Corbett wins: New governorlikely to follow Christie example

Democratic candidate Dan Onorato hugs supporters after conceding the election to Tom Corbett.
Democratic candidate Dan Onorato hugs supporters after conceding the election to Tom Corbett.
Posted: November 03, 2010

STATE ATTORNEY General Tom Corbett defeated Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato last night to become the next governor of Pennsylvania.

Corbett last night vowed to immediately tackle serious problems with the state budget and the public employee pension system while making Pennsylvania more attractive for business.

"I will be working closely, with the House and the Senate, the Republicans and Democrats, to make that new Pennsylvania move forward and make Pennsylvania number one," Corbett told a cheering crowd in Pittsburgh. "We will provide the courage to make the very tough decisions on the challenges we face about our economy and our pensions."

Corbett takes office in January, confronting a budget deficit that could be as much as $5 billion and a General Assembly not exactly known to embrace change.

So what will Corbett do now?

"Look across the river," Corbett told his supporters.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a fellow Republican, has in his first year run a political playbook that has stunned the home-state status-quo crowd while drawing adoration from conservatives across the country.

Corbett, who won with a 9-point margin with 99 percent of the vote tallied, last night called Christie his "role model" in how to move forward.

Christie has slashed spending, presented the state Legislature with a package of ethics legislation, proposed a cap on pay increases for public employees and ordered the halt on a multibillion- dollar rail tunnel to New York.

The question now: Can Corbett copy Christie's swift record of accomplishments?

Corbett likely won't be able to duplicate the public bombast that has helped propel Christie to national status.

Gaffe-prone Corbett has the capacity to offend when speaking off the cuff, but usually follows with a defense that he was misunderstood or taken out of context.

Christie relishes verbal combat and his comments tend to hit targets entirely on purpose.

Part of Corbett's success this year came from tying Onorato to Gov. Rendell and tagging the Democrats as too eager to spend to solve problems. Corbett repeatedly touted the pledge he signed to raise no state taxes.

While politically popular, the pledge struck some members of Corbett's own party in the Legislature as questionable, considering the looming deficit.

Corbett can spend a year to 18 months blaming Rendell for the fiscal problems but, as President Obama found out, blaming the last guy lasts only so long.

Former Gov. Tom Ridge, who endorsed Corbett last year, may have opened up a way out for the next governor last week.

Ridge, a paid adviser for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said a tax on drilling for the massive reserve of natural gas that spans most of the state will not hurt the gas industry or state taxpayers.

Corbett has refused to consider such a tax, even though every state with significant gas drilling imposes one. Onorato said he would sign into a law a tax but would limit use of the money to environmental regulation, infrastructure improvement in drilling areas and land preservation.

Ridge's recent candor on a tax could signal a chance for Corbett to approve it while saying the General Assembly and gas industry both support the measure.

Corbett and Christie are both former U.S. attorneys who know how to play prosecutor in search of a political villain.

Christie, in one of many campaign stops for Corbett last month, said he had "really started to turn things around" in New Jersey after nine months and was sure his fellow Republican could do the same in Pennsylvania.

Corbett used his prosecutor's post for professional and political gain, running high-profile investigations into corruption in the Legislature.

But while Corbett may crib from Christie, there is at least one key difference. Corbett will not have a political foil that Christie has exploited so far, a state Legislature controlled by the other political party.

Republicans were poised to retake the state House last night and already control the state Senate. That will mean Corbett will have to force reform on members of his own political party.

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