It is beyond absurd, the wholesale movement of the state’s political leaders and permanent ruling class every December to Manhattan for the Pennsylvania Society gala. The tradition dates to the Gilded Age, when the robber barons would, it is said, give the state legislature its marching orders for the next session.
The thing has metastasized into a Thursday-Sunday while of receptions, drinking and ring-kissing, and the group of special interests sponsoring galas is broader than it was when Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan et al were hosting. (Plus it's fun). Here is some of the political buzz from the weekend:
Gov.-elect Tom Corbett gave an early indication of his priorities when he takes office on Jan. 18. He will roll out a reform package within days of taking office, including eliminating WAMS and “unvouchered per diems” (meaning lawmakers will have to document expenses rather than get a flat daily amount). He also pledged to introduce an education reform package with an emphasis on charter schools and school choice.
Corbett cited agriculture, energy, bio tech and life sciences as areas of job growth.
But forget trying to find out how he plans to fill out his administration. Corbett wouldn’t answer any questions about appointments – pretty much the foremost ones on every attendee’s mind - when reporters crowded around him at the Metropolitan Club Saturday morning at the annual Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association seminar and lunch.
“We’re not going to be saying a lot,” spokesman Kevin Harley said, continuing the press strategy reporters are comparing to AG Corbett’s silence around grand-jury proceedings.
“I’m no Rendell,” Corbett quipped.
Well, yeah, no kidding. Seriously, a lot of people over the weekend expressed amazement at the slow pace of the transition. Even some Republicans grumbled that the governor-to-be had better get a move-on.
Will 2012 mark the year former Gov. Mark Schweiker returns to politics? Republicans were abuzz with talk of who might challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. next year, and some GOP insiders from the southeast are urging Schweiker to consider it.
Former Lancaster County Republican Committee Chet Beiler urged Schweiker this weekend to let Beiler and others "draft him" as the Republican candidate, according to a report by CapitolWire, a government and politics news service.
Schweiker turned away a golden opportunity to run for governor in 2002. He was serving as lieutenant governor when Gov. Ridge left to join the Bush administration in 2001 but opted out of what felt would have been a cakewalk to the executive office.
Beiler said Schweiker did not encourage his Senate campaign idea, but said neither did he discourage it or tell the drafters to not move forward, CapitolWire reported. But one insider told the news service that the Schweiker boomlet is "the political equivalent of fantasy football. You get a lot of that at Pennsylvania Society."
State Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre) has been considering a run at Casey. State Sen. Kim Ward (R.,Westmoreland) says she has been asked to run but that it’s too early to decide. Another candidate touted by the Great Mentioner, Lehigh Valley Republican U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, spent much of the weekend tamping down the talk. “I haven’t even thought about that,” Dent said. “I haven’t discussed it with my wife, haven’t even considered it.”
Some GOP strategists note that there is no way to tell right now whether President Obama will be a drag on his party’s candidates in 2012, and that Sen. Casey is a legacy name. Nor has Casey done anything that might anger a big swath of the Pennsylvania electorate. “He’s not vulnerable,” Democratic image-meister Larry Ceisler said.
Is Bucks County commissioner Jim Cawley the right man for the lieutenant governor's job? Depends on what that is and whom you ask.
“I think the lieutenant governor position is a perfect place for someone with his work ethic," Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia, a Democrat, told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Asked to elaborate, she said: "Because they [lieutenant governors] don't do anything. His political ambition is so high and so strong it gets in the way of accomplishing anything."
So much for collegiality in Bucks.
Pennsylvania Democratic Party chief Jim Burn said Cawley is as ready to be governor as Sarah Palin is prepared to be president.
Supporters like fellow Bucks Countian Mark Schweiker say Cawley, 41, will be ready should the worst befall incoming Gov. Corbett.
"I don't have any doubt, in that realm," Schweiker said.
Sen. Casey told reporters the "good outweighs the bad" and he will vote for the tax-cut deal reached between Obama and congressional Republicans to extend all of the Bush breaks, even for the wealthy. A vote could come in the Senate as early as Monday. "It's a job creation bill, I'm going to support it." Casey said. The extension of unemployment insurance will help close to 100,000 Pennsylvanians, he said, and extending middle income tax rates will "provide relief and peace of mind” for the working class. Casey says he opposes the estate tax provision of the deal.
Outgoing Gov. Rendell told the mostly Republican crowd at the Metropolitan Club to look at government expenditures in business and infrastructure as investments rather than wasteful spending. "We've invested in jobs, invested in the economy and it's worked.
Before he departed the podium he said, "Next time you hear me speak someone will be paying for it." Word is he’s trying to land a commentator gig with MSNBC.
Former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum was mobbed Friday night outside the holiday bash of IBEW Local 98 business manager John Dougherty (always one of the most fun events of them all), as people wished him well and joked that maybe he should be in Dubuque, Iowa.
Santorum is preparing to run for the GOP nomination to challenge Obama in 2012, seeing opportunity in a field that lacks a dominating figure – unless former Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin of Alaska gets in. He has traveled multiple times to Iowa, site of the first caucuses in the nomination contest, as well as New Hampshire, site of the first primary, and South Carolina, which hosts the second.
“It’s a great country, one that gives people a chance,” Santorum said. People in the early states will “take a look at you, who you are and who you’ve been…They want to see you once or twice.”
Local 98 had printed up “Rick 12” stickers for distribution.