You may have heard that Braddock Mayor John Fetterman is running for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. You may also have heard his pledges to use the largely symbolic post to push his patented brand of Rust Belt progressivism on the state Capitol.
You may not, however, know that Fetterman plans to do this while keeping his home base in Braddock — some three hours west of Harrisburg.
“I publicly stated, and I was the first LG candidate to say this, but I publicly stated that I would not live in the [lieutenant governor’s] mansion if I win, and I will not permanently relocate to Harrisburg. I would stay where I’m at and operate from Braddock,” Fetterman recently told The Incline.
But is that even allowed?
According to state law, yes. In fact, there’s only one set of restrictions or requirements facing candidates for the statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. It is written as follows:
No person shall be eligible to the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor or Attorney General except a citizen of the United States, who shall have attained the age of 30 years, and have been seven years next preceding his election an inhabitant of this Commonwealth, unless he shall have been absent on the public business of the United States or of this Commonwealth.
That’s it. There’s nothing on the books to stop him.
In any other year, Fetterman’s would be an unusual move. But in 2018, four of six Democratic LG candidates tell The Incline they’ll refuse the state residence if elected. (They cite more than one reason for this.)
Lee Arnold, director of the Library and Collections at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, said he was unaware of any past candidates for lieutenant governor saying of the state residence, “It’s too opulent for me, I’m going to stay in my apartment.”
But it’s not unheard of for elected officials like governors to refuse the state digs that come with the office. Gov. Tom Wolf, for one, has opted for limited use of the governor’s residence — a 28,000-square-foot Georgian-style mansion near the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg — during his time office.
“He does not live there and uses it on a limited basis for official events and community gatherings,” Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott told The Incline.
As for any predecessors who acted similarly, G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, could think of only one: Gov. Milton Shapp who moved out of the governor’s mansion altogether, but only after it was damaged by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
“I thought he rented a house in a suburb of Harrisburg,” Madonna said of Shapp, “but he definitely didn’t live [at the mansion].”
Then there’s the counterpart to the governor’s mansion — the lieutenant governor’s residence, a three-story stone house located some 25 minutes away at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County.
It’s a far cry from Fetterman’s current home in a converted Chevy dealership in downtown Braddock, one full of exposed brick and hard edges, that sits atop Superior Motors and is located just a stone’s throw from a massive steel plant.
And while it’s unusual for a lieutenant governor candidate like Fetterman to preemptively refuse the state residence, more unusual, maybe, is that Pennsylvania still has a lieutenant governor’s residence at all.
We’re the only state in the nation that still has a residence for lieutenant governor in use, Julia Hurst, executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, explained.
But beyond the optics and political messaging of it all, Madonna said there may be some risks associated with maintaining a home base so far removed from the seat of power.
“There are times when he wouldn’t have to be there in Harrisburg, if there are no voting issues, for example,” Madonna said of Fetterman. (In Pennsylvania, the lieutenant governor presides over the state senate and senate votes in what PennLive called a “largely ceremonial role.”)
Madonna added: “But what that probably does is to relegate the lieutenant governor into even greater insignificance. … And I’ve never heard before of a lieutenant governor not maintaining some kind of residence in the state capital.”
There’s also the issue of rapport, something Wolf and his current lieutenant, Mike Stack, certainly seem to be lacking.
Like anything else, Madonna explains, proximity equals access which equals influence — or at least opportunity.
“Here’s what matters. It matters what the governor decides to give as a portfolio to the lieutenant governor. That’s what matters. Past governors have given the lieutenant governor the energy portfolio, for example, or [the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency]. If the lieutenant governor has real functions to perform, then that adds to his or her credibility and it adds to the prospects of doing something after he or she leaves the office. […] It’s the relationship that matters.”
But Fetterman seems unconcerned with the orthodoxy of it all, telling The Incline by phone that he would like to see a more ambulatory lieutenant governor anyway, a roving version of the role and office.
“What’s unique about lieutenant governor, in large part, is that it lets the office be what you want it to be or what you believe it should be. I would be spending a lot of time traveling anyway to these marginalized and forgotten places across Pennsylvania that need more investment. [The LG role] has a core set of responsibilities, but it has been underutilized. This is about making the office more accessible and more visible. We’re coming to you instead of you coming to my mansion.”
Asked about his living arrangement, should he become lieutenant governor, Fetterman added:
“If I’m elected lieutenant governor, I’m on record as saying that neither me nor my family would reside there. We would still maintain a residence and base in Braddock and travel to Harrisburg. I have family in the area and, if need be, I can stay there when in town on official business. State legislators do it all the time and most of them don’t have 3 children under the age of 8, and most aren’t committed to a specific community like Braddock either. That’s my home and that’s where it’s going to be. If I have to rent an apartment [in or near Harrisburg], I will. But now, between family and everything … If I’m lucky enough to be chosen, neither my family nor I will be living in a mansion paid for by you and John Q. Public.”
Another progressive Democrat running for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, Aryanna Berringer, said she also would not require or request the LG residence if elected and would keep her family in Murrysville. As for where she’d stay when in Harrisburg, Berringer said it could involve renting a place, but that she’d first have to figure out “what would be most affordable.”
Berringer said she would not waive the lieutenant governor’s annual salary of $160,000, adding, “We don’t come from a wealthy family that supports us. We work for a living.” (Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor is the highest paid in the nation.)
In Braddock, Fetterman said he’s often donated his $150-per-month salary as mayor, sometimes to charities and sometimes to residents in need.
He said he had yet to decide on whether or not he would take the lieutenant governor’s salary if his bid is successful and if Gov. Wolf’s is successful, too. (Pennsylvania candidates for lieutenant governor and governor run separately in party primaries and together in the general election, seeking a four-year term.)
And while the costs associated with the lieutenant governor’s residence had reached $340,000 just four months into 2017, according to the Lebanon Daily News, it’s not clear to what extent those costs would be curtailed by a lieutenant governor taking up residence elsewhere.
But on the Democratic side of things, there’s a pretty good chance of finding out, with four of six Democratic candidates telling The Incline they would not live in the state residence if elected.
One of them, Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman, said he’d remain in his family’s Lancaster County home located roughly 45 minutes from the Capitol by car.
State Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, would also refuse. Instead, Dean has proposed that the residence be used to support local residents and possibly transformed into one of Gov. Wolf’s Centers for Excellence.
“The house is paid for and maintained with taxpayer dollars, and should be there for the benefit of the people,” Dean said in announcing her candidacy in November. “If elected, I would seek to give the space greater purpose.”
Attempts to reach Mike Stack, who is seeking reelection, and fellow Democratic LG candidate Kathi Cozzone, a Chester County Commissioner, were unsuccessful. Stack has lived in the lieutenant governor’s mansion while in office.
Meanwhile, his fellow candidates’ resistance to the state-provided residence seems to echo a broader trend in politics — one that has manifested itself in places like Portland, Ore., and Pennsylvania in recent years. Even President Donald Trump, a man literally synonymous with gold plating, has said he’ll be donating his presidential salary to select causes. This makes Trump the third president in U.S. history to decline a presidential paycheck, according to Fortune.
As for Fetterman, he said his position on the lieutenant governor’s residence remains the same.
“I find it unfortunate that Pennsylvania taxpayers would have to subsidize the cost of a mansion and gardener and swimming pool for a public official,” he said. “It’s just fiscally inappropriate, in my opinion.”
Worried that he was getting ahead of himself, he added: “But I’m not measuring the drapes for the office or anything yet. I still have a race to run.”