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Penn State Scandal, and Broken Promises, Could Lead to Pennsylvania Gov.Tom Corbett’s 2014 Defeat

Pennsylvanian Gov. Tom Corbett isn’t sleeping well. Two recent surveys by Public Policy Polling (PPP), and a Quinnipiac Poll, reveal he has nightmarish prospects for defeat in 2014 – not only in the general election, but also in his own party’s primary contest. If the numbers are not enough to concern him, then the donors who are looking for someone else to run, and lead, should cause him a restless slumber.

Testing the waters for a second run against Corbett is Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor. Castor, who is a highly accomplished trial lawyer, has been elected four out of the five times that he’s run for public office. The only time he didn’t win was when he ran against Corbett in the 2004 Republican Primary for Pennsylvania Attorney General. There are several reasons, though, that the scales might tip in Castor’s favor this time around.

A major reason why Corbett’s not faring well in recent polling is his handling of the notorious Penn State University child sex scandal that sullied the university’s reputation. The pace of the investigation left most Pennsylvanian’s asking why it appeared to move slowly. Corbett’s handling of the PSU sex scandal was at the forefront of last year’s Attorney General election, which saw Kathleen Kane trounce her Republican opponent. She became the first woman, and first Democrat, to win the row office. Kane’s campaign pledge was to investigate Corbett’s investigation of Penn State Coach Jerry Sandusky, who sits in jail charged as a convicted pedophile. Political experts believe that Kane’s smashing victory was actually a referendum on Corbett.

According to PPP, Corbett is one of the most unpopular governors in the country. He currently is scoring an overall 38 percent approval rating. Among women, Corbett’s numbers are notably bleaker, with only 30 percent of women approving of his job in office, which constitutes a worse gender gap than that suffered by 2012 Presidential Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Corbett’s support in the general election is stuck in the low 40s against all potential Democrat challengers. Worst of all for Corbett: only 45 percent of Republicans want him to remain as Governor.

Referring to recent polling data, Castor said, “I have no intention of running if Corbett can turn his numbers around. I’m not going to run for the thrill of running for office.” Republicans disapproval of Corbett’s job performance is 31 percent, roughly three times what is typical for an incumbent.

Scott Wagner, president of York-based Penn Waste, Inc., is a vocal Republican donor who supported Corbett during his 2010 run. Disappointed by Corbett’s inaction, Wagner said the problems his business endured two years ago are the same issues he is facing today.

“If things remain the same in the next three to four months, and both Democrats and Republicans don’t step up to get some things done, maybe we have to move down a replacement path,” Wagner said. “The Governor really should be in the Capitol. He knows what’s important to business owners.”

Wagner said there is no reason why, a state run by Republican leadership in the House and Senate, and in the Executive office, several pieces of legislation shouldn’t pass, and become law. Republicans had their largest majorities in the state House and Senate since 1948, yet Corbett couldn’t advance the ball on big ticket items.

Castor said he thought Corbett had a considerable amount of political capital following his gubernatorial 2010 victory. Republicans, including Castor, expected Corbett to use that capital in his first term to execute his platform. Corbett ran on: privatizing liquor stores; taking on public sector unions; tackling pension reform; and reforming the legislature.
“Right to work got through in Michigan,” Castor said. “That shocked me. Why isn’t our Governor doing that?”

On right-to-work, Corbett recently told reporters, “There is no political will for it.” His secretary of Community and Economic Development added that, “Right to Work is a non-issue” and “wouldn’t benefit Pennsylvania.”

Since word first got out that Castor is weighing a run, no other serious Republican candidates have emerged. A hypothetical matchup between Corbett and Castor polled by PPP found that Castor’s prospects for defeating Corbett in the primary are strong.

“The governor’s office has fallen on its face with communications the last two years,” Wagner said. “Castor’s name surfaces in the last 60 days, and all of a sudden, there’s all this stuff happening in Harrisburg.”

Corbett established a littany of problems in two years. Among them:
He appointed his campaign manager’s father, Roger Nutt, to run the Turnpike Commission (TPC). Nutt resigned suddenly amid agency debt that climbed to $7 billion and a report by Auditor General Jack Wagner claiming that “flim-flam financing” was used by the TPC, whose financial dealings are the subject of an on-going grand jury investigation, the findings of which have yet to be released.
– Pennsylvania unemployment was 7.8 percent when Corbett’s agenda took effect (July 2011), which is precisely where it stands today, even though unemployment nationally over the same period has dropped from 9 percent to 7.8 percent. The Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University noted in November 2012: “In the past year, the nation has added jobs at three times the pace of Pennsylvania.”
He campaigned on abolishing “walking around money” grants, known as WAMS, which is akin to pork at the federal level. He aired a television commercial specifically highlighting a $2 million WAM for the construction of the Arlen Specter Library as an appalling act of state government. But one of Corbett’s first acts upon taking office was to sign off on $40 million in WAM spending, including the Arlen Specter Library, which he had campaigned against.
Corbett is currently looking to break his No Tax Increase pledge with Americans for Tax Reform. He has proposed raising Pennsylvania’s Oil Company Franchise Tax, which will get passed on to consumers at the gas pump. Pennsylvanians already suffer one of the highest Liquid Fuels Tax rates in the country.

Corbett and Castor squared off in the 2004 GOP primary for Pennsylvania attorney general, with Corbett prevailing 52.8 percent to 47.2 percent. Southeastern Pennsylvania, where Castor hails, is in the heart of the Philadelphia media market and home to the largest share of the state’s Republican and Democrat voters. During the eight years when he was Montgomery County district attorney, Castor was frequently on Philadelphia network news for prosecuting heinous crimes. His residual name identification and favorable ratings in the greater Philly area make him formidable in a primary and a general election. In order to win a statewide or national Pennsylvania election, it is common knowledge that the Southeast is the region to win.

“There are people who stand to lose from within Corbett’s circle, who will defend their turf vigorously, and perhaps nastily and unfairly,” Castor said. “I’m no neophyte to courtrooms. I have a pretty thick skin to battle in the political realm.”

The Republican State Committee in Pennsylvania is led by Castor’s arch-nemesis, Bob Asher. In 2003, Castor blocked Asher’s self-directed attempt to get appointed to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) because Asher is an ex-federal convict and thus ineligible to serve on such public boards.

Among Castor’s long list of accolades are receiving the National Trial Advocacy Award for his work investigating and prosecuting homicides in 1995; receiving recognition of his efforts by the state legislature twice by Govs. Tom Ridge and Bob Casey; being named County’s Law Enforcement Man of the Year in 1990; and being name “PA Super Lawyer,” by Philadelphia Magazine from 2005-2008, 2011-present.

“I believe that there are a number of donors who previously supported the Governor, who are going to shift away from him,” said Castor. “Due to his lack of progress to date, some have spoken to me about possibly contributing to me. That list will change as we see what happens in the next several months.

“The question remains unresolved, can Corbett win in the fall of 2014?” Castor said. “Many people, myself included, believe that at this point in time, his reelection prospects against a well-funded challenger are poor. We are going to lose in 2014 if we stay with Gov. Corbett. It makes no political or business sense to invest in such a candidate. Donors are looking for someone else. They are looking at me.”

Castor said among his top issues are boosting the economy and Pennsylvanians’ personal income through right-to-work, paycheck protection, and tax reform, including property taxation.

“I’m very easy to get along with,”Castor said. “If you bring to office the desire to do what’s right. If you’re there for personal aggrandizement or to make money or help your friends, you are in government for the wrong reasons. I don’t have time for such people. I don’t shy away from criticizing people who put politics and themselves ahead of the people.”

On the Democratic side of the equation, the only candidate to announce so far is the state’s former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, John Hanger. PPP polling shows Corbett well below the magic 50 percent threshold against Hanger. Political analysts expect other more formidable Democratic candidates to enter the fray, with possibilities that include: state Treasurer Rob McCord; state Auditor General Jack Wagner, who lost a crowded primary for governor in 2010; and former Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak.

The primary and general elections are 16 and 21 months away, respectively, which is certainly plenty of time for Corbett’s prospects to improve. However, some feel matters could actually get much worse for Corbett, depending on the results of Attorney General Kane’s investigation, the trend of the economy, and whether or not Corbett can succeed on his stated policy goals of public pension reform and selling the state’s liquor stores.

“Everybody’s talking about the same problems, it’s not any better,” Wagner said. “We had high hopes for Corbett. I wish lightning would strike. I think it’s the fault of the House and Senate. They are only concerned with being reelected and receiving their pensions. Their thought process is, ‘we can’t vote for this because we won’t get reelected.’ They aren’t kicking out any bills to be passed. If they don’t kick anything out, then they don’t have any benenfit of doing business in PA. I met Bruce Castor. I’m not jumping on the Castor wagon yet, but if Corbett doesn’t do anything, I probably will.”

Pennsylvania’s Constitution was amended four decades ago to allow governors to run for a second term, and never has an incumbent failed to win re-election. At this juncture, however, it appears as though Gov. Corbett needs a miracle to avoid an historic defeat in the 2014 primary or general election.

Jana Benscoter

Jana Benscoter is the editor of Watchdog Wire - Pennsylvania. Contact her at Pennsylvania@WatchdogWire.com and find her on Twitter @jbenz51. Jana has worked in journalism for more than a decade, during which she’s covered topics, including: business, education, local and state government, and political corruption. Jana has been published in The Boston Globe, The Daily Caller, Drexel Alumni Magazine, Carolina Journal, Guilford Woman Magazine, The Harrisburg-Patriot News, The High Point Enterprise, Kinston Free Press, Lincoln Tribune Online, the Rhinoceros Times, and others.

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