When UW Election Eye was invited to the residence of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, we discovered a remarkable number of similarities between Pennsylvania’s political climate and that of Washington State.
HARRISBURG, Penn. — Gov. Tom Corbett was glued to his son’s big-screen TV on Sunday, April 22, settling in to his rec room’s easy chair for a Stanley Cup playoff game between his two largest constituent cities: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. That’s just about the time our UW Election Eye team got waved past the plain-clothed state patrolman on the mansion’s front steps and greeted by the Commonwealth’s First Lady, Susan Corbett.
“Call me Sue,” she said, reaching for our jackets and hanging them up in the closet of the Grand Hall entrance. The tone was set for our afternoon.
Minutes later, Gov. Corbett strolled across the wooden floor into a spacious, brightly lit Erie Room — wearing a light blue shirt and holding a soft drink in his left hand. If he is losing sleep over his current 39% approval rating, he sure doesn’t look like it. Even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s approval rating is higher than Corbett’s, despite Walker facing a rare recall election in early June.
Pennsylvania’s legislature mandates a balanced budget. Corbett campaigned on quickly balancing that budget, got elected with 54% of the vote 18 months ago, and tried to rein in the state’s average teacher salary of $63,000. These are challenging times for Corbett, whose primary role right now is mending a lot of fences with those most affected by his severe budget cuts — not unlike those facing Washington State.
Among the more obvious parallels between PA and WA are wars of words with powerful teacher unions, proposed reductions in education funding and grants, public school closures, and the growing turf wars between big business and environmentalists.
Corbett was, and Washington gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna is, a Republican Attorney General running opposed to same-sex marriage and facing legislative mandates to balance their states’ respective budgets. Cutting thousands of state government jobs is a much easier chore since his party controls both state legislative chambers, but all of this budget slashing has come with a mighty high price tag.
“Look, I was born there so it’s tough to carry just 10% of Philadelphia,” said Corbett, whose political tightrope walk extends to pro sports as a Philadelphia-born, Pittsburgh-raised governor.
With the Flyers leading Pittsburgh by a goal, Corbett just shrugged and took a seat in his favorite chair in The Erie Room for my no-boundaries interview — a video excerpt of which appears atop this story.
During our half-hour conversation, we sprinkled in blunt reactions to Gov. Corbett’s first year in office from several “on-the-street” interviews we had filmed earlier that morning in Harrisburg neighborhoods. We spoke with a former blue-collar union vice president, a longtime teacher more concerned with her children’s quality of education than her own job security, and an angry retired school teacher who called Corbett’s job performance “horrible; a disaster.”
After our interview, we retired to his cozier private office for a look at a firewood bucket dating back to 1725. His focus remained on the hockey game upstairs. “Who am I rooting for?” Corbett asked. He pointed toward a treasured photo of him and Sue posing behind Pittsburgh’s six Super Bowl trophies. “Hey, I’m a Pittsburgher. I always root for Pittsburgh to beat Philly.”
With unbridled candor like that, Corbett will be lucky to carry even 10% of Philadelphia when he runs for reelection in 2014.
E-mail Thor Tolo: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @thortolo
Derek Walker and Rachel Crick also contributed to this post.