Corbett shakeup par for the course

Despite some evidence to the contrary, it’s unlikely that time is running out on Tom Corbett’s tenure as governor. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Despite some evidence to the contrary, it’s unlikely that time is running out on Tom Corbett’s tenure as governor. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: May 31, 2012

A reboot of the Corbett administration amid concerns the Guv’s politically at sea, unable to lead and facing the prospect of becoming a "one-term Tom" is really just a replay of a long-standing Harrisburg tradition.

Every first-term governor of the last quarter-century had a rough start in the Capital City. First year, first two years, all of them hit storms.

That’s because running a campaign is different from governing and because the Legislature, such as it is, is an equal branch that’s not shy about reminding every new incumbent of that constitutional fact.

So Corbett’s replacing chief of staff Bill Ward (who Tuesday was officially announced as a nominated Allegheny County judge) with former Saul Ewing honcho Steve Aichele (who was the Guv’s general counsel and whose wife, Carol, is a Corbett Cabinet member).

And a group of political advisors was to the meet with the Guv Tuesday to urge (fill in the blank) image improvement; getting along with the Legislature; more personal leadership on policy; and fewer flubs such as advising women opposed to ultrasounds prior to seeking abortions to just "close your eyes."

Yes, there’s grousing that "Old Blue Eyes" has nothing to offer but his no-tax pledge. And, yeah, there’s evidence of a management mess.

The Republican Senate, for example, simply ignored his budget proposal and passed its own version; Corbett simply ignored his own transportation commission’s advice on fixing roads and bridges.

Plus, conservatives are irked that Corbett hasn’t pushed harder for school vouchers and for the sale of state stores.

(The unmet expectations of friends often produce more criticism than the animus of enemies.)

Still, at this stage in his tenure, Corbett’s position looks familiar, even par for the course. And it doesn’t matter which party.

Democratic Gov. Casey early in his term was charged with not being prepared to govern and was roundly criticized by legislative leaders of both parties for not getting along with the Legislature (even after his first budget in 1987 gave lawmakers a $12,000 raise, making them the highest-paid in the nation).

Casey won re-election three years later with 68 percent of the vote.

Republican Gov. Ridge blew a big deal with giant German shipbuilder Meyer Werft to bring jobs to Philly’s Naval Shipyard and, in his first year, gave lawmakers another raise after saying as a candidate he would not.

He was dubbed "One-term Tom" — bumper stickers and everything.

Three years later he beat Democrat Ivan Itkin by 26 points.

Ed Rendell couldn’t get budgets passed, drew bile from legislative leaders he called "cowards" (some of them called him worse) and was re-elected with 60 percent of the vote.

By the way, all these governors raised taxes.

Point is, there is nothing in recent state political history to suggest that a sluggish start by a chief executive endangers re-election.

And, ironically, the only incumbent in 30 years with a close re-election margin was Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh, who had a good first year due largely to his nationally noted deft handling of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

Yet he won re-election in 1982 by just 2.6 percentage points.

Voters have short memories. Elective politics are windows that open onto moments. What seems troublesome for the incumbent today could be a distant memory by fall 2014.

And stuff that bothers the keepers of Harrisburg’s political culture rarely registers with the statewide electorate.

What Team Corbett is doing now was done by preceding administrations, whether it involves staff changes, more focused management or getting used to the arcane ways of the Capitol.

It doesn’t portend anything — other than the ongoing predictability of Pennsylvania politics.

For recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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