AP NEWS

Pittsburgh attorney says she can defeat Wolf in the fall

March 23, 2018

A Pittsburgh-area attorney said she is the best chance Republicans have of defeating Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in the fall.

Laura Ellsworth, 59, has spent 33 years as a litigator, the last 12 as partner-in-charge of the Pittsburgh office of global law firm Jones Day. She is the head of Global Community Service Initiatives for Jones Day, spearheading the firm’s initiatives around the world.

Ellsworth said her work as a business and community leader separates her from the other candidates. Ellsworth declined to be part of the state GOP’s endorsement process. The party endorsed state Sen. Scott Wagner for governor. She said the process focused on the wrong question.

“We felt it should be asking who has the best chance of beating the sitting governor in the general,” she said, adding that in the past 10 years only former Gov. Tom Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley were endorsed candidates who won their statewide race.

“Endorsement does not necessarily produce the candidate most viable in the general.”

She pointed to last week’s special election to replace U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy in which Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone.

“I think the candidate who won in that district was a person who was an outsider,” she said.

“A broadly experienced person who has a more moderate voice, not an extreme left or right. Those attributes are descriptive of our campaign and have been from the beginning.”

She said she is taking her campaign to the people, not the airwaves.

“That message is one we are taking across the state,” she said. “We are sitting down with real people, not engaging in airwaves. Too much time and energy and money are spent on candidates lobbing negative attack ads.”

Ellsworth said it was through public-private partnerships that Pittsburgh went from being dead in the water to one of the most livable places in the country.

“That can be done and should be done everyplace across Pennsylvania,” she said.

Ellsworth’s firm and the American Bar Association developed VetLex, a national program that provides free legal services for veterans. She is also working on a global initiative to combat human trafficking; an international telemedicine project to link U.S. hospitals with hospitals throughout the developing world; and a peaceful protest project to prevent violence in the context of First Amendment rights.

“So many times I went to Harrisburg to get something done, and politicians would say if you give us the choice between doing something and doing nothing, we’ll do nothing every time,” she said. “We can’t get unelected for doing nothing.”

She said those working in the private sector are doing amazing work and politicians are incentivized to do nothing. She said they are not bad people, but the system does not incentivize them to get results. She said she felt it was time to try to change how Harrisburg operates.

“If I didn’t step forward at a time where there are tremendous opportunities for Pennsylvania, I would be ashamed of myself for the rest of my life,” she said.

Ellsworth said the biggest issue across the state is job creation and economic development. She said every business needs a business plan and a budget, and Pennsylvania has neither.

She wants to create a 10-year plan, which would allow outside investors to see a game plan and encourage them to invest in the state.

“Government doesn’t create jobs,” she said. “The private sector creates jobs. But if they do not know the potential investment opportunity, if they don’t see the big picture, they are not going to know what the optimal opportunities are.”

She said the process would also work to examine the needs of rural counties.

“Look at milk industry processing facilities,” she said. “They are withdrawing. We need to think more creatively how we can help all of these different farms.”

Ellsworth said that to combat the opioid crisis, she would appoint a secretary to focus on the matter and increase narcotics training for the state police. She would also require people who have overdosed twice to enter inpatient treatment. Unused state assets could be used as impatient facilities, she said.

“Too many places basically treat overdose as an administrative activity,” she said “They give them Narcan, revive them and send them on their way.”

She said pension problems need to be addressed on both the state and municipal levels. She said 60 cents of each new education dollar is going to pensions, not the classroom. She said she would like to see pension funds invest in Pennsylvania infrastructure projects.

“This would . . . help grow the tax base and stabilize the property taxes,” she said. “It fixes multiple problems at once.”

She said this is done in other parts of the country through public private partnership, or P3, agreements, which facilitate the use of both public and private sector resources to meet goals.

“Right now the solution in Harrisburg is do we tax or do we cut services,” she said. “To solve complex problems like this, we are going to need to bring more constructive and creative solutions to the table.”

Along with Wolf, Wagner and Ellsworth, businessman Paul Mango also filed paperwork to run for governor.