York Town Square

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As Pa. Revenue Secretary Steve Stetler’s political stature grew, his political brand shrank

York (Pa.) Mayor John Brenner, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and Steve Stetler, right, get together during Rendell’s visit to York in February 2004. Rendell later appointed Stetler, a York County native, as state revenue secretary. Stetler resigned that position, hours before state prosecutors implicated him in the ongoing public corruption investigation, part of an overall probe called Bonusgate. Also of interest: List of high state officials hailing from York County grows and Add Robert P. Kane to list of prominent York County politicos and Jeremiah S. Black among top government officials with York County ties.

Shortly after his election as York’s state representative in 1990, Steve Stetler sat in a group at a table at the Yorktowne Hotel.
The wave of introductions went around the table before stopping with Stetler.
He introduced himself as Steve Stetler. That was it.
It was a humble gesture for a politician. No, bravado. No effort to reinforce his name with his position.
His brand, in other words.
For many years, that was the likeable Stetler’s public approach… .

And he was comfortable with those wearing both white and blue collars. He was known to reach across the aisle. He sought common-sense solutions to complicated, politically charged issues.
Moderation seemed to be his brand.
So it was a contrast in a public sense in the past five years when Stetler went for – and later justified – legislative pay and pension raises and luxury perks from his PHEAA board membership.
Now he’s resigned his high-ranking state position amid allegations that he’s involved in Bonusgate, accused of using public resources for political purposes.
Time will tell the length and depth of that involvement, if any.
But it’s an interesting thing to watch the change in a public figure in just two decades, as he rose from state representative to state revenue secretary.
Or perhaps that change has come because he rose in political stature.
What is that change?
He seems to have devolved from polite politician to partisan politico.
Sadly, Harrisburg has a way of doing that.
And people have a way of allowing entrenched trappings of power change them.
The following excerpted backgrounder about Stetler appeared in the York Daily Record/Sunday News (11/13/09) at the time of his appointment as state revenue secretary replacing fellow York countian Tom Wolf.

Occupations: Worked at his family’s auto dealership; spent 12 years at state Department of Revenue, working his way up to deputy secretary for taxation; state representative for York County’s 95th District for more than 15 years
Background: Former state Rep. Steve Stetler, D-York County, was elected in 1990. He soon built a reputation as a moderate Democrat — equally popular among organized labor and the local Chamber of Commerce.
Stetler was instrumental in getting the funding that helped bring about a number of development projects within his district, including the Northwest Triangle, Toyota Center, Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, Pullo Performing Arts Center, Greenway Tech Centre and Martin Library.
In 2006, Stetler announced he was stepping down to take over as executive director of the Pennsylvania Economy League, a nonprofit think tank with the mission of bringing civic and business interests together for the betterment of the state.
At the time, Stetler was getting some heat from residents over his vote for a legislative pay raise the previous year. The pay raise proved so unpopular that the state Legislature eventually rescinded it.
Stetler drew more criticism after leaving the statehouse.
Inspections of the records of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency revealed that some board members, including state representatives and senators, were comped for luxury items. Stetler was one of the board members.
PHEAA is actually a public corporation, not a state agency, and none of that money came from taxpayers. Still, the spending drew harsh condemnation from news outlets and government watchdogs throughout the state.

Edited, 6/18/12