PPR: You did a lot for Pennsylvania during your time as governor. What specific achievement would you most like to be remembered for?
Ed Rendell: It’s interesting. Somebody found a memo that was done two weeks after my election, in 2002, before I had taken office. It listed forty pages of campaign promises, and we put together a chart, with the promises on the left and the steps we have taken to fulfill those promises on the right. It’s not amazing, because I sort of expected it, but in virtually every area we’ve made substantial progress towards fulfilling those promises, if not even more. In education, the increase in targeted funding to education, for early childhood learning, for after-school tutoring, for reduced class sizes, for teacher training, for technology in the high schools, have led to sensational results. The Education Research Policy Center in Washington said that Pennsylvania was the only state in the union to make substantial progress on the national test in every grade level tested and in every subject tested in the last eight years. So educationally we’ve done a great job. In terms of economic development: In the 96 months that I’ve been governor the unemployment rate has been significantly lower than the national average. Today it is 1.2 percent lower than the national average. We have the best unemployment rate (although it’s not good, don’t misunderstand me) of any of the large industrial states. In year to year job growth we rank seventh among the fifty states, higher than any industrial state by far. So that economic development has been rapid be-cause we have been willing to invest in infrastructure, invest in our traditional industries, invest in green energy jobs. In terms of the environment itself, we’ve made tremendous progress. We have a higher auto emission standard, the California standard. We’ve passed regulations restricting the level of mercury that can be put into the air. We have increased our recycling program. Overall, the state itself has been awarded by the EPA the number one state in the union in percentage of its own energy needs that come from renewable alternative sources. When I became governor it was ten percent, and I said that I would double it to twenty, but we’ve actually quadrupled it to forty. We have also made significant progress in healthcare. We have almost twice as many of our citizens in the state’s prescription drug program, which is the best in the country. We increased by 75,000 the number of young people in our CHIP program, and we adopted a plan called “Cover All Kids” in 2006. Now any parent can get access to affordable healthcare, even if they make more than the high poverty level for subsidy. If you are 300% of poverty level or above, you can still buy into the plan at our cost. You are getting a much better deal than you could get in the private market on your own.
PPR: Do you think that those achievements were helped by having a divided government in Harrisburg, or did you get that done in spite of having a divided government?
ER: I’ve never had a Democratic-controlled legislature, and I think I’ve gotten a lot done in spite of that fact. We had to compromise, and on some occasions those compromises actually produced a better result, but in some they kept us from achieving 100% where we wanted to go. It’s sort of a mixed bag.
PPR: What do you think will be the outcome of the redistricting process in the state? Will lawmakers engage in gerrymandering as they redraw Pennsylvania’s already somewhat oddly-shaped districts?
ER: Unfortunately, the answer is yes. They will. The Republicans, who control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office will try to redistrict in a way that increases their majority. I strongly believe that the re-districting should be done by a citizen’s committee.
PPR: What is your opinion of the mandates in the new federal health-care bill? “e incoming governor, Tom Corbett, recently filed a suit against the bill.
ER: Over the long run, I think it will be a significant benefit to Pennsylvanians. Well over a million Pennsylvanians who don’t have health care today will have it. Senior citizens will see the donut hole in their federal prescription drug coverage done away with. The insurance reforms will be awesome. The insurance companies won’t be able to disqualify you for a pre-existing illness. Insurance companies won’t be able to cap what they pay out to you in a life-time. There will be many huge reforms. Small businesses will get tax credits for providing health care to their employees.
PPR: Do you think that the health-care bill went far enough?
ER: I think it was groundbreaking, but more should have been done to prevent some of the chaos that is going on right now.
PPR: Many have criticized the number of no-bid contracts that your administration has awarded, and your successor has already expressed his opposition to no-bid contracts. What did your administration see as the benefit to no-bid contracts?
ER: No-bid contracts should be used sparingly, in emergency situations or when you have a vendor who has done a great job. When the vendor has performed in an exemplary fashion for the state, they should be rewarded by an extension of their contract. That’s what a private business would do, that’s what a non-profit would do, and government should have the leeway to do that. Otherwise, there is no incentive for the vendor to perform well, because they know no matter how well they do it has to be rebid and sent to the lowest bidder the next time.
PPR: What do you think will be the most important social and legal issues facing the state in the coming years?
ER: What we do about education funding. Pennsylvania has made such spectacular gains, and peeling back the education funding significantly would be a huge mistake. Not only would we be hurting the individual students, but it would be hurting the state’s economic viability in the future.
PPR: Does that also apply to higher education too, or just primary and secondary education in the state?
ER: Well, first and foremost K through 12. But yes, college and university education are important, al-though there are going to have to be some cuts. It is important that we try to minimize the cuts and that we try to help our institutions on the investment side of the coin.
PPR: During your time as governor, you tolerated capital punishment. What place do you believe capital punishment will hold in American society going forward?
ER: In most states we don’t have a system of capital punishment. In Pennsylvania for example I signed death warrants for over 120 individuals, yet not one of them has been executed, nor are they anywhere near having an execution date set, and this has been eight years. The death penalty can only have a deterrent effect if it is used in a relatively strict time and used when a jury has found someone guilty of first degree murder. With DNA and expanded technology, the likelihood of mistake is much less than it’s been in the past, and as a result I think the death penalty could be a fair and effective deterrent. If it’s not going to be used all it’s going to do is cost the state money.
PPR: You recently talked about the “wussification” of America after an Eagles game was postponed be-cause of snow. Does that only refer to sports, or has it manifested itself in other areas of American culture?
ER: It is very much in other areas. You can’t listen to a TV advertisement without hearing half the ad being a disclaimer that some insurance person or lawyer wrote. Kids are not allowed to bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school in many school districts now because they are afraid of other kids getting peanut shock. Look at our dealings with China. We have literally backed down time and time again with China when they steal our intellectual property, when they manipulate their currency to hurt our economy, when they subsidize products and dump them into the American market in an effort to drive out the Americans who make that product.
PPR: Do you have any advice for other Penn graduates who want to go into politics, and would you recommend it?
ER: It’s a very difficult profession. You’re held to a standard by the media that they don’t subject themselves to. Your personal life becomes totally open to the public and everything you do and say gets scrutinized. You don’t get paid very well and the working conditions aren’t very good. So there are a lot of downsides to it, but the upside is that you are in a position to change people’s lives for the better. That upside is tremendous, and I think it makes it worth it.