The Dick Thornburgh Papers

The Collection

Governor of Pennsylvania (1979–1987)

Extent: 691.25 linear feet

Simply noting the 691.25 linear feet of this "Governor" section should serve as an alert to the importance and depth of these files. Thornburgh’s eight years as the 41st governor of Pennsylvania, 1979–87, are what many people recall most, or perhaps the handling of the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident, which occurred a mere 71 days after Thornburgh’s inauguration on January 16, 1979.

Thornburgh’s inaugural address (video here online) describes his goals and concludes by stating that he sees a Pennsylvania where “the scope for new jobs and industry matches the breadth of talents and skills of our diverse people ... the prospects for growth and opportunity equal the power of our resources ... the dreams and the hopes for the future are as great as the pride in our past, [and] the character of its leadership reflects the compassion and wisdom of its people” (Evidence draft, p. 334). After eight years as governor, including a re-election campaign in 1982, Thornburgh left office with a remarkable legacy of accomplishment.

Understandably, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident is a major subject in these gubernatorial files. This unique and notable emergency brought worldwide attention to the leadership of Pennsylvania’s Governor Thornburgh and his new administration, with problems “that no governor, anywhere, had ever had to face” (Evidence, p. 112). Not only is there a section specifically titled "Three Mile Island (TMI)," but also other detailed files that include the accident itself, the legal aftermath, emergency preparedness, cleanup problems and plans, energy and environmental concerns, and health and economic issues. See the following additional sections: "Governor and Staff," "Press Secretary," "General Counsel," and "Office of Policy Development" (TMI and Plosila). The importance and depth of the files on Three Mile Island cannot be overemphasized. Of special note, too, are available case studies on Three Mile Island. The facts of Thornburgh’s overall accomplishments are well summarized in The Thornburgh Years: A Legacy of Excellence:

“Thornburgh brought a combination of tough-mindedness and compassion to the governorship. He moved aggressively to restore fiscal integrity, to cut waste, and drastically reduce the state's bloated bureaucracy, while improving the delivery of services.

“For eight straight years, Thornburgh’s budget proposals held spending increases to less than the rate of inflation. To combat the corruption and mismanagement which had plagued Pennsylvania in the 1970s, Thornburgh imposed a tough new code of conduct for state officials. He cut regulatory red tape, and pioneered programs to assist new and expanding businesses [via the Ben Franklin Partnership].

“He reformed the state’s runaway welfare system, removing hundreds of thousands of able-bodied recipients from the rolls while increasing funds for job training and aid for those truly unable to work. He won passage of some of the toughest anticrime legislation in the nation, including mandatory sentences for repeat and violent offenders.

“Thornburgh moved effectively to generate economic growth and create new jobs. He implemented widely acclaimed and imitated job retraining programs and initiatives to promote the service and high-technology enterprises of the future.

“Employment in the state reached an all-time high in 1986, [despite the loss of the steel industry in the early 1980s]. His Excellence in Education initiatives are improving all aspects of the state’s education system. And Thornburgh cut personal and business taxes by over $1 billion!” (The Thornburgh Years, A Legacy of Excellence, p. 3).

Over the years, Thornburgh was recognized nationally by respected columnists such as David Broder of The Washington Post, who noted in 1985 that Thornburgh’s “changes in taxes, education, welfare, unemployment compensation, and economic development programs are beginning to produce visible evidence of economic transition” (Legacy, p. 18). His fellow governors elected him to the Executive Committee of the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and to chair the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG) and the Republican Governors Association (RGA). President Reagan appointed Governor Thornburgh to the Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR) and to the Advisory Board of the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM), and praised him as “a man of merit, a leader who has certainly earned my respect and the admiration of people across the political spectrum. He is a man of principle, impeccably honest, and cool under pressure” (Legacy, p. 18).

When Thornburgh left office in January 1987, he had a 72 percent approval rating, and his fellow governors, Republican and Democrat, placed him among the most effective big-state governors in the nation. “[Ginny and I] departed [Harrisburg] somewhat sadly, to be sure, but with a real sense of accomplishment and a genuine excitement about what the future might hold for us and for our family” (Evidence draft, p. 365).

Also included in this section are the files of First Lady Virginia Judson Thornburgh, known to all as Ginny. It was common to hear the Thornburghs referred to as the governor and Ginny. As Dick Thornburgh states in his book: “Ginny, of course, continued working on the issues closest to her heart throughout my terms as governor, engaging in advocacy for persons with disabilities throughout Pennsylvania. ... She also served, by appointment of President Reagan, on the President’s Commission on Mental Retardation” (Evidence, p. 195). Files reflecting her activities exist not only with "Governor Staff" files but also in the "Press Office" files. For sure, Ginny was not a saver like her husband, and her files accordingly are slim. However, together her files, at least in small measure, reflect the daily participation of this notable first lady of Pennsylvania in the actions and achievements of the administration.

Researchers should note that the files in this section are widely annotated by the governor with his notable red pen, something increasingly unique in our now highly computerized society. Drafts of speeches and issue papers are also to be found. Of particular note regarding all issues are the files from the Office of Policy Development (OPD). Every subject of note will be found in these extensive files. Walt Plosila was the first director, and later Harold Miller, both of whose files are invaluable. In addition, the “OPD Analysts Reports” cover many subjects in great detail (an overall list is available online). There also is a separate OPD TMI. It will be prudent when researching the OPD files to use the finding aid search capability on selected topics of interest.

Furthermore, the depth of this collection throughout is notable. The “Events” section, just for example, contains not only invitations, correspondence, and schedules, but also significant background on the organization, the issues involved, and the participants. The “Weekly Reports” are a useful system of reporting to the governor of both successes and problems in response to a “no-surprises” admonishment by Governor Thornburgh to his cabinet, thus providing much insight to each department’s goals and accomplishments. The successful travel campaign You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania is included in the files and audiovisual items. Lastly, the foreign trips are intriguing and relate in several cases to Pennsylvania’s economic development efforts. One to Russia has interesting mention of nuclear-preparedness issues relating to TMI and Chernobyl, and others are goodwill visits sponsored by the National Governors Association and the United States Information Agency (USIA). These files generally include the governor’s personal diaries with his reflections and comments as well as extensive background material and colorful ephemera.

In conclusion, the "Governor" files are both lengthy and rich in content. All speeches, news releases, transcripts, and executive orders are available here online, in addition to selective reports and other digitized text. The files are divided into 26 sections, as follows, each with significant and informative introductory notes: "Speeches"; "News Releases"; "Transcripts"; "Executive Orders"; "Administrative Achievements"; "Office of Budget and Administration"; "Three Mile Island (TMI)"; "Office of Policy Development—TMI"; "Office of Policy Development—Plosila"; "Office of Policy Development—Miller"; "Office of Policy Development Analysts Reports"; "Press Secretary"; "General Counsel"; "Governor, Staff, and Ginny Thornburgh (VJT)"; "Committees and Commissions"; "National Governor Organizations (NGA, CONEG, and RGA)"; "Appointive Positions (EXIM Bank and ACIR)"; "Departmental Weekly Reports"; "Scheduling"; "Events"; "Foreign Trips"; "County Books"; "Correspondence"; "News Clippings"; "Transition ’87"; and "Reports."

 

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