Don’t write Corbett off just yet

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Despite doomsayers — and the work of local GOP legislators — Gov. may just have second act

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
UTMikeColLogoUndoubtedly, you’ve seen the headlines (unless of course, you’re a sensible person and have spent the last broiling week or so somewhere with beaches, cool (relatively speaking) breezes and chilled beverages) that Gov. Tom Corbett is likely doomed, will be pushed out of place by the Republican Party and it’s a steaming mess in Harrisburg.

With the departure of Steve Aichele as Corbett’s Chief of Staff — and questions whether his wife, former Chester County Commissioner Carol Aichele, the Secretary of State, will be following him out the door — much of the talk about who might replace Corbett on the ticket centers around pols from or around Chester County.

While it makes for good water cooler talk among political addicts and good copy for some publications, let me be kind enough to set you straight: Corbett isn’t going anywhere. In fact, despite the polls, I still make him a favorite in the Nov., 2014 general election.

Make no mistake, it is a mess in Harrisburg — the failure of the legislature to get deals on the transportation bill and the liquor privatization bill are embarrassing, more on that in a minute — but things are never quite as they seem.

Many of those floated to replace Corbett on the ticket (and those trial balloons would seem to be coming from overeager junior staff or wanna-be insiders), such as State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, and Congressmen Jim Gerlach and Pat Meehan are pretty silly if you stop and think about it.

For Pileggi, the Senate Majority Leader who represents about half of the county, one could argue that becoming governor is a demotion — and while I think he’s ambitious and would make a good governor, he’s got a few issues to sort out in his back yard and he doesn’t seem like the type to challenge a sitting governor. Gerlach, who represents much of Chester County, would also like to be governor, but not at Corbett’s expense. Meehan? I get the sense he’s pretty happy where he is right now — and with a largely new house district still getting used to him is busy enough.

And make no mistake, Corbett will not go down without a fight. And he still has a base of strength and big vote counts in three southern Pennsylvania counties: Chester, Bucks and Delaware that should temper the impact of Philadelphia.

So ignore the doomsday stories: Corbett will be the GOP nominee for Governor. And, if you pressed me, I’d say he wins a narrow victory over Allyson Schwartz in November, 2014.

That win, of course, will be no thanks to some of our local Republican state legislators who played key roles in the destruction of the Governor’s major policy plays last month. Pileggi, as Senate Majority Leader, was front and center in senate not moving forward on the liquor bill, while State Rep. Steve Barrar was among those in the house who torpedoed the transportation bill.

We’ll be polite and not mention that neither house of the legislature was willing to do much of anything about the public pension issue (all seemed to recognize that Rep. Chris Ross’ bill was a lot like deploying extra icebergs to save the Titanic), which is going so well that the state’s bond rating was downgraded this week, and how down the road that will mean higher taxes, less service or both.

Anyhow, as things often happen in Harrisburg, the transportation bill, which Senate Republicans wanted, and the liquor bill, which house Republicans wanted, all ended up being linked in what proved to be a death spiral for both bills, meaning we here in Chester County look forward to more drives to Delaware for decent booze, assuming that bridges don’t collapse en route.

This was strictly Republican-on-Republican political violence. The state legislature’s Democrats never even needed to get out of their little clown cars, beyond the usual pontificating and harumphing.

I have to ask: wasn’t there a deal to be made here? The House Republicans — who seem to oppose all tax hikes except those that fund additional legislative accounts — didn’t like the idea of a 5-cent or so a year gas tax hike over five years to pay for our crumbling bridges and roads, but signaled willingness to do something at a lower figure.

With the liquor bill as a carrot, there should have been the basis for a deal — a smaller, transportation package, say in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion, in exchange for most of what the House wanted on liquor privatization.

But….nope. Neither side seemed willing to engage in…wait for it…politics. So, therefore we can all look forward to new weight restrictions on bridges, more car-shredding potholes and pavement ripples and be stuck drowning our sorrows in overpriced, bottom-shelf liquor.

At the end of the day, it seems pretty likely that as Pileggi and Barrar enjoy their summer “grip and grin” tour, they’ll shrug and blame the other house, the other guy or the governor. Don’t let them off the hook — press them on why their work didn’t get done.

Electoral politics in the area being what they are, neither of these guys are going to lose an election, so the only way to get them to reform their ways is to give them grief and a lot of it, or this petty, intra-party behavior will continue.

* * *

You have to love gerrymandering. In order to make the remaining Chester County State House districts more solidly Republican, the completely objective (and yes, even I spurted coffee on my computer screen when I wrote that) redistricting panel drew up a sacrificial state house district for Chester County that would lean strongly Democratic: the 74th, in the Coatesville area.

But here’s the funny thing: the Republicans have a winning candidate in Harry Lewis — who I’ve now been told by many, many sources is running. Lewis — the recently retired chairman of the Brandywine Health Foundation and a former educator, coach and administrator in the school district is known and liked by — well — virtually everyone in the Coatesville School District towns.

Match that up with a governor’s race at the top of the ticket — and as I noted above, despite rumors and backbiting, the GOP rank-and-file will fall into line by next spring and be back on the Corbett bandwagon — and the Republican Get Out The Vote (GOTV) effort should be in top form — much as it surprised many by delivering for Mitt Romney in 2012. If that happens, take Lewis and give the points.

And the Democrats’ GOTV? Well, let’s just say it is to politics what Honey Boo Boo is to raising the level of cultural discourse in our country: a smoldering apocalypse.

So that leaves a real problem: if Democrats lose a house seat that was created for them to win, what happens? Who gets the blame? The candidate? Likely. Whatever poor wretched soul who manages the race (and sees their political career permanently ended as he or she is vilified)? Yeah. But the issues the Democrats face in this county run deeper: to be blunt, they’re really bad at organizing, message and well, politics in general.

Watching the Democrats in action is like watching Michael Vick with the ball, the Eagles down a touchdown in the fourth quarter and driving. You know he’s going to throw that third interception and blow the game. That sense seriously hurts the party’s ability to raise money, as smart folks don’t like to feel like they’re wasting their donations.

And maybe, if the local Democrats weren’t so inept, a wide range of Republicans behaving badly (and man, I can’t wait to see how our local threesome of Congresscritters vote on immigration reform) would not be able to do so with utter impunity.

No check, no balance. Last time I checked, there seem to be a lot of unbalanced people in local politics.

Stay cool and dry, folks.

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