Democratic challenger Tom Wolf came better prepared to take on incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett this morning in their debate at the studios of KYW Radio and CBS3.
In their first debate last week, most agreed Corbett got the better of Wolf, being more forceful and putting the Democrat on the defensive.
I have to say, the second encounter seemed to begin the same way. Corbett got to speak first on education funding and went two and a half minutes. When Wolf finally got the floor, he tried to be direct and tough, saying the governor hadn’t been a friend of education, but Corbett didn’t sit quietly. He interrupted three times to contest Wolf’s points, knocking the challenger off his game a bit.
When Corbett interrupted a fourth time, Wolf yielded the floor, letting Corbett make his case another minute and twelve seconds before moderator Larry Kane interrupted to ask Wolf for a brief closing remark on the subject.
I did the math: in that opening flurry, Wolf had the floor less than a third of the time – one minute one second (part of that with Corbett interrupting) to Corbett’s three minutes, 37 seconds.
Corbett is simply more sure-footed in this kind of encounter, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise us. He’s a veteran prosecutor, and he’s run for office three times before. This gets easier with practice.
Wolf seems more comfortable with conversation, and this was no lawn party.
Still Wolf came prepared to battle. When Corbett talked about his track record creating jobs, Wolf criticized the state’s economy and fiscal health.
“Let’s look at reality. I’m not sure what world you’re in here,” Wolf told Corbett, who was seated incredibly close. “If I had a cash-flow balance in my business like the state does, there’s no bank that would give me a line of credit. We’ve been downgraded by three independent bond rating agencies.”
Wolf also accused Corbett of relying on shaky, one-time revenue gimmicks for his budgets, saying at one point that Corbet had obviously “cooked the books.”
“So you’re accusing me of a criminal act?” Corbett bristled. When Wolf said no, he was accusing him of over-estimating revenues. Corbett said Ed Rendell, for whom Wolf served as revenue secretary, had done the same thing.
When the subjects of job creation and the minimum wage came up, Corbett seemed to say there were plenty of good jobs around.
“We have 250,000 jobs on the website to be filled,” Corbett said. “If you’re somebody looking for a job, if you know how to drive a truck, there’s over 20,000 jobs for CDL licensed drivers. There are thousands of jobs across Pennsylvania that need to be filled.”
I asked Corbett afterward if he thought the unemployed were to blame for not finding jobs. No, he said, the state must do a better job of training and connecting people with open positions.
…and more substance
The two covered some well-known policy differences. Wolf wants a natural gas extraction tax, Corbett says no. Corbett says state employees should go from traditional pensions to 401K-like plans. Wolf disagreed.
Corbett hammered Wolf for not spelling out his proposal to make the state income tax more progressive, and Wolf said he can’t be specific until he knows how bad the state’s finances will be when he takes office.
One issue, though, was new to this debate – the revelation that state employees, including four Corbett appointees, exchanged pornographic emails. Corbett said he’ll decide what to do when he has all the facts.
“I can’t tell you how disappointed I was, because we had strict rules against it,” Corbett said. “And I did not receive any of those emails. I wished they would have sent me one. I wish they would have, cause it would have stopped right then and there.”
Wolf said the governor should hold his people accountable, and added a zinger.
“I think the concern is the culture that would allow something like that to happen,” Wolf said. “I mean, in every organization I’ve headed, the culture starts at the top, and if there’s a culture that somehow makes it seem that kind of thing is permissible, that’s a problem.”
After the debate Corbett called that remark a cheap shot by Wolf.
I did look into one factual dispute that came up. Wolf has long said that education cuts have resulted in the loss of 27,000 education jobs in the commonwealth. Corbett said at the debate that in fact, 14,000 of those losses occurred in the previous (Democratic) administration. His campaign cited a piece in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as the source.
The article doesn’t quite say that, so I ended up speaking with Mark Price, the economist from the Keystone Research Center whose study came up with Wolf’s 27,000 figure. And I looked at the data the Tribune-Review piece is based on.
My conclusion: There are a lot of ways manipulate this, but Wolf is pretty much correct on this one. I’m not sure whether it’s so critical to voters whether we lost 13,000 educators or 27,000 under Corbett, but it’s clear there were losses.
What’s more important is how one views the candidates’ competing cases in the school funding debate.
It was also interesting that twice in the debate, Corbett made the point that Philadelphia schools are a special case, once saying they already get much more state assistance than “the collar counties,” the suburban communities where he needs to do better if he’s to turn the the election around.
You can hear the whole debate here.
The two have one more debate, next Wednesday evening in Pittsburgh.