The three most effective PA governors in the last four decades were Milton Shapp, Bob Casey and Tom Ridge. The two least effective were Dick Thornburgh and Ed Rendell. If Tom Corbett doesn’t change his ways he will join Thornburgh and Rendell.
The pattern beginning to emerge is that those governors with little or no experience in team sports accomplish less during their terms.
Corbett, only in his 17th month of his first term, may already be at a crossroads. His second proposed budget – this for the 2012-13 fiscal year beginning July 1 – is in danger of radical surgery by Senate Majority Republicans. Senators are normally in lock-step with a Governor of their own Party. They serve longer terms (four years) than Representatives in the House (two years) and, therefore, are more shielded from voter retaliation.
In general, Republican Senate leadership believes year-end balance on June 30 will be higher than Corbett projects and the economy will yield higher tax income next year than he forecasts. They want nearly all of “their” extra money to be used to support education. They believe that if Corbett has an end game (privatize education, destroy the teachers’ unions, etc.), he will not admit it nor provide cover for his legislative leaders.
Republican legislators also believe Corbett is out-of-touch and does a poor job in selling his agenda to taxpayers. He has been clumsy in maintaining staff to help manage a $27.5 billion per year operation that employs 75,000. Here are two examples.
Julia Hearthway was not sworn in as PA Secretary of Labor and Industry until five months after Corbett took office. Depending on your source, Ms. Hearthway, with no labor relations experience, was at least the 12th person considered for the job and may have been No. 16.
Corbett is already on his third Chief of Staff. Brian Nutt, campaign manager and chief confidant, was Corbett’s first appointment following his election and functioned as such through the transition process. A few days before Corbett’s inauguration Nutt announced he would become a political consultant, instead.
Corbett made Bill Ward, a former Federal and state prosecutor, his next choice. A mutual friend holds Ward in very high regard.
Ward has resigned and Corbett will nominate him to an Allegheny County judgeship. Ward did not take chief of staff to barter for the first back-home judicial appointment. It is likely Ward was unhappy, or (less likely) Corbett was unhappy with him.
The Governor’s third choice is Stephen Aichele, now deputy chief of staff and husband of Carol, Secretary of State. Husband-wife combos helps circle the wagons and stifles divergent thought, not exactly what Corbett needs these days.
Like fellow Pittsburgh Republican Thornburgh and Philadelphia Democrat Rendell, Corbett could have much better relations with the legislature. All three have powerful prosecutor backgrounds with tendency to function as lone wolves in decision making.
Rendell and Thornburgh had little use for legislators and developed few close associations. Overviews of their accomplishments reflect these shortcomings.
In Thornburgh’s case, the Three Mile Island catastrophe revealed his strong points. The emergency called for quick actions by a powerful commander. Rendell saw very little of his agenda fulfilled because his goals required legislators’ support. During one budget impasse, Rendell -- repeatedly asked if he had “personally” called legislators -- repeatedly answered “my staff is always ready to meet with them.”
Ridge and Casey, by their early lawmaking experiences, were more likely to seek cooperation with the legislative branch. Ridge, a seven-term congress member from Erie, had smooth sailing during his eight years. Corbett has ignored his own advisory commission’s recommendations to raise transportation taxes and fees. By comparison, Ridge whisked through a nickel hike in gasoline taxes keep up with crumbling roads and bridges.
Casey parlayed his skills and relationships with legislators into the toughest anti-abortion law in the U.S.
Shapp was the only one of the six most recent governors to come from the private sector. While he didn’t like needing the legislators to help make goals, he quickly recognized the need. He and his staff forged special relationships with Republican senators that led to adoption of the state’s income tax.