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Gov. Leader Did Justice to His Name

By Rep. Gary Day (R-Berks/Lehigh)

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania said goodbye to a governor who served nearly six decades ago and was a man who continues to instill in us valuable lessons of democracy.

Gov. George Michael Leader died May 9 at the age of 95 – more than five decades after serving at the helm of state government as the second youngest governor in Pennsylvania history. Although he only served four years (1955-59), it was during a time in which Commonwealth governors were only permitted to serve one, four-year term. The challenges he faced and struggles of leadership in a democracy serve as an example to the same issues and struggles of leadership in today’s Pennsylvania democracy.

When a person passes away, a natural reaction is to evaluate or assess the summary of that person’s existence and to reflect upon his or her accomplishments. Such has been the case recently. I wanted to wait a little longer and then offer, not my assessment of his choices, but the challenge garnering majority support and leading a democracy.

Simply, his last name outlines the chief role of a Pennsylvania governor, and should be a beacon of the first requirement of candidates for the position.

In many ways, Gov. Leader had experiences that are reflective of many of the people of our region. Registered as a Democrat, he grew up of Pennsylvania German heritage, on a family farm, attended a one-room schoolhouse, served as a Navy ensign aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Randolph and married his high school sweetheart. He also studied at Gettysburg College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he also completed graduate coursework.

From his days in the state House and Senate to his rise to the governorship, his political career is noteworthy and one from which we can learn valuable lessons. What is most striking to me is that he faced similar challenges that we do today – a lackluster economy, a substantial budget deficit and issues of government’s role in emerging but controversial sources of energy. He also sought to increase funding to education and address the seldom-talked about issue of mental illness. Of local importance, he initiated the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA), which is a vital program still today as an industrial incubator of current and future job creators. That program dovetails with the mission of nearby Lehigh University and its Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering to grow our economy.

For his first and only term, Gov. Leader campaigned on admirable issues. But after assuming the office of governor, he soon realized that a good government by the people requires an incredible amount collection and distribution of information to build consensus and majority action, all within the confines of the constitution. As those of us in state government have learned, our democratic process is slower than a dictatorship, but preserves the fundamentals of our deeply held governance beliefs that protect our freedom. Furthermore, policy decisions accomplished this way at all levels of government – local, state and federal – last longer than the ones implemented when there is a brief flash of one party control. This is an overall and inherent benefit of our system and one that should be respected.

The similarity between 1955 and 2013 – and the majority of the years in between – is that the challenges of governing always remain and will never be solved with an autocratic decision-making process. Furthermore, the issues seem to become more complicated with the passage of time and evolution of our civilization, and require more time and patience to disseminate information.

Thank you, Gov. Leader, for your willingness to serve and leaving a legacy for today’s elected leaders like me, to value rising up, taking on these challenges and respecting the American democracy. Godspeed to you and blessings to your loved ones.

Representative Gary Day
187th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton
717.705.2094 /
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