Keystone State anticlimax: Tom Corbett’s long goodbye

    (Electronic image via

    (Electronic image via

    Two new incidents are metaphors for Tom Corbett’s dead-on-arrival re-election bid. I can’t decide which is more apt, so I’ll give you both.

    While chatting Wednesday with journalists in Harrisburg, the imperiled Pennsylvania governor blamed the state’s sluggish economy on lazy stoners who refuse to apply for jobs because they don’t want to be drug-tested. Corbett had no stats to support his claim, but he did have an anecdote: “We (in the governor’s residence) were ready to give somebody a job who really needed it…She came back in the next day and we said, ‘You have to take a drug test,’ and she said, ‘I can’t.'”

    Thing is, Corbett floated a version of this same canard 18 months ago (employers “can’t find anybody that has passed a drug test”), and it didn’t fly then either, because, again, there were no stats. But now we have some. According to a ’14 survey of 200 business executives sponsored by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, 81 percent of job applicants agree to take drug tests and 84 percent of them pass.

    So his new remark, that Pennsylvanians are too Keystoned to work, is a metaphor for an incurious fella who sticks with what he thinks he knows even when it’s proven that what he knows isn’t worth thinking. It’s like his ’13 claim that pot is “a huge gateway drug” on the road to oblivion – a dumb canard that scientists with actual knowledge have discounted for decades.

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    This brings us to metaphor #2, another small indicator of why Corbett seems destined to lose big on election day – and make history as the first incumbent Pennsylvania governor to be denied a second term. Which means that Pennsylvania is shaping up to be a rare bright spot in a bad Democratic year. There have been five two-termers since ’74, when governors were first allowed to seek re-election, but apparently not this guy, who’s so unpopular that he had to invent some admirers.

    Yes, invent. His campaign website features a nifty home-page pic of Corbett surrounded by admirers; most prominent of all is a black woman beaming at him like he’s a deity. See her in the photo atop this page? Turns out, she wasn’t actually there.

    Turns out, Corbett’s techies plucked the black woman from a stock photo (she’s the wife in “Financial Advisor Talking to Senior Couple At Home”), digitally changed the color of her shirt, reversed the image, and planted her next to Corbett. Apparently to faux-demonstrate that the white Republican guy has crossover appeal.

    That’s a metaphor for pitiful desperation. In a season with gubernatorial nail-biters across the nation – Wisconsin, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachsetts – Pennsylvania appears to be anticlimactic. Deep-pocket Democrat Tom Wolf is teed up to win not necessarily on his own merits (indeed, he has been vague on key tax and spending details), but because Corbett has accrued so many demerits. We’re still 18 days shy of election day, but we can probably put him in the toaster.

    A beaming black woman? Please. Blacks and women don’t like him because he has been tea-party persistent about slashing public education money.

    Women don’t like him because he has said pigheaded stuff, like the time he advised them to submit to mandated anti-abortion ultrasounds: “You just have to close your eyes.”

    His base voters – the middle-America folks in the state’s sprawling “T” – don’t like him because they think he slow-walked the Jerry Sandusky probe back in ’09 when he was attorney general and plotting a bid for governor (even though a state report finds “no direct evidence”). Plus, the “T” folks don’t like him because they think he subsequently helped hustle Joe Paterno out the door.

    Speaking of his own base, conservatives don’t like him because he has whiffed on lots of the stuff they hold dear: public employe pension reform, liquor privatization, voter ID. (Not sure that Corbett should be faulted for the latter. The farcical law was a blatant GOP bid to discriminate against unfriendly voters, while invoking a “fraud” problem that doesn’t exist. Corbett merely recognized that it was a waste of time to keep fighting for it in court.)

    Heck, his own Republican legislature doesn’t like him; witness this summer ’14 statement, from the leaders: “We are disappointed that the governor has not, to date, been able to work effectively with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate to address important fiscal issues impacting our state.” No wonder Tom Wolf has the wind at his back.

    Would/will Wolf be any better, especially if he’s presumably stuck with a Republican legislature? Could he actually forge agreement for a progressive income tax that’s aimed at the upper brackets? He’s likely to be better, if only because Corbett – with his dearth of political salesmanship – has set such a low bar. A governor has to be a good communicator, and Wolf is at least articulate on the broad thematics.

    As he said the other day, “Governments in the United States have to show – and I think it’s a bipartisan finger-pointing exercise here – that we can actually deliver to people who pay taxes….The case must be made again that government is something that actually plays a constructive role in the lives of people.”

    Believe it or not, this un-scintillating gubernatorial campaign could wind up costing $50 million. But what Wolf said the other day? What the heck, it’s a start.



    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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