18 Reasons for Corbett’s 2014 Problem

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Harry Truman’s infamous desktop placard proclaimed that “The Buck Stops Here,” meaning that the man at the top owns the mistakes of his administration and shares credit for the victories. If this is true, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett should accept the blame for the sorry state of affairs in the Keystone State.

Our rudderless ship of state—with Captain Corbett at the helm—is afloat on the sea without direction and sinking quickly. It resembles Gilligan’s S.S. Minnow but without the cast of lovable characters. Pennsylvanians realize that the buck stops with Corbett. PoliticsPA.com reported on June 20 on a leaked internal Republican Party poll showing that “By a 37 point margin, voters say the Governor does not deserve to be re-elected, 65% to 28%. He loses Democrats on that question 81% to 15%, loses independents 60% to 25%, and only wins Republicans by 3 points, 47% to 44%.”

A May Franklin and Marshall poll found that just 25% of Pennsylvanians believe that Corbett deserves reelection. Just 28% said that Pennsylvania is “on the right track” while 58% believe the state is on the wrong track. All seven of Pennsylvania’s geographic regions gave Corbett a higher unfavorable than favorable rating, including the rock-solid Republican Central region (often known as the “T”), where Corbett has a 28% favorable and a 48% unfavorable rating.

Corbett’s woes cut across age, gender, racial, economic, geographic, and ideological lines. Just 30% of white voters have a favorable view of Corbett while 44% view him unfavorably. 17% of non-whites view him favorably while 60% do not. Corbett has a 21 point favorability deficit among voters 35 and under, a 19 point deficit among voters 35-75, and a 30 point deficit among those 75 and older. Another stinging rebuke for Corbett comes from the state’s moderates—the plurality of those surveyed—49% of whom disapprove while just 22% approve.

Why are Corbett’s poll numbers so poor? Is the growing, valid chatter in political circles that he may be the first governor to break Pennsylvania’s six decade eight years in, eight years out party cycle justified? Here is a checklist—complete with news source links—demonstrating why Corbett was rated last week by Larry Sabato of the University from Virginia Center for Politics as the nation’s most vulnerable incumbent governor.

  • In 2011 Corbett terminated the successful Adult Basic program that provided 40,000 low-income, working adults with basic health insurance coverage. Most of the funds to run the program actually came from insurance providers, not taxpayers.
  • Earlier this year Corbett blamed Pennsylvania’s persistently high jobless rate on excessive drug use among his own constituents.
  • Despite promising reform, Corbett and his wife accepted over $11,000 in “free” gifts from business leaders and lobbyists over a two year period.
  • Numbers released last week showed that the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.5%. However, the rate of growth is slower than in other states. According to a statement issued via Facebook from state Senator Mike Stack, “Since January 2011, PA’s neighboring states have enjoyed job growth at a rate more than double our 1.33 percent increase.” Stack added that “PA is only 45th in job creation and has suffered negative job growth since the end of last year” and that Pennsylvania “still lost more than 9,000 non-farm jobs in May.”
  • Although claiming to favor local control of public education, Corbett supported a plan to prohibit locally elected school boards from authorizing charter schools in their own districts, instead seeking to centralize that authority in the hands of unelected Harrisburg bureaucrats.
  • As of today, the Philadelphia School District is over $300 million shy of what is needed to operate for the 2013-14 school year. Layoff notices have been issued for 4,000 teachers and staffers. Corbett’s chief proposal for plugging the gap is for teachers to voluntarily “give back” wages and benefits rather than increasing support from the state’s general fund.
  • Corbett defended a strange transvaginal ultrasound bill on the grounds that “You just have to close your eyes …. as long as it’s on the exterior, not interior.” “You,” of course, refers to women.
  • Corbett’s first budget proposed cutting higher education spending by over $640 million, amounting to a 50 percent-plus cut for state-supported universities. He also proposed cutting $1 billion from K-12 public education. A poll released on June 24 found that 78% of Pennsylvanians are concerned about the dire statewide school funding situation. A proposal to raise $1 billion for education by increasing the sales tax rate from 6% to 6.25% and putting off a corporate tax cut (capital stock and franchise tax) is favored by 55% and opposed by 35%. A paltry 30% believe the governor’s claim that he has increased funding for K-12 and can’t afford more money for education.
  • Almost 25% of Pennsylvania bridges are structurally deficient. The Corbett administration has largely ignored the problem, instead clinging to the Grover Norquist “No-Tax Pledge” rather than seeking new revenue sources.
  • Corbett signed an industry-backed Marcellus Shale natural gas exploration bill that excluded a much-needed severance tax to offset environmental, transportation, and other essential potential impacts.
  • Despite massive Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Corbett’s promise to modernize Pennsylvania’s state-owned liquor store system is mired in gridlock and lacking gubernatorial leadership.
  • Although the state Senate has passed a landmark $2.5 billion transportation bill, the governor’s lack of leadership on the issue has led this proposal to remain mired in gridlock.

The list above features only a number of the major transgressions, bumbles, stumbles, gaffes, and poor policy choices made by this governor in the first three years of his administration. However, the many policy problems highlighted here and ample polling data suggest that voters are poised to make political history next year by turning out a governor who has failed to provide leadership at a critical moment in Pennsylvania’s history.

Clearly, 2014 is going to be a heavy lift for Corbett’s reelection. Given Pennsylvania’s longstanding history of maintaining the eight year “cycle,” it would be misguided to count Corbett out for reelection in 2014. Democrats have many reasons to look forward to 2014 while Republicans should be looking hard for an alternative candidate to run for governor.

    3 Comments so far

  1. Bob says:

    Corbett can only win reelection if the Democrats run another hack.

  2. Tony West says:

    Every electiomn is “historic,” or at least potentially historic. The future eventually breaks every rule set by history.

    Your litany of Corbett’s policy choices is instructive. But incumbents with more sins have won reelection in the USA before. I am troubled by a pervasive sense of political clumsiness & tin-earedness on the Governor’s part. I’m not sure he’s cut out for the state-leading business, which requires a minimum level of political sensitivity.

    Corbett shows a lifelong comfort with secretive, topdown decision-making. This may be great for a sharp DA, or a dynamic CEO who owns his own company. But it’s not a good model for someone who must logroll with a legislature, for instance.

    Most striking about Corbett’s political difficulties is he has chronic trouble persuading *fellow Republican government leaders* in the General Assembly (most of whom agree with him in overall philosophy!) to back the programs he’s set as his benchmarks. You’ve heard of the proverbial salesman who could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo; well, here is the opposite: a guy who can’t sell a fireplace to an Eskimo.

    Will he ever grow in his job? I’m looking for the learning curve, but not sure I’ve spotted it yet.

    This may truly not be the best way forward for Pennsylvania next year.

  3. Gabriella Iacovetti says:

    I have to say that I largely agree with Tony West’s comments above. I can’t believe the horror show he’s turned out to be.

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