Patronage and cronyism are nearly as old as American politics, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett certainly is doing his part to keep alive the old saying when it comes to getting ahead, who you know is more important than what you know.
The latest example came recently when the Republican governor selected a businessman who spent two decades in the service station industry to lead the Pennsylvania Lottery.
As has been well documented, Corbett did his level best to kill the state lottery system as we know it by outsourcing its operations to a British firm, Camelot Global Services, but state Attorney General Kathleen Kane threw a major legal roadblock in his way, and the governor eventually aborted the effort. Democrats in the state Legislature hoped that would provide an opportunity to strengthen the lottery through the hiring of a top-notch director. They were not impressed with Corbett’s choice of Silvan B. Lutkewitte III, the erstwhile “alternative fuels manager” of a wholesale distributor of motor fuels that also, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “leases out gas station and convenience store properties.”
“It’s a missed opportunity,” House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody told the newspaper. “When (Corbett) pulled the plug on Camelot, it was in everybody’s best interests that they go out and do a nationwide search.”
Dermody added that Lutkewitte, described by the Post-Gazette as a “frequent contributor to political campaigns” who has primarily supported Republican candidates, including Corbett, “really has no experience in this area.”
Au contraire, said Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni, who explained to the newspaper Lutkewitte’s background with gas stations would be valuable because, according to the Post-Gazette story, “gas stations and convenience stores make up 43 percent of the lottery’s more than 9,100 retailers.”
By that logic, we presume that Lutkewitte also would be right at home running a beef jerky company or building those machines that cook wienies on little metal rollers.
The fact is, the job of running the Pennsylvania Lottery called for someone who had experience in, well, running lotteries.
This isn’t the first time Corbett has chosen to deposit someone from his inner circle into a prominent post.
Last year, he picked lawyer Chris Abruzzo, who worked for Corbett back in the governor’s state attorney general days, to lead the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Not only did Abruzzo have no real background in protecting the environment, outside of posts to which he previously had been appointed by Corbett, but he also raised alarms when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he didn’t know of any “adverse impacts” from climate change on people or animals. When a furor erupted, he changed his tune.
Earlier, in 2012, Corbett, despite what the chief justice of the state Supreme Court thought was a moratorium on filling judicial vacancies, plopped his chief of staff, Bill Ward, into an open spot on the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas.
At the time, Corbett said, “For as long as I’ve known Bill, it’s been his dream to be a judge. I’m happy to help make that dream happen, both for Bill and for the citizens who will benefit from his knowledge and integrity.”
Said benefits were rather short-lived, because Ward finished out of the money last year when running for a full term on the Allegheny County bench.
Ultimately, we believe the governor needs to think less about making dreams come true for his pals and more about making appointments that are in the best interests of the people of Pennsylvania.