tenures later in the administration, and the lengthy approval process didn’t help. But more importantly, he said, he is accusing the state Senate of letting politics get involved in the process.
He noted that leaders at one time tried to block the appointment of a state public works regulator on the grounds of legislative conflicts, which Abbott called “a camel’s back” in terms of candidate approval. called straw.
“They ruined their relationship with Wolfe. [the state Senate’s constitutional duty of] “I will ‘advise and agree’ with the ransom demand.”
Twenty-one ministers, subject to state Senate approval, direct state agencies, advise the governor, and recommend policy. Their responsibilities are wide-ranging and include managing state elections, allocating billions of dollars in education funding, and channeling state and federal budgets into numerous welfare programs such as SNAP and Medicaid.
The state’s constitution mandates the governor to nominate a secretary to fill the post within 90 days of the vacancy becoming available.
Once nominated, the state Senate has 25 days to vote on the candidate, requiring approval by two-thirds of the legislature. If nominations are made during a break, the clock will start after the floor is reconvened.
If the state Senate does not cast a nomination ballot within 25 days of legislation, the candidate can take on the role as if Congress had voted yes. This happened to three of Shapiro’s administration secretaries, who were in charge of the Departments of Health and Welfare, the Department of Revenue, and the Department of State.
The two remaining unidentified secretaries to the regime are in the Ministry of Banking and Securities and the Ministry of Health, and each followed different paths to their current positions.
Shapiro originally named Sarah Hammer, executive director of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, as bank commissioner in January. However, Hammer made the announcement in early May. that she would “Return to Service” [University of Pennsylvania] community. “
After Hammer’s resignation, Shapiro nominated Spicher in early July. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Spitcher had been Deputy Commissioner for Depository Institutions at the Ministry of Banking and Securities since 2008. As of August 17, the state Senate had 24 days of legislative time left to vote on Spitcher’s nomination.
Bogen, meanwhile, was Shapiro’s original candidate for head of the Department of Health. In late June, Shapiro withdrew Bogen’s nomination after not having enough votes to approve him.
Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R., Indiana) said in a statement, “Given concerns about Dr. Bogen’s past administrative duties, we felt she was not well suited for the role.” He added that the House is ready to consider new candidates if Mr. Shapiro submits names.
But state Senate minority leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said he hopes Bogen will resolve some of the disagreements within the Republican caucus and “get to the point of being renominated.” Said he was looking forward to it.
Costa previously told the Philadelphia Inquirer that some Republicans had problems with Bogen’s work at the Allegheny County Health Department, but “we don’t know the details.”
“If her nomination had been given the chance to come up and vote, I think she would have been approved,” Costa told Spotlight PA.
Shapiro has kept Bogen in the role in acting capacity ever since recalling the nomination. A spokeswoman for Mr. Shapiro’s office declined to comment on future plans for Mr. Bogen’s nomination.
Philips Hill and Ward said the constitutional amendment would clearly provide for what an unauthorized secretary cannot do, such as issue executive orders or promulgate regulations on behalf of the governor.
Phillips Hill said he felt the need to separate the powers of the acting secretary amid the pandemic, when the health ministry issued an executive order requiring mask-wearing and social distancing in public schools.
Three commissioners who served during the pandemic, Allison Beam, Keira Kleinparter and Dennis Johnson, were not confirmed by the state Senate.
“There has been a flood of information coming out on a daily basis from the Ministry of Health about children wearing masks in orphanages and schools, but this person has not been confirmed by the Senate,” Phillips Hill said. .
Constitutional amendments must be passed by both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate in two consecutive sessions before being voted yes or no on a statewide referendum.
Pat Christmas, policy director for the philanthropic group Committee of 70, said he wasn’t sure the constitutional amendment would solve any problems.
Mr. Christmas, who has not yet seen the text of the bill, said that under the Wolfe administration the failure to gain approval was largely due to a combination of increased partisan conflict and the political environment, rather than flaws in the state constitutional approval process. He said he believed it was due to polarization.
He said it was not clear whether the constitution would need to be amended to resolve such issues.
“Any change to the structure of government, and in this case, how the legislative branch has some oversight powers over the executive branch, needs to be considered very carefully,” Christmas said.
Katie Meyer of Spotlight PA contributed to the report.
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