HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The state Senate on Monday rejected Gov. Tom Wolf’s nominee to lead the Pennsylvania State Police, marking a new low point in the relationship between the Senate’s GOP leadership and the new Democratic governor.
The 26-22 rejection of Col. Marcus Brown, largely along partisan lines, was the first time in the memory of current Senate officials that the chamber rejected a governor’s nominee in a floor vote.
Three Republicans crossed party lines to vote with all 19 Democrats in supporting Brown. The vote, however, is largely ceremonial, and Wolf said Monday that he would keep the former Maryland state police superintendent in the post as acting commissioner, where Brown has served since January.
In a brief statement Monday, Wolf defended Brown as having the necessary experience to lead the organization and said Brown has his full support in the job.
Brown, 50, has voiced liberal notions of law enforcement that have rankled gun rights groups and troopers in a conservative law enforcement agency that is one of the nation’s largest and an influential force in the Pennsylvania Capitol.
In March, the state troopers’ union came out against Brown’s nomination after a retired trooper filmed Brown removing roadside signs near his suburban Harrisburg house that accused him of not earning the right to wear a state troopers’ uniform.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, called the troopers’ union move unprecedented, and numerous Republicans questioned how Brown can lead the agency without the rank-and-file’s support.
Republicans urged Wolf to find someone else for the job.
“It’s very difficult for me to envision anybody leading an organization, whether it’s the state police or any organization, that doesn’t have the respect, trust and support of those that you are leading,” Scarnati said after the vote. “That’s a very difficult task. So, as we move forward, this is about making sure that we have solid ground with the Pennsylvania State Police and their leadership and their cooperation to work together.”
Republicans also argued that their decision was not about the uniform; rather, they cited a list of doubts about Brown’s decision-making and forthrightness that left them uncomfortable putting him in a position to make life-and-death decisions.
Democrats defended Brown as eminently qualified and suggested Republicans were putting forth a parade of excuses to avoid confirming a man who was vocal about improving diversity in the overwhelmingly white department.
“Have we really sunk that low? Really?” Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, said during floor debate. “Are we really going to carry the water for that agency’s good-old-boy network who somehow, for some reason, think that they have the right to pick their own boss?”
Brown is the “real man” in a petty and childish debate, Boscola said.
“This is exactly what the Pennsylvania State Police do need,” she said.
After the vote, Senate Democrats urged Wolf to resubmit Brown’s nomination, although Wolf’s office said it had not made a decision about that. The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association issued a statement calling the Senate’s vote the right decision and urging Wolf to quickly pick a new nominee “who possesses a solid reputation that everyone can support.”
Brown was the No. 2 person in the Baltimore Police Department before becoming superintendent of the Maryland State Police under former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who is running for president.
Pennsylvania State Police troopers are accustomed to leaders being promoted from within, and retired troopers criticized Brown’s decision to wear the uniform, despite not having graduated from the State Police Academy, as every trooper must.
Democrats noted that four other state police commissioners in the last few decades came from outside the force, and wore the uniform.
Gun rights proponents also quickly flagged Brown’s support for Maryland’s tighter firearm and ammunition restrictions, signed into law by O’Malley, while Brown was state police superintendent.
(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)