With recent missteps, Corbett’s competence in question

August 31, 2013

Gov. Tom Corbett reportedly beat an early retreat last week to his vacation home in Hilton Head, S.C., for the long Labor Day weekend.

While he’s putting his toes in the sand and contemplating the waves, he will perhaps ponder the re-election campaign that is taking shape in advance of the vote in November 2014.

The number of Democratic hats that have been tossed into the ring thus far would be more than sufficient to fill a haberdasher’s warehouse.

But it’s starting to look like Corbett’s most formidable opponent in the next 14 months might, in fact, be a fellow named Tom Corbett. If a couple of recent high-profile missteps are indicative of Corbett and his administration’s competence, voters would be correct to wonder in 2014 if someone else might be more up to the task of leading Pennsylvania.

First came the announcement last week that William Harner, the Corbett administration’s acting education secretary, was given his walking papers after only a couple of months on the job. Reports indicated it was because of revelations that Harner had emailed some inappropriate inquiries to a male staffer when he was superintendent of the Cumberland Valley School District near Harrisburg; to wit, he reportedly wondered how the staffer looked in a Speedo bathing suit.

Harner followed Ronald Tomalis, who lasted just a little more than two years in the post before he was appointed as a “special adviser” to Corbett on higher education issues at the same salary he was paid to be secretary of education.

And Harner isn’t the first member of the Corbett team to be caught in embarrassing email exchanges – Richard Allan, who had been Corbett’s conservation and natural resources secretary, was given the boot after he used the word “colors,” apparently meaning “colored,” in an email exchange with his wife about an African-American co-worker.

“This is not making us look good,” one unnamed member of the Corbett administration told the Patriot-News in Harrisburg last week.

No kidding. More pointedly, Terry Madonna, the state politics guru at Franklin and Marshall College, told the Patriot-News that stumbles like the apparent lack of vetting before Harner was put on the job make it appear that the Corbett house “is not in order.”

“You don’t need stories like this tweeted and other people picking up the coverage of it. It will look like the administration is not functioning well.”

And speaking of houses, Corbett has also faced less than complimentary headlines over the last few weeks with revelations that he and his wife, Susan, purchased the Hilton Head abode last year and neglected to report it on the governor’s financial disclosure form.

A Corbett spokeswoman put it down to an honest oversight, OK, we’ll take Corbett’s word that this was a sin of omission and not commission. But Corbett remarks that the state’s “Code of Conduct is not law” hardly offers reassurance on that score.

Pennsylvania has been reliably re-electing its governors going back to Milton Shapp in the 1970s. If Corbett doesn’t right his ship fairly quickly, he will soon have plenty of time to wander the beaches of Hilton Head, wondering how he became the exception to that rule.



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