The race for PA governor is underway, even though the lame duck is still threatening vetoes from his Dauphin County throne and the election isn’t for another year. Setting a new and better course for this beloved Commonwealth will take time and persistence in the face of resistance to alternative style of governance, which is why it’s important for those of us who have suffered under Gov. Tom Wolf to pay close attention to the candidates.
I will not pretend to be an unbiased observer, mostly because I’m neither unbiased nor a mere observer. I’ve already made my choice for governor, one that I hope will be successful next fall. That choice is Charlie Gerow.
A well-known figure in Pennsylvania politics for over four decades, Gerow worked on the campaign of the president that created a tectonic shift in American conservatism and inspired an entire generation–my generation–to become politically involved: Ronald Reagan. His resume as a notable conservative is too long to list in one article, but includes his roles as CEO of Quantum Communications, a co-founder of the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, a surrogate for Senator Bob Dole, a Board Member of Villanova’s Matthew J. Ryan Center, First Vice Chairman for the American Conservative Union, an adjunct professor at Dickinson, Gettysburg and Lebanon Valley Colleges and a former Congressional candidate. In his free time (she says, sardonically) Gerow provides political commentary for local and national networks.
This is all impressive from a professional perspective, which is exactly what Republicans need in this day and age of social media pedigrees and Tik Tok notoriety. Substantive, solid achievement that can’t be measured in clicks and retweets and “likes” is a quaint and old-fashioned barometer of who truly matters in this evolving political landscape. AOC might have mastered the Art of the Appeal, and Trump was an expert in the Art of the Deal, but Gerow is a long-time practitioner in the Art of the Real.
Ironically, he’s a communications expert, which means he also knows something about messaging. The difference is that his message is more important than just the trappings in which it is delivered.
AOC might have mastered the Art of the Appeal, and Trump was an expert in the Art of the Deal, but Gerow is a long-time practitioner in the Art of the Real.
Last week, I attended Gerow’s campaign launch in his rural hometown in Mechanicsburg. Many of us in the Philadelphia area have little familiarity with parts west of Chester County and north of Bucks, but anyone who has traveled through our beautiful commonwealth understands that Philadelphia is an anomaly. We have much more in common with our big city neighbors to the north and south like New York and DC than we do with our fellow Pennsylvanians in Dauphin, Butler, Tioga, Warren, Schuylkill and even close neighbors in Berks and Lehigh counties. Charlie has lived in Central Pennsylvania for over three decades, but is actually from our neck of the woods in Southeastern Pennsylvania, having grown up in Bucks County and graduated from Villanova Law School. In that sense, he understands the very unique, compelling differences in the demographics and priorities of a state that someone in a baseball cap called “Pennsyltucky.”
At the campaign launch, I saw people who were personally invested in Gerow. Sure, there were the usual political operatives who show up at every campaign event, interested in the strategical aspects of the race. But I noticed that the vast majority of the attendees had some longstanding connection to him. That’s not unusual, given the fact that he’s been a fixture in the PA political landscape for decades, to the point of being named one of Pennsylvania’s most influential Republicans in 2010 by Politics Magazine.
But the launch seemed more like a family reunion than a political event, and there was an inordinate amount of hugs and comments on the character of the candidate, not just what he could bring to the gubernatorial race.
Frankly, that matters. There will be time to talk about policy, and there will be a place to debate philosophical differences, and I intend to wade into those, but at this inaugural moment, I think it’s important to contemplate two key aspects of a future Governor Gerow: his respect for the unborn, and his deeply personal appreciation for the immigrant experience.
Charlie was born in a very poor part of Brazil, what some might call a slum if they weren’t afraid of being politically incorrect. In that, he reminds me in some ways of my own father, who spent much of his childhood in foster homes. Charlie’s birth mother wanted him to have a better life, thinking that growing up in the United States would give him a fighting chance to become all of the things he’d be denied given the circumstances of his birth. With the unfathomable courage of birth mothers, she gave Charlie to two American missionaries then working in Brazil. They brought him to America, and gave him the love and the opportunities that his mother had hoped for him. When I asked him what this meant, he said “When my birth mother put me up for adoption, she had only one request. She wanted me to be adopted by Americans. She knew that here I’d have opportunities I wouldn’t have anywhere else in the world. So when I talk about opportunities, the freedom to pursue them and my love for America, you know it comes from deep within my heart.”
I now realize why Gerow is pro-life. I first met him at a March for Life on the Capitol steps five years ago this June, and his address to the crowd was inspiring. This appreciation for the value and sanctity of all life, whether it be born into wealth and privilege or under the shadow of poverty derives directly from the circumstances of his birth.
For this same reason, Gerow is a huge advocate of immigrants. Had his mother not given him to those loving adoptive parents, he would most likely have remained in Brazil and never known the great successes he’s achieved. This is the archetype of an American dream that, while tarnished in recent years, still animates our collective spirit. I have spent 25 years dealing with people who come for their own share of that dream, and while I understand that it’s not as mythical or flawless in practice as it is in theory, I’m convinced that the way we treat aspiring Americans is a barometer of our character. The very same can be said for our concern with the unborn, the disadvantaged, the disabled and the disenfranchised.
I’m convinced that the way we treat aspiring Americans is a barometer of our character. The very same can be said for our concern with the unborn, the disadvantaged, the disabled and the disenfranchised.
Which brings me to Josh Shapiro. This piece is not about policy. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two areas where the presumptive Democratic nominee differs from Charlie Gerow. Shapiro is a fierce advocate for abortion rights, and has made it clear that he supports Planned Parenthood. For those of us in this commonwealth who respect human life, whether we can see it in front of us, whether it is growing in the womb, whether it is an Olympic sprinter or whether it is a child with Downs, Shapiro is not our candidate.
Shapiro has also been quite outspoken about the abuses perpetrated against immigrants by the Trump administration, something with which I concur having practiced immigration law during five presidential administrations. Trump’s was the most challenging, from a practitioner’s perspective.
But much of his rhetoric seemed aimed at gaining brownie points with progressives and a spot on the cable news networks, whereas Gerow’s investment in immigration comes from a deeply personal place.
Last Thursday evening as I saw Charlie Gerow surrounded by dear friends and professional campaigners alike, I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a very long time when it came to leadership in my beloved native state: hope.
Given the vicissitudes of Pennsylvania politics, it’s a tenuous thing. But a year is a very long time, and today’s hope could just be tomorrow’s governor.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61