Politically Uncorrected: Give ‘Em Hell Tom

Corbett Campaigning“Running against Harrisburg” is a popular strategy. Most modern gubernatorial candidates seeking a first term, including incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, have “run against Harrisburg.” They focus their campaigns heavily toward attacking Harrisburg “insiders” and the “Harrisburg culture.”

But while most gubernatorial aspirants run against Harrisburg, no incumbent governor seeking a second term has ever done so — until now.

Corbett is gearing up to run against Harrisburg for reelection to a second term, a strategy he successfully employed in his bid for the office in 2010, when he promised to deal with an exploding budget deficit, bloated bureaucracy and a Democratic Party eight years in office. He proposed to privatize many aspects of state government, reduce the imprint of state government, and make government more accountable.

His highest priorities – privatizing management of the state lottery and the state liquor stores, followed by fixing the state’s troubled pension system – have been stymied by the Harrisburg culture, which is notoriously resistant to change.

While confronting Harrisburg’s more or less chronic aversion to reform, Corbett also fell afoul of the sharp partisan polarization now embedded in both state and national politics. He was trapped between the factionalism in his own party in the state House, and the moderates in the Senate – between the reform minimalists and hard-charging reformers. Corbett’s own failure to build relationships with legislative leaders didn’t help him.

A strongly opinionated, often uncompromising governor, Corbett confronted an equally unbending, sometimes obstinate, legislature. Immovable object meets irresistible force.

What actually happens when an unmovable object meets an irresistible force has fascinated philosophers for centuries. In Pennsylvania politics, however, we already know the answer to this classic paradox. What happens is nothing – more precisely a long series of nothings as in no LCB reform, no pension reform, no ethics reform, no campaign finance reform, no lobbyist reform, etc.


Consequently, Tom Corbett, after four years in office, has little to show for it – unless you count mounting frustration, growing animosities, a divided legislative leadership, and failure to enact most of his major agenda.

So Corbett, making a virtue out of a necessity, is becoming the first gubernatorial candidate in history to run against Harrisburg for a second term.

So far, so good. Actually, running against Harrisburg has not just been a favorite strategy in state politics; it has also been a successful strategy. In modern times, going back to Gov. Milton Shapp in the 1970s, at least four governors, including Corbett, have earned a first term sticking it to the “Harrisburg culture.”

Moreover, one could argue that “Harrisburg,” with its cliques, obstructionist tactics, recurring corrupt behavior and anti-reform ethos really is the problem. Democratic President Harry Truman, also trailing badly in the polls, made something like this work for him in his classic 1948 comeback, running against a “do nothing” Republican Congress. However, unlike Corbett’s situation, Truman’s party didn’t control Congress, which made Truman’s strategy credible. Still, why can’t Tom Corbett do the same?

Give ‘em hell, Tom. Or not.

Pennsylvania’s political observers have pointed out the challenges Corbett faces running against Harrisburg.

Unlike four years ago, he can’t run as an outsider riding into town on a white horse to round up the bad guys. As incumbent governor, Corbett is the quintessential insider, believed by many voters to be part of the problem. Corbett has become one of the bad guys.

Then, there is the inconvenient fact that the Harrisburg he runs against is controlled by his own party. Corbett is a Republican, and Republicans control the legislature. The average voter may not spend a lot of time thinking about politics, but they are likely to think about this particular conundrum: Why can’t Corbett work with his own party?

Last, but not least, is the political problem. If Corbett runs against his own party’s legislative leadership, it could divide Republicans, leaving them weaker for the fall election. In the latest Franklin & Marshall Poll, Corbett now only attracts 55 percent of his own party’s voters.  Add to this challenge a bitter fight with the legislature, and it becomes more and more likely that Republican voters will come to view an embattled governor as an apparent loser. They may not show up at the polls election day.

Notwithstanding these manifold problems, running against Harrisburg might still be Corbett’s best bad choice in a race with few good choices. It’s a strategy born equally of frustration and desperation. No one has ever done, or even attempted, what Corbett is trying to do. But then no governor in modern times has ever found himself where Corbett finds himself today.

In running against Harrisburg, Corbett is also running against himself. In indicting Harrisburg for its failures, he is also indicting himself for his failures. In advocating change, he is risking that voters might change much more than he wants.

Corbett, who has long supported Internet gambling, is rolling the dice one last time. It’s a long shot, to be sure, but he probably has to take it. Many believe Corbett may go down to defeat in November, but if so, he’s not going quietly.

Reader Poll: Thornburgh Favorite Recent Governor

Dick_ThornburghWell, consider this a late birthday present for former Governor Richard L. Thornburgh.

Our readers voted Gov. Thornburgh as their favorite ex-Governor of the modern era, which we defined as after the 1968 State Constitutional Convention that allowed incumbents to run for a second term.

Thornburgh, who would go on to become Attorney General from 1988 to 1991 during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidencies, received 376 votes.

Gov. Ed Rendell came in a close second with the support of 368 readers while Gov. Tom Ridge (who also moved on to a presidential cabinet as the first-ever Secretary of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush Administration) accumulated 337.

Bob Casey Sr. was voted favorite ex-Governor by 242 respondents while poor Gov. Milton Shapp received just 82 votes.

The full results are included below:

Who is your personal favorite former PA Governor?

  • Dick Thornburgh (27%)
  • Ed Rendell (26%)
  • Tom Ridge (24%)
  • Bob Casey Sr. (17%)
  • Milton Shapp (6%)

Total Voters: 1,405

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CBS/NYT Poll: Corbett Within Single Digits of Wolf

Tom-Wolf sadA new CBS/New York Times survey suggests that Democratic nominee Tom Wolf’s lead may not be as strong as previously thought.

According to the online scientific poll, Wolf holds a 42% to 33% lead over Gov. Corbett. When you include respondents who lean towards a candidate, however, Wolf’s lead expands to a 52% to 38% margin. (You can read an explanation of online scientific polls here).

In reality, the results are a tale of two polls. In one Wolf holds a sizable advantage, while in the other Governor Corbett’s comeback hopes seem suddenly legitimate. This depends heavily on the “leaners” and whether they will show up to vote come election day.

For example, based on firm responses among male voters Corbett leads his Democratic challenger 41% to 39%. When you include the leaners, though, the candidates are tied with men at 46%.

The portion of Wolf supporters that are merely “leaning” towards him is particularly high among young (22%), female (13%) and Hispanic (35%) voters. The problem for the Democratic nominee is that among those portions of citizens who tend not to vote during off-year elections are young, female and Hispanic voters.

Make no mistake, Wolf is still in the driver’s seat in this race. If you include leaners, he leads every age group as well as black, Hispanic, female, Democratic, Independent, liberal and moderate voters. Furthermore, he’s tied with Corbett among males and white voters and only trails the Governor among conservatives.

The key issue is whether Wolf’s support is soft. If so, then the incumbent may be able to chip away at Wolf’s lead through a massive negative TV ad campaign (as Gov. Corbett is currently doing).

To win the Governor’s seat, the Democratic front-runner must solidify his support and not rest on the laurels of his lead, for it may shrink significantly (and perhaps even completely) if he’s not careful.

Washington Post Names Corbett Most Vulnerable Governor (Again)

Tom-Corbett-upsetThe Washington Post hasn’t been shy in providing Governor Tom Corbett with bad news in the past year, and this July, for the thirteenth month in a row, they named him the U.S. governor most likely to receive the boot in November.

The Post’s blog The Fix named the twelve governor’s races most likely to result in a change of party control, with PA at the very top. While the descriptions of the eleven other races include several sentences including factors such as fundraising and party rifts, the descriptor of  the Pennsylvania race is just a single sentence.

“Gov. Tom Corbett (R), quite simply, needs a small miracle to beat Democrat Tom Wolf,” writes the Post, which includes a link to the race’s current poll numbers.

Corbett, though, isn’t the only Republican gubernatorial incumbent in danger of losing the re-election to a Democratic opponent. According to The Washington Post, GOP governors Paul LePage of Maine and Rick Scott of Florida comprise the rest of the list’s top three opportunities. In fact, of the 36 gubernatorial races being held in November, Democrats hold the advantage in eight of the top 12.

Much of this has to do with timing. Four years ago during the 2010 midterms, there was a massive realignment with Republicans picking up 12 seats and Democrats six. Therefore, this November Republicans have to defend 24 seats compared to the Democrats who only have to guard fifteen.

PA-Gov: Wolf Calls For Income Tax Increase, Reduction of Property Taxes

Tom-WolfTom Wolf is hoping to revamp the Commonwealth’s tax structure if elected Governor in November.

Having served as the state’s revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, Wolf believes that wealthy Pennsylvanians need to pay more taxes.

Moreover, Wolf believes the state’s over-reliance on local property taxes to fund public education has contributed to current budgetary issues. He thinks that Pennsylvania’s nearly $30 billion state public school system should be funded primarily by income, rather than property, taxes.

“There is a real passion for property tax relief,” Wolf told a panel of Associated Press reporters and editors. “We have gone well beyond what I think the local property taxpayer should pay to support public education, and so we need to reduce that, and that means that the state should take a bigger share of responsibility.”

Currently, the state shoulders one-third of the burden, while property tax revenue amounts to more than 40 percent. Wolf’s proposed budget increases the state’s share to 50 percent.

The Democratic nominee’s proposed budget would also adjust the state’s 43 year old income tax. If elected, he plans to shift more of the financial burden onto citizens in the higher income brackets. He also plans to relieve more low-income households of their tax burden through a “universal exemption.”

Wolf sees his plan as fair, and he hopes that it will lessen the burden on those who he deems as the middle class; households with annual incomes between $70,000 and $90,000.

Wolf commented, “I’m looking at it from the point of view of fairness. I think people like me should pay more. I think people who are starting out, building a business, starting a family, should pay less.”

Wolf does not support an increase in the sales taxes, however he is in favor of a natural gas extraction tax.

The millionaire businessman spent over $10 million of his own money in order to win the Democratic primary.

Governor Corbett sees rising property taxes as a result of the burgeoning cost of public pensions. The Governor has been working to reduce the cost of public pensions, and stated in a conference call last Thursday that he is open to using a task force approach.

Corbett said that Wolf, “doesn’t seem to think there is a pension crisis…it’s only going to keep getting worse. In just two years, it will add $1.2 billion to the budget. We can’t keep adding those costs. The system is clearly broken and we need to do something about it.”

PA-Gov: Wolf Responds to Corbett’s Attacks (VIDEO)

Recently, Governor Corbett took the gloves off and began hammering Democratic nominee Tom Wolf. Well, now Wolf is fighting back.

In a new TV commercial titled “Take a Look”, the Wolf campaign responds to the ad the Governor’s team released last week in which the incumbent accused the front-runner of avoiding state taxes.

“Have you seen Tom Corbett’s negative ad with this actress?,” the narrator asks. “It’s just not true and more of the same from Corbett.”

The spot goes on to clarify that the Wolf Organization is headquartered, and pays taxes, in Pennsylvania. It also advocates for the Democrat’s plan for a severance tax on natural gas drillers to pay for schools, improving infrastructure and creating manufacturing jobs.

“Take a look at his plan for yourself,” the narrator urges along with a link to the nominee’s platform.

“Tom Wolf, a Fresh Start for Pennsylvania,” the commercial concludes, invoking the candidate’s slogan.

“Millionaire Secretary Tom Wolf is so desperate to hide the fact that he’s not paying his fair share of Pennsylvania taxes that he’s now running ads citing stories from early May to fact check an ad that just began airing in late July,” responded Corbett-Cawley Communications Director Chris Pack.

“He’s using carefully crafted language in his empty response to distract from the fact that he incorporated his company in Delaware so that he pays less in Pennsylvania taxes,” Pack continued. “If Wolf is so adamant that he’s not paying less than his fair share of Pennsylvania taxes, he should just go ahead and release his corporate taxes like he said he would. We just can’t trust millionaire Secretary Tom Wolf when he continues hiding and refusing to make good on his promises.”

PA-Gov Round-Up: Pension and Education Crises

PA-Governor-Mansion2Last week was about personalities but this week we returned to the issues.

Specifically the issues of education, which polls show voters are most concerned about, and pensions, which the Governor is most worried about and feels is related to the problem of funding schools.

Given the last few weeks, it is not an absurd assumption to guess that education will be the issue most mentioned by Wolf this year while pensions will be brought up as much if not more by the Governor.


The Corbett-Cawley campaign has been intensely focused since the budget season on attacking Wolf for not recognizing the pension crisis that the Governor believes is at the heart of the commonwealth’s fiscal problems.

They pointed out that State Rep. Mike Sturla, the Democratic caucus policy chairman, acknowledged that the pension issue needs to be addressed.

“Even as millionaire Secretary Tom Wolf’s surrogates acknowledge Pennsylvania has a pension crisis, Wolf continues turn a blind eye and appease the interests of the public sector unions who have given him $1.13 million since he purchased the Democratic nomination in May,” said Corbett-Cawley Communications Director Chris Pack.  “Governor Corbett is the only one willing to stand up to the public sector unions and get pension reform done and costs under control for future generations.”

The cries from the Governor’s campaign became even louder after Moody’s downgraded the state’s credit rating and cited pensions as one of the contributing factors.

“Moody’s has cited the Commonwealth’s growing pension liabilities as a primary reason for downgrading Pennsylvania’s credit rating despite millionaire Secretary Tom Wolf’s repeated denial of a pension crisis,” Pack stated. “It is a true shame that despite all of the evidence of our state’s pension crisis that Secretary Tom Wolf continues to deny there is a problem at all.  It is time for Secretary Tom Wolf to stop denying our state’s pension crisis for his selfish political reasons and instead encourage his Democratic cohorts to do what is right for the 12.7 million residents of Pennsylvania and not just what is best for the Harrisburg special interests.”

It’s clear the Corbett campaign feels pensions are their strongest issue but it remains to be seen whether they can successfully connect that issue to the one voters (and Wolf) are focusing on, education.


After the Corbett campaign took aim at Wolf in a new television ad, the Democratic nominee attacked the Governor for what he identified as a billion dollar cut in education funding.

“Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from education, leading to teacher layoffs and property tax increases, while refusing to make oil and gas companies pay their fair share,” said Beth Melena, the campaign’s spokeswoman. “Tom Corbett sunk Pennsylvania to 49th in the nation in job growth. Now he is spending millions in attacks that have already been called false and ridiculously misleading. After more than three years of failed policies and no leadership, Pennsylvanians are ready for a fresh start.”

Meanwhile, Mike Mikus of FreshStartPA went after Gov. Corbett for speaking in front of an apparently preselected group of Bucks County seniors. He also made clear that the pension and education crises are the fault of the incumbent.

“Tom Corbett is trying to hide from the fact that his $1 billion dollar cut to education is what has driven up property taxes in Pennsylvania and that his pension plan will offer no immediate savings,” Mikus wrote.

“Not only would Tom Corbett’s pension plan do nothing to create short-term savings, it also would do nothing to reduce the unfunded liability. This means that Corbett’s pension plan would not help to upgrade Pennsylvania’s $11.1 billion general obligation bonds to our previous rating of Aa2.”

Expect to hear much more about pensions and education in the weeks and months ahead.

PA-Gov: New Corbett Ad Blasts Wolf on Taxes (VIDEO)

Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign released a new 30-second TV advertisement that attacks Democratic nominee Tom Wolf on the issue of taxes.

The commercial alleges that Wolf, as revenue secretary under Gov. Rendell, tried to raise a variety of taxes.

“When Tom Wolf was the state’s top tax collector, he tried to raise taxes on almost everything,” the narrator says in the ad. “Wolf called for a new garbage tax and a home heating and electric tax. Wolf even tried increasing the state sales tax.”

In addition, the ad claims that Wolf moved his company to Delaware to “avoid paying the same taxes he forced us to pay.”

The 30-second ad ends with a bang.

“If there was a hypocrite tax, Tom Wolf would owe a lot of money.”

Wolf’s people, for their part, issued a response to Corbett’s new ad.

According to Wolf campaign spokeswoman Beth Melena, Corbett “is spending millions in attacks that have already been called false and ridiculously misleading” by media fact-checkers in order to distract voters from his “three years of failed leadership.”

Gov. Tom Corbett, who trails Wolf by 20 points in the latest polls, is going on the attack early in order to chip away at that lead.

PA-Gov: Corbett Ordered to Release Smog Plan Correspondence

Governor-Tom-CorbettThe Governor and PA environmentalists are currently in a heated battle over the creation of the state’s smog pollution solution.

According to a report from the Harrisburg Patriot News, The Sierra Club has successfully appealed a refusal by Governor Corbett’s office to release documents related to the drafting of a state plan intended to reduce smog pollution.

The Sierra Club is interested in correspondence concerning the smog plan because it believes that the drafters may have been compromised due to influence from corporations that contribute to PA’s smog.

The Sierra Club requested the documents in April through a Right-to-Know request, but was denied via claims that the documents requested were “internal, predecisional deliberations” and subject to attorney-client privilege.

The request came after the Sierra Club claimed that the smog plan released by the administration, which was federally required due to PA’s poor air quality, included standards that actually allowed coal plants to increase their smog pollution.

“We want to understand why this plan is so poor,” Sierra Club spokeswoman Kim Teplitzky said. “It doesn’t appear they (the plan’s drafters) were listening to us, so we would like to know who else they were listening to.”

The Office of Open Records issued today that Corbett must hand over “any and all records” concerning the drafting of the plan to the Sierra Club. This includes correspondence with the corporations in the industry that the Sierra Club believes influenced the plan’s drafting.

The governor’s office also worked to ensure that this ruling would exclude Gov. Corbett, and would only pertain to the thirteen members of his Executive Staff. The Office of Open Records, however, maintained that the governor’s own correspondence must be released.

Corbett’s office has 30 days to either provide the Sierra Club with the records or to appeal the decision with the Commonwealth Court.

“People deserve to know what’s going into the plan itself because it has an impact on people’s health…and their kids’ health,” Teplitzky said. “The Office of Open Records was very clear in their ruling, so we hope the administration will follow suit and release the records.”

The governor’s office has so far declined to comment.

PA-Gov: Democratic PAC’s New Ad Blasts Corbett (VIDEO)

PA Families First, an independent PAC, shelled out nearly $2 million to air a new television advertisement that attacks Governor Corbett for his alleged cuts to education.

The 30 second ad will air in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia.

Entitled “Paycheck,” the advertisement discusses Corbett’s first budget, which cut basic school funding by $1 billion. Local districts subsequently made cutbacks, and raised property taxes in some areas.

Corbett stated that he did not cut funding and has invested $1.5 billion in education over the last four decades. He believes that his challenger Tom Wolf will ignore the current pension crisis, an issue that the Governor states is the main cause for property tax increases.

The ad also places pressure on Corbett to back a production tax on Pennsylvania’s natural-gas drilling industry.

The natural gas industry “is not paying its fair share,” according to the advertisement.

The Corbett campaign countered that natural gas companies have paid over $2 billion in taxes over the last six years. The $630 million “local impact fee” also had statewide benefits.

Chris Pack, the Governor’s communications director stated that “Wolf has been bought and paid for by the public sector union bosses…to ignore the need for pension reform in Pennsylvania.”

According to Thomas Fitzgerald of the Inquirer, PA Families First is supported by the Democratic Governor’s Association, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal (AFSCME), the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

So far this month, another outside PAC called NextGen and the Wolf-aligned FreshStartPA have also launched ads against Governor Corbett.

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