When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was called to national service after the events of Sept. 11, Mark Schweiker, then the state's lieutenant governor, was the constitutional officer designated to assume the governor's post. In the months since that timely transition, Pennsylvania has not skipped a beat. And, although Gov. Schweiker has made it known that he would not be a gubernatorial candidate in this year's race, he also made it clear that his administration would be big on accomplishment.
"In Pennsylvania, we've got plenty of wildlife," he said in his budget address. "We've got wood ducks and mallard ducks. All kinds of ducks. What we don't have are lame ducks."
Schweiker then went on to outline an agenda that will guide the state to the end of his term based on a budget that includes aggressive implementation of information technology.
Pennsylvania, like many states, has experienced financial challenges. Nonetheless, the proposed budget includes funding for significant IT projects that he hopes will make Pennsylvania a model state government for the 21st century.
History of High-Tech
Schweiker, 48, was first elected to public office in 1979 and spent most of his public-service career in local government. This grass-roots experience drives much of his governing style at the state level as he keeps technology front and center. "I see ourselves at this late date in our administration, much like the Wal-Mart of government," he said "We are big, we're customer-minded and facing diverse needs. And I think when you look at what we have expended in the last seven years, it represents a tremendous financial commitment. We are adding to it by virtue of the budget I presented to the legislature several weeks ago."
That budget contained $11.2 million for an advanced, statewide public-safety radio network. Schweiker also proposed continued funding of $72 million for his "Imagine PA" initiative, an enterprise resource-planning project aimed at overhauling state government operations. Supporting these IT investments in the presentation of the budget, the governor said, "Perhaps more than any other single factor, technology will help keep Pennsylvania competitive well into the 21st century."
Schweiker carries forward a legacy of technology accomplishments. Former Gov. Ridge spearheaded the state's integrated Justice Network (JNET), which has become an internationally recognized program. As lieutenant governor, Schweiker was charged with facilitating such projects and says the experience prepared him well for the role of chief executive. "As the governor's top innovator, as he often termed me, even though I wasn't in the limelight, it was essentially my job to oversee these endeavors," he said. "That role afforded me complete understanding of all that was under way and so it was a seamless transition as far as administrations go."
It also allowed him to enter office with relationships already built and working. "My comfort and rapport with a lot of our managers had already existed," Schweiker said. "Having direct experience and oversight allowed me to do that."
In addition, he also took charge of emergency management functions. Schweiker himself finds it interesting that he inherited office because of the "infamy of Sept. 11," so ready to take on the challenge. This, he credits to the state's structure.
"It is a testament to the successor clause in our constitution," Schweiker observed, "that a lieutenant governor, with proper running room and an endowment of trust that Tom Ridge had given me, guaranteed that I was good to go."
Also ready to answer the call of homeland security was the state's plan for the statewide, public-safety network, featuring advanced wireless applications with both voice and data communications. According to Schweiker, only Michigan has a similar system that runs on Motorola products. Both states use 800 MHz technology. The governor says the state takes the program one step further by providing data