Corbett & Wolf vs. the Legislature

LET'S TALK about the focus of the governor's race.

Specifically, let's talk about how the focus underplays or outright misses a couple of critical questions.

Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Tom Wolf spar over school spending, taxes, pension reform and more.

But little or nothing is said about relationships with the Legislature.

You remember the Legislature? That's the place where governors go to get policy enacted: education policy, tax policy, pension policy and more.

So it deserves attention.

As in: Governor, after failing to get much of your agenda through a House and Senate run by your own party, why should voters expect anything different in a second term?

And for Wolf: If elected, how would you get stuff done in partisan Pennsylvania if the Legislature stays Republican?

Corbett learned and Wolf, if he wins, will learn that the Legislature is full of giant egos, ideology and parochial interests and is largely resistant to change.

Whoever is governor gets this prickly partner, a mix of political leanings that, due to most of the state's rural nature, tends to tilt to the right.

So some answers would be nice.

Corbett, in the first debate, said, "Everybody makes mistakes," and suggested he isn't the best at getting out his message.

He was answering a question about his low polling numbers, but he might have been answering about his relationship with the Legislature.

It's shallow. No governor in my memory (back to Milton Shapp) expended less energy working with or appealing to the legislative branch.

Corbett once told me that his ending WAMs ("walking-around money" for lawmakers' projects in exchange for support) hampered his efforts at progress.

This suggests that lawmakers' only interest is self-interest (perish the thought!) or argues for the return of WAMs.

Wolf notes that he's run a company, headed charitable and civic boards and therefore knows how to work with people.

But businesses and boards have common agendas; our lawmakers do not.

Wolf also makes a case that in the Peace Corps in India he persuaded villagers to change thousands of years of farming practices in order to increase crop yield.

I'm just not sure that enough lawmakers have the same capacity to change for a greater good as indigent Indian villagers.

It's easy for Wolf to say, "Give me a chance, how could I be worse?"

It's harder for Corbett to say, "Give me another chance."

But neither candidate has a good answer for dealing with the Legislature.

Could its makeup change?

Almost no one thinks that the House changes. Few see much chance that the Senate does.

But Democrats only need to grab three new seats to gain a Senate majority. Half the 50 seats are on the ballot and a few races are closely watched.

There's an open seat in the district representing Delco and parts of Chester County where incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Erickson is retiring and where Democrats see their best shot at a pickup.

There's an open seat in Western Pennsylvania held by Democratic Sen. Rich Kasunic, also retiring. But the district is regarded as the most conservative held by a Democrat.

And a new seat in the Poconos is up for grabs.

Democratic Senate campaign director Joe Aronson argues that a big Wolf win can create a wave for down-ballot Democrats: "There are really good opportunities for us out there."

But Republican Senate President Joe Scarnati confidently asserts, "Senate Republicans will not lose the majority."

It's rare that incumbent senators lose. The average margin of victory for those with opponents in the last cycle was 32 points.

So question Corbett on education funding. Prod Wolf for his tax-reform details.

Just remember that one of them will have to deal with our Legislature.

 


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