Thursday, July 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The impeachment of Pa. Constitution-shredding Tom Corbett

In just 18 months in office, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has willfully violated the state constitution on voting rights, schools and the environment, as well as his actions with Jerry Sandusky;s charity. Here I lay out the case for Corbett's impeachment.

The impeachment of Pa. Constitution-shredding Tom Corbett

 

There are some things about the Tea Party that I get -- disagree with, vehemently, but get -- but one thing I never did understand was their complaint that President Obama is shredding the Constitution. Ask them to explain why, and you won't hear the only plausible argument -- targeted assassination-- but instead muttering about things like "Obamacare," which a conservative-leaning Supreme Court just found to be, um, constitutional.

Meanwhile, you never get the same argument on the state level. But you should. Here in Pennsylvania, in just 18 months, Gov. Tom Corbett and his legislative enablers haven't just ripped apart the Pennsylvania Constitution, but they've torched it and stomped on it for good measure. Indeed, it's increasing falling on the Pennsylvania court system to undo the brazen unconstitutionality of the Corbett regime.

One of the first dominoes fell today:

Major provisions of Pennsylvania’s controversial law governing oil and natural-gas drilling were ruled unconstitutional Thursday, returning control to local officials. 

Provisions of Act 13 that supersede local zoning and environmental laws were declared “unconstitutional, null and void” in the ruling written by Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini....

“The court has recognized that the Pennsylvania legislature and Gov. Corbett went too far,” said Jordan Yeager, the lawyer for the two towns and the environmental group. “This is a great victory for the people of Pennsylvania, for local democracy, for property rights, for our public health, and for the clean water supplies on which we all depend.”

indeed, you could make the broader argument that Corbett's entire approach to the fracking boom -- cutting enforcement while speeding permit times, and kowtowing to industry in every possible way -- is unconstitutional. How so? The Pennsylvania Constitution -- a wonderful document first laid out in 1776 -- states this:

Article I, Section 27: The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic (sic) values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

There are remedies for Corbett's wanton disregard of the state constitution, including impeachment. Let's call the governor's failure to maintain our natural resources Count 1 of the impeachment of Tom Corbett, and move on to...

Count 2:  Preventing the right of free elections

Article 1, Section 5: Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.

Every day, evidence mounts that Corbett and his legislative cronies -- who acknowledged under oath that voter fraud is not a problem in Pennsylvania -- knowingly enacted a voter ID law that would disenfranchise thousands and possibly as many as 1 million voters and that the real purpose of the law was to help a Republican candidate win the commonwealth's electoral votes. Under the voter ID law that bears Corbett's signature, elections will be neither free nor equal. If that's not grounds for impeachment, I'm not sure what is.

Count 3: Using public money to support sectarian schools

Article III, Section 14: The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

Article III, Section 15: No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.

Corbett has been pursuing an education policy that is diametrically opposed to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Rather than providing for the maintenance and support of public schools, the governor has embarked on a crusade to destroy them by sharply cutting their funding while enacting programs to benefit not-public schools, especially religious, or sectarian, ones. The legislation he signed at the end of last month to expand a tax-credit program that uses a sneaky mechanism to steer hundreds of millions of dollars from the state coffers into religious schools -- backed by extensive lobbying from the Philadelphia Archdiocese, among others -- is highly questionable; meanwhile, Corbett continues to push for vouchers, which are clearly unconstitutional.

Count 4: Misuse of public funds

Article VI, Section 6: The Governor and all other civil officers shall be liable to impeachment for any misbehavior in office...

Even Corbett's staunchest defenders are hard put to explain some of his actions in the Jerry Sandusky matter. One of those confounding actions took place after Corbett became governor, when he knew that Sandusky was the target of a criminal probe for molesting young boys through his charity, The Second Mile, and yet he signed off on a $3 million state grant for Sandisky's charity. Frankly, Corbett's mishandling of the Sandusky probe in 2009 when he was attorney general is even more reprehensible, but we're limiting our bill of impeachment to his actions as governor.

In January 2011, Corbett took an oath "to obey and defend...the Constitution of the Commonwealth" -- yet we now know that on matters of critical importance, including the sanctity of elections, preserving the environment and protecting public education, he intended no such thing.

The state House of Representaive should draft articles of impeachment against Gov. Corbett and approve them.. In the real world, this will not happen -- not today, with Corbett's GOP holding the majority, and probably not if the Democrats gain seats in November. Instead, it will be left to the courts to strike down the most egregious acts of a man who is arguably the worst governor in modern Pennsylvania history -- as happened today and as may happen again soon with the voter ID law.

Hopefully, the courts will allow enough lawful voters to show up and cast ballots in 2014 to fix this constitutional nightmare.

They're going to need to bring a lot of Scotch tape.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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