Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When a Good Democrat Slipped By Republicans

Kenneth C. Wolensky with George M. Leader. The Life of Governor George M. Leader: Challenging Complacency. Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 2011.
George Leader’s father, Guy Leader, was a farmer who developed a farming method of corn rows with strips in between where chickens were placed without destroying the corn.  The chickens were shaded, ate more, and became plumper.  Being successful at farming that was legal meant the Leaders were not tempted to grow marijuana, which was one of the area’s leading area cash crop.  The Leaders likely would not have had a political career has they emerged from illegal farming.
George Leader was born in 1918 during the Spanish Flu epidemic.  Guy Leader, taught school and was also a State Senator.  George graduated high school at age 16, the youngest in his class. He went to Gettysburg College and then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania as a junior. He graduated with an Education degree.  He served on a Navy aircraft carrier during World War II.  George bought his own farm using the G.I. Bill.
George Leader was elected to the State Senate in 1950. He opposed requiring a loyalty oath as unconstitutional, which was politically unpopular at that time.  Leader was the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Treasurer in 1952.  He was drafted to run after first declining to run. He ran in what proved to be a losing campaign that resulted in the Eisenhower-Republican landslide.  During the campaign, Leader was accused of being a communist for opposing the loyalty oath.
Leader was nominated by the Democratic Party to run for Governor in 1954.  Many Democratic leaders wanted Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth to run, yet Dilworth and many others felt 1954 would be a difficult year to have a Democrat elected as Governor.  Only one Democrat, George Earle, had served as Pennsylvania’s Governor prior to then (1933-1939) in the 20th century.  Dilworth declined to run.
The Republican nominee was Lt. Gov. Lloyd Wood, who enjoyed the support of the Republican Party machinery.  Leader campaigned by speaking three or four times daily across the state.  Leader’s upset victory gave him the Time magazine cover.
On Leader’s first day as Governor, he directed his Welfare Secretary Harry Shapiro to improve the horrible condition of Allentown State Hospital.
Leader’s brother, Harry, graduated law school from Yale.  Henry Leader served as his brother’s Legislative Secretary.  Henry Leader observed that state courts were known for protecting business interests.  He recalled when one judge on a three judge panel awoke another judge during a hearing by stating “Wake up. They are trying to screw the Pennsylvania Railroad.”  Governor Leader sought to change government’s emphasis on protection business, end corruption, and make government more representative of the people.  Leader vetoed a bill that would have helped corporations, calling it a special interest bill.
Leader inherited a budget deficit.  He attempted to create a type of graduated income tax.  Instead, the sales tax was increased.  Leader was successful in moving numerous patronage jobs into civil service positions.
Leader reversed the trend of increasing the number of people committed to mental hospitals. He removed three doctors from mental hospitals who lacked necessary requirements and had been hired because they were political party committeemen.  Treatment in these hospitals was nonexistent. Many wives of unhappy marriages found themselves institutionalized in these hospitals.  Leader toured these hospitals and found they had had no magazines, newspapers, radio, or TV for patients as patients sat all day on wooden benches.  
The Leader Administration implemented a program where delinquent youth worked in forest conservation jobs.  They learned fulfilling responsibilities while improving forests.
Littering became illegal during Leader’s tenure.  Leader was strongly against littering as he wanted clean highways.
Leader opposed racial discrimination.  He successfully fought to create the Fair Employment Practices Commission.  Leader also appointed the first African American to a Cabinet position.  These were very controversial actions a decade before the Civil Rights Act was passed.
Leader supported and directed building a superhighway across the northern part of the state. A highway was built connecting the Erie Thruway to the West Virginia Turnpike.
Leader signed death warrants that executed 11 people even though he was not comfortable with the death penalty.  
Leader signed a law allowing women property right if there was no will.  Prior to then, a woman could not inherit property without a will.  
Leader could not succeed himself as Governor in the 1958 election. Leader had wanted to run for Lieutenant Governor and be in a position to run for Governor again in 1962. He was persuaded to run for the U.S. Senate instead against U.S. Rep. Hugh Scott.  Scott was supported by the powerful Mellon business family. Scott won.
Leader was driven by what he saw in mental hospitals while Governor to make long term care as his next career.  Leader started and operated several nursing homes.


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