Impeachment — that constitutional mechanism for checking the behavior of an elected official and possibly removing that person from office — is vital in our system of government. It keeps good people vigilant. It keeps the ambitious accountable. It, ideally, keeps the power-hungry off the top rungs of the ladder. Impeachment is the big stick that keeps our leaders in line.
But that is exactly why it should be used sparingly.
Last week, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, introduced a resolution with five articles of impeachment, seeking the removal of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, for actions during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Tribune-Review has not been shy about criticizing the governor over the last three months. We have taken him to task for his communication skills. We have noted when shutdowns affected some businesses harshly while not touching others. We have scorned decisions that were made and then almost immediately upended.
But Metcalfe called Wolf a dictator, and that's hardly accurate. In fact some of the problems with the governor's orders and directions were that they were toothless. You only have to look at our last critique of his administration — when we questioned nursing home testing orders that weren't orders — to see that.
The articles have some legitimate criticism of the governor's actions. They cite possible constitutional grounds. They say his waiver process for life-sustaining businesses was "arbitrary and capricious." They say unemployment benefits processing should have been better staffed and nursing homes needed more protection and more information needed to be released. We couldn't agree more.
But impeachment is a coup de grace. It is the final blow in mortal combat. Metcalfe has fired it like a cap gun.
Aside from the fact that none of Wolf's moves seem as malicious as the representative and his 24 cosigners would seem to assert, there is the fact of the makeup of the General Assembly. While Republicans hold the majority in the House, they don't hold two-thirds of the Senate, which is what would be required for impeachment.
That is not to say that impeachment should only be about winning. If members have a firmly held belief in the charges, they should introduce them, regardless of the potential for success.
However, the Wolf administration is already pulling back many measures as Pennsylvania steps to the forefront of states dealing well with the pandemic. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the Keystone State with Montana and Hawaii as the only states with downward trajectory for more than 42 days. While some states are spiking as they emerge from quarantines, that hasn't happened in Pennsylvania yet.
The Legislature has already passed a resolution to end the state of emergency. While the governor has challenged that, it will be decided by the Supreme Court. Impeachment might have made more sense after the court weighed in on his actions.
Could the governor have done things differently? Better? More smoothly? Yes. Will we continue to point out when he does things wrong? Absolutely. But this doesn't seem to rise to a coup de grace response.
Impeachment is important. It is our best weapon against corruption. But it should always be deployed judiciously.
Originally published by The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.