Harrisburg — Democrats are salivating at the prospect of making Tom Corbett a one-term Governor. Today, former Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger became the first official candidate in the race.
In a wonky, 25-minute speech, Hanger lambasted Corbett’s record on education and job creation and emphasized his experience with energy policy.
“Governor Corbett’s education policies have killed 19,000 education jobs directly,” he said. “And make no mistake about it. Governor Corbett’s 2011/2012 education cut of $1 billion was a choice. It was not a matter of necessity. He wanted to make those education cuts because he actually doesn’t like education.”
An expert on energy policy, he said Corbett has squandered the opportunity of the Marcellus shale and voiced his support for a higher tax.
“I understand gas drilling has produced jobs in the state. I understand that gas drilling has produced important new energy resources, has driven down prices and saved consumers money. But I also understand that gas drilling is industrial activity and it must be strongly regulated and it must be reasonably taxed,” he said.
Pa. Republican Party spokeswoman Valerie Caras said, essentially, bring it on.
“We look forward to having a discussion about Governor Tom Corbett’s pro-jobs, pro-growth record that has helped to create over 100,000 private sector jobs, increased the state portion of education spending to its highest levels, created an internationally-recognized energy sector boom and has balanced two on-time budgets with reforms and no new taxes,” she said.
“The Corbett record of responsibility and success is a stark contrast from the broken, bloated and unsustainable state government that tax-and-spend politicians like Ed Rendell and John Hanger helped to create.”
Rendell left office with approval numbers in the dumps, and Hanger’s ties to the former Gov would be easy fodder for Republicans.
And lest anyone confuse Hanger with a Bob Casey-style moderate Democrat, have no fear. He directly said that he would push for same sex marriage, address climate change, is pro-choice, and wants to legalize medical marijuana.
He is a first-time candidate and it showed at times. His stump speech and his program (including 3 introductory speakers) went for nearly an hour, after several TV cameras had pulled away. All relied heavily on notes. His campaign placards lacked any disclaimer or union bug.
Hanger spent several minutes wading through the details of alternative energy standards, electricity de-monopolization and land preservation.
But his years in public office showed, too. His policy knowledge is clear, and he deftly handled several difficult questions about spending priorities.
His stop in Harrisburg was the second of three: one in Philadelphia in the morning, one in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Hanger, 55, lives in Dauphin County. He presently works as special counsel at the law firm of Eckert Seamans. He joked before the event that Donald Trump had questioned the wrong Democrat. In fact he was born in Kenya, while his father worked for the British government to help with agricultural development.
He’s the first Democrat to jump into the race, but he’s unlikely to be the last. State Treasurer Rob McCord is seriously considering a run for the office and is considered by many to be on Democrats’ top tier list. Also on the top of the list is former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak.
Hanger passed up an opportunity to ding a potential rival.
“I greatly respect Roc McCord. He’s been a successful treasurer,” Hanger responded when asked.
Hanger said he knows he needs a head start on the race because fundraising will be such an important element. His campaign is presently run by volunteers rather than paid staff – including Jan Jarrett, Hanger’s successor as leader of the PennFuture advocacy group.
Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial primary is May 20, 2014. That’s 17 months and 22 days from Wednesday. The general election is more than 23 months away.
“Look, the Governor himself knows he’s vulnerable. He’s a smart man,” Hanger said. “But he’s gonna be well-funded. It’s going to take a very significant campaign to beat him. That’s one of the reasons I’m starting early.”
Corbett’s vulnerability may not be a given, or at least it may not be enough to end Pa.’s long practice of electing Democrats and Republicans to alternating 8 year terms. Though his job approval numbers are among the lower tier of governors in the country, they’re not far off from Ed Rendell’s in 2004 or Tom Ridge’s in 1996. Both men were handily re-elected.
One potential X-factor? The Jerry Sandusky case. Hanger also voiced for another soon-to-be Pa. row officer: Kathleen Kane.
“I fully support attorney general-elect Kane’s commitment to do a full review of the Sandusky case. Like many Pennsylvanians I have a lot of questions and I look forward to reading her report,” he said at the conclusion of his remarks.