Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Governor Tom Corbett is Dead Man Walking: Why?

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett

He is dead man walking. - Tim Malloy, assistant director of Quinnipiac polls, about Tom Corbett's reelection chances in 2014.

Texas Governor Rick Perry argued that the states are the laboratory for democracy, and the testing ground for policy reforms (or status quo policies).

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed off on gun registration, and Connecticut residents refused to comply. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo established similar laws, and gun owners burned the forms in an act of civil disobedience.

Republican governors pushed innovative, risky policy shifts, as well, with better results. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal has received positive press for school choice and tax cuts. Governors Walker and Snyder redefined labor relations within their states, with better chance of reelection.

Other governors initiated rapid changes, and are struggling for reelection.

Among the 2014 gubernatorial contests, one Republican governor is not just facing an uphill battle, but has been deemed "dead man walking":

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.

What happened to this man, and during his first term in office, that he was polling double-digits behind before the 2014 campaign entered its first lap?

We can point to personal and sensational scandals have hurt Corbett's image.

File:Joe Paterno - Penn State - Outback Bowl pep rally 123110 cropped.jpg
Nittany Lion Coach Joe Paterno
(suspected of cover-up
of Sandusky sex abuse)
The Penn State/Sandusky child molestation scandal not only scarred the college, and college football, but also former Attorney General Tom Corbett for his handling of the case. Despite reports which exonerated the governor from political maneuvering in the case, reports concluded that he did not investigate the frequent claims of sex abuse effectively.

A more recent scandal forced Corbett to defend his record as Attorney General again. Current and former staffers in the Pennsylvania AG's offices distributed emails with pornographic images. Even judges may be connected with these scandals. Corbett has called for three people connected with the salacious materials to step down, yet one aide has refused to resign, claiming that he is wrongly implicated.

These are sensational, headline grabbing issues, but they focus on his prior administration as attorney general. For an incumbent governor to poll twenty points behind his challenger, and for more than six months, there is much more to why Corbett has become a dead man walking.

 Corbett rode the 2010 Tea Party wave, and received a GOP majority legislature to boot. He had the same supposedly  like-minded colleagues in the Harrisburg statehouse after the 2012 elections, even though Republicans across the country did not fare as well. Creative gerrymandering will ensure safe seats for Republicans for years to come.

Have these safe seats made Republicans soft on hard-core conservative policies? Did they kill Corbett's chances of reelection this year?

Corbett did cut spending substantially. . .educational funding, and Pennsylvanians are upset about it. Isaiah Thompson fact-checked and commented on Corbett's education funding:

Those figures alone suggest that Corbett at the most flat-lined education funding; but costs rise due to inflation and and flat-lined spending over four years is in fact a decrease in spending over cost.

and then

A study by the Education Law Center, meanwhile, found the most drastic examples of this by comparing the cost cuts to these programs on a per-pupil basis. Where some districts saw per-classroom cuts of less than $2,500, others saw tens of thousands of dollars cut on a per-classroom basis. Philadelphia was among those districts.

File:Germantown HS Philly.JPG
Germantown High South, South Philadelphia
Another liberal blog writes:

A new analysis by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia shows that lower income students and minority races are affected in significantly greater amounts compared to other students by the Corbett Administration cuts. In 2011 Governor Tom Corbett cut $1 billion in public school funding.  As a result of these cuts 70 percent of school districts have increased class sizes, 44 percent slashed extracurricular activities and 35 percent eliminated tutoring programs.

So, the growing perception suggests that Corbett cut inner-city  and minority schools more than other districts. Ouch!

En masses outrage erupted at a college commencement when Corbett was the guest speaker. In addition to personal anecdotes from attending graduates who turned their chairs around in protest, the report repeated the staggering cuts Corbett enacted:

In his first year in office, Governor Corbett sought a 50% decrease in education funding, followed by a request for a 30% reduction the next year. Meanwhile, tuition has gone up for Millersville students in every year of the governor’s term.

Perception is crucial to a candidate's election (or reelection) chances. Granted, schools do not need more money, but better administration. Cuts alone, however, do not demonstrate any caring from leadership. California Governor Jerry Brown was smart enough to increase funding to poor and minority school districts, even though his new funding formula hurt middle and upper class communities. Should Corbett have done the same thing? Of course not. School choice, voucher programs, or scholarships would have impacted the hearts and minds of voters. Even Presidential candidate Mitt Romney reached out to poor and inner-city communities by visiting charter schools. What did Corbett do? Not enough.

Proposals which are pro-student and pro-fiscal restraint (like Michigan Gov. Synder's right-to-work reforms) would win over voters and policy wonks.

Stated simply, Corbett's education cuts are cutting off his reelection chances.

How else has Corbett failed to earn a second term in the Keystone state?

The state capital, Harrisburg, filed for bankruptcy 2011. Didn’t hear about it? Probably because Detroit has gotten all the negative press, the largest municipal bankruptcy in American History. Plus the fact that Detroit’s illustrious (and nefarious) history commends more attention from the immediate press and a readership obsessed with immediacy.

Whether he is directly responsible or not, nothing invites reproach for a governor worse than the state capital going bankrupt.

Why did Harrisburg go bust, anyway? Debt from the city’s replacement and improvement of its trash-to-energy incinerator has burned municipal coffers.

Another article compared Detroit and Harrisburg:

Harrisburg, PA
Detroit's troubles have been decades in the making and the city is chronically distressed as a result of population loss and loss of industry, thus reducing the tax base. Harrisburg's problems can be pinned primarily on a bad deal, although there are some structural problems that will have to be addressed in order for the city to truly be viable.

Detroit is shouldering a multi-billion dollar debt, while Harrisburg is struggling under three hundred million plus. Both cities are struggling with pension liabilities and union dominance, too. Harrisburg has a fraction of Detroit's population, and tax base.

On a wider scale, pension problem has plagued Corbett’s political chances, too. Pension reforms did not yield the predicted savings, and they have done nothing to shore up the lingering liabilities burdening the state..

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett
Despite a friendly legislature, Corbett failed to privatize state-owned liquor stores, failed to enact paycheck protection, as Wisconsin Governor Walker had done in 2011. According to a National Review piece dissecting the Corbett’s Dead on Arrival reelection, unions have bought both sides of the aisle in Harrisburg. Instead of bold reforms, Corbett went along to get along.

Corbett even suggested raising taxes! He discussed raising revenues off of oil exploration:

Yesterday Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett proposed lifting the cap on the state’s oil company franchise tax, the tax applied to gasoline sold at the wholesale level, boasting that it will siphon an additional $5 billion from the private economy over the next five years.

Corbett the Republican governor did not govern as a Republican at all.  The added allegations of incompetence and malfeasance during his tenure as Attorney General, plus the unappealing cuts to education ruined his chances.

And there is nothing that is going to resurrect his campaign or his reelection chances in the next month.

File:2012 Pennsylvania congressional districts by party.png
Pennsylvania Congressional Districts (2012)

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