Welcome Back: Pennsylvania’s Governor’s race: Tom Wolf or Tom Corbett?


Corbett Intro: In politics, experience is essential. It is often an excellent predictor of a candidate’s prospective success in office. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party nominee, Tom Wolf, touts a resumé of bankrupt companies and enters the 2014 Election for the Governor of Pennsylvania under a veil of suspicious hidden agendas and accusations of plagiarism

Current Gov. Tom Corbett has a long history of successful careers in law, politics and military. He served as a captain in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law and worked as an assistant U.S. attorney, commissioner of Pittsburgh suburb Shaler Township, U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, attorney general of Pennsylvania and, finally, as the governor of Pennsylvania. In each position Corbett held, he affected great change — during his tenure as governor, he sought to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania by toughening the penalty for hit-and-run accidents and fighting for justice and punishment in the Penn State-Sandusky scandal. He also strove to improve the economy, creating over 100,000 private sector jobs and moving to privatize the state-run wine and spirits stores. Furthermore, Corbett has shown commitment to changing veterans’ medical care in Pennsylvania and he has led the rest of the country in improving health care for this country’s heroes. 

Wolf Intro: Four years after Corbett rode a wave of popular support into Harrisburg, he slid into historically dismal disapproval from his fellow Pennsylvanians. By the end of 2013, only 24 percent of Pennsylvanians approved of Corbett’s performance, including less than half of his fellow Republicans. He is “America’s most vulnerable governor,” and for good reason. 

During his time in office, Corbett has consistently proven his polarizing reputation. Whether you judge him for his legislative accomplishments or his failures, the verdict is decidedly severe. What he has accomplished — including an 18 percent reduction in financial support to state universities and a nearly $1 billion reduction in support to public schools — has proven fundamentally contrary to the priorities of the people of Pennsylvania. What he hasn’t accomplished, including the voter ID law deemed unconstitutional and the ban on county-control of Marcellus Shale fracking regulation — also deemed unconstitutional — has proven his inability to responsibly govern. For a former attorney general of the state, he has shown time and time again that he is not sufficiently familiar with the Pennsylvania Constitution. 

To rectify the damage done to those institutions that the state is constitutionally obligated to serve, Pennsylvania ought to elect Wolf this coming November. He takes seriously the constitutional mandate to secure the “maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” He is committed to returning the state’s share of support for public schools to 50 percent, up from Corbett’s 32 percent. Moreover, he plans to finally generate appropriate state revenue from the Marcellus Shale by implementing a state severance tax on shale drillers of the same kind that every other gas-producing state, including Texas, has legislated. 

Point Corbett: Politicians must be figures of control in chaos and must be a source of authoritative action when resolving scandals, which Corbett has proven to be. On May 21 of this year, the citizens of the United States of America were shocked to learn about the negligent medical care provided to the country’s veterans. In the aftermath of the Phoenix VA medical scandal, President Obama called for nationwide change. Pittsburgh, being home to the largest population of veterans in the state of Pennsylvania and the fifth-largest population of veterans in the country, is at the center of that change. 

Under Gov. Corbett, the current governor of Pennsylvania, change has already begun. 

On June 13, Terry Gerigk Wolf, the director of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, was placed on administrative leave “pending the completion of administrative actions related to the Legionella outbreak.” 

In addition, Corbett funded the Veterans’ Trust Fund in 2012, which raises “public and private funds and donations to support Pennsylvania veterans and their families.” As a veteran and former captain of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Infantry Division, Corbett knows from experience how to educate returning soldiers and reintegrate them into life at the homefront — as demonstrated by his establishment of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans Services and his development of job training assistance.

Counterpoint: Corbett does not deserve praise for continuing to support a state-operated veterans assistance program. This is nothing new. Instead, Corbett could offer a much more lasting solution to the plight of veterans suffering from medical conditions by expanding the state’s Medicaid provision with the financial assistance of the federal government under the Affordable Care Act — read “Obamacare.” The Veterans Hospital Healthcare System itself could be better operated if it could possibly be “absorbed” into Medicaid or Medicare anyway, according to one retired army colonel. Rather than patting Corbett on the back for maintaining other governors’ support for a veterans assistance agency, we should take him to task for failing to support a federal program that could offer more long-term veterans medical care. 

Point Corbett: Since Corbett was first elected governor in 2009, Pennsylvania’s labor force has reached 6.4 million, an astonishing feat largely due to Corbett’s “Energy = Jobs” campaign. It encourages local businesses and natural enterprises to utilize Pennsylvania’s unique and abundant natural resources. 

Corbett was never blind to the possibility of detrimental environmental effects of natural gas and coal extraction. In an effort to offset and prevent unnecessary environmental damage, he signed the Marcellus Shale Law in 2012, which “enhances protection of our natural resources through stronger environmental standards.” 

Gov. Corbett also instilled strict drilling regulations to protect Pittsburgh natives and local landowners from being cheated by large drilling corporations. 

The benefits of Corbett’s “Energy = Jobs” campaign go beyond improving the local economy and providing thousands of job opportunities. Pennsylvania has become a national and global leader in electricity generation and natural gas production due to the state’s utilization of Marcellus Shale. Under Corbett, Pennsylvania is providing the country and the world with “The Energy to Innovate. The Energy to Create. The Energy to make today’s opportunity tomorrow’s reality.”

Counterpoint: To credit Gov. Corbett and his administration for the increase in Pennsylvania’s employment misses underlying national trends. Since 2010, when Corbett took office, the state unemployment rate has decreased almost exactly correlative to the national unemployment rate — both have fallen by roughly 3 percent. So, the increase in the state’s employment could be better explained by national economic trends, or even economic policy at the federal level. 

The consequences of Corbett’s environmental policy are not drastically increased employment but irreparable natural damage. The state environmental advocacy group, PennEnvironment, gave Corbett an “F” in its environmental report card, singling out Act 13, which “guts environmental and public health protections.” Not to mention its gutting of counties’ rights to determine those impact fees — which was, similarly to so much of Corbett’s policy “successes,” deemed unconstitutional.   

Point Wolf: It’s always easier to criticize an incumbent than to recommend a challenger — especially when that incumbent is very possibly the first Pennsylvania governor to ever lose an attempt at re-election. For as much as there is to criticize Gov. Corbett, there is just as much to recommend Tom Wolf. 

The self-established business-owner from York swept the Democratic primary in November against several opponents, illustrating his unifying appeal amongst the state’s democrats. He has gathered the starkest support for his educational policy, which goes beyond the restoration of proper funds. He has pledged to restore the fair funding formula, which apportions state support relative to the financial need of each district, assuring greater support for districts less able to maintain their own funding. Moreover, he will reverse Corbett’s indiscriminate support for cyber charter schools, which have consistently used taxpayer money to shoot far short of state education standards.  

Counterpoint: If Pennsylvania citizens believe Corbett’s most recent budget cuts injured the educational system, then Wolf’s educational reform policy will be the atomic bomb. As chairperson and influential leader of the York County Community Foundation, Wolf has repeatedly voiced his support for the complete conversion of public schools to charter schools — government-funded schools that are independently managed and not mandated by any state or federal regulations. 

Seeing that any teacher or community leader can establish a charter school, state funding for education will be divided up among many small schools that, due to the lack of regulation, may or may not be providing satisfactory education. More likely, Wolf would overspend in education, sending the state of Pennsylvania into bankruptcy, just like he did his own business, Wolf Organization. 

Point Wolf: Depending on the election, a lack of political experience can either condemn or recommend a candidate. Besides Gov. Corbett’s experience in political gridlock on generally popular initiatives — such as less stringent alcohol distribution — and success in universally unpopular budget cuts and environmental policy, Wolf’s political inexperience appears refreshing. Rather, his glowing record with his family business, Wolf Organization, which was saved from bankruptcy following the recession, recommends Wolf for a robust economic policy unknown in the state through the past four years. 

Beyond management, Wolf’s extensive education and community leadership speak to his well-rounded capacity to lead. His Ph.D. in American political history from MIT grants him a more nuanced perspective on statewide and even federal political processes. Moreover, the time he invests in his community, by holding leadership positions on the York County United Way, the York Chamber of Commerce and board of trustees of York College, testifies to an extensive career in public service and administration.

Counterpoint: While Wolf successfully saved Wolf Organization from termination, it was his poor business manner that put the company at bankruptcy’s doorstep. In 2006, Wolf reduced his management role in the company and sold a large part of the company to a non-disclosed party. Three years later, he returned his attention to his business, heavily investing his personal finances into reviving the company. Still, the company is not thriving like it once did — an investment from Weston Presidio in Wolf’s company in 2013 of $41 million is now worth only $22 million. 

Furthermore, in order to finance his campaign for governor, Wolf took out a private loan of $4.45 million and pledged his home, car and, shockingly, his shares at Wolf Organization. Fellow democratic supporters are skeptical of Wolf’s ability to pay back the loan and worry what consequences such financial debt might have during his term if he were to be elected governor. 

Yet, in 2009, Wolf abandoned plans to run for governor of Pennsylvania in order to save his company. This raises many questions: What is Wolf’s priority — Pennsylvania or his company? What would Wolf do if, during his term as governor, his company neared bankruptcy again? 

Closing Wolf: Corbett won the governor’s office in 2010 in the wake of state-wide political scandal “Bonusgate,” which he worked against as attorney general. But over the past four years, Corbett has faced only scandal after scandal. He has received national attention only for his dismal failures, from his string of policies deemed unconstitutional to his inexplicable lawsuit against the NCAA in the wake of the Penn State scandal. As voters, we have no reasonable choice but to elect a challenger as competent in administration and public policy as Wolf. As college students, we have an obligation to oppose a Governor whose abandonment of education funding has not only affected our tuition bills, but also the nursing and guidance staff of already under-funded public schools. Those public school children cannot vote. Unfortunately for Mr. Corbett, we can. 

Closing Corbett: It is impossible to judge what policies Wolf will implement if he is elected governor, because he holds no former positions in politics, law or any other related activity that would remotely prepare him for Pennsylvania’s most important political position. But we have observed his unprosperous business practice, his superficial dedication to politics and his unusual — if not questionable and hazardous — self-financed campaign. Wolf is a risky candidate at best, but at worst he will place Pennsylvania next to this country on the conveyor belt of debt and poverty. 

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