Karen Heller: Corbett's finally talking - but not telling us anything

Gov. Corbett, who recently spoke to Pa.'s "titans of industry" but declined to reveal details to the taxpayers.
Gov. Corbett, who recently spoke to Pa.'s "titans of industry" but declined to reveal details to the taxpayers. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: December 13, 2012

Pennsylvania's governor, Tom Corbett, shared a gin and tonic, and a cigar, last weekend with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

"It was just serendipity," Corbett said of his moment at the Pennsylvania Society confab, the annual Manhattan debutante ball for political swelled heads and the swelled checkbooks that help elect them. "And the funny thing is, I almost said no."

Except it's not funny. It's so Corbett.

Two years into his gig, Corbett - the man I frequently called Gov. Garbo (trademark pending) - is finally talking.

On the down side, he's not saying anything. At least to the little people, the taxpayers.

"In a speech light on details Monday, Gov. Corbett presented a broad outline of his agenda for 2013," The Inquirer's Amy Worden wrote recently, a phrase that might begin any story about the man on any given day.

This month, Corbett met with a group of reporters and revealed . . . nothing, truly a Seinfeld moment, except that he continued to plight his troth to Grover Norquist.

"Gov. Corbett says he doesn't see a strong will to make Pennsylvania a right-to-work state," the Associated Press reported this week, but "did not say whether he would support such a bill if it reached his desk." NewsWorks' headline: "Corbett mum on stance on law."

Mum's his word. Well, depending on who's listening. "Do Pennsylvania's leading business groups know something the rest of us don't?" Worden wrote after Corbett had a Metropolitan Club breakfast with members of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association or, as they humbly put it, "titans of industry." Afterward, business associations announced Corbett's "commitment to comprehensive transportation and transit funding." Publicly, Corbett declined to offer details, choosing to wait until his February budget address after the legislature's two-month paid holiday: "I don't want to scoop myself." No danger there.

This is pure arrogance, to suggest specifics to wealth and power behind closed doors, yet offer nothing to the people.

There's a long list of possible Democrats mulling a 2014 run against Corbett. Good luck with that. Corbett, as opaque as he is, remains the darling of business, certainly the energy industry, offering tax breaks and breakfasts to the 1 percenters.

This is the same governor who tried to block an Associated Press reporter's February 2011 request to the state's open-records law regarding his schedule and e-mails. After the Office of Open Records sided with reporter Mark Scolforo's request, saying that most of the information merited release, the governor's office sued him individually, not the AP. The world's largest news organization is representing Scolforo, but imagine if he had been an independent reporter or worked for a less-robust operation.

The Corbett administration has denied access to resumes of cabinet secretaries, and to office e-mail addresses and phone numbers of government employees. As Terry Mutchler, director of the Office of Open Records, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News: "When you take a look at the cases that have come to us and were decided by us and the court at this juncture, it does raise a question about [the Corbett administration's] commitment to openness."

Students of irony, please note that in the wake of the Penn State scandal earlier this year, Corbett demanded that if the university wanted taxpayer funding, it should comply with the open-records law's disclosure requirements.

Two years ago, on a gray January morning, Corbett pledged "a new chapter in Pennsylvania's history. ... We must act to renew the people's trust in government. We must restore transparency."

How's that going?


Contact Karen Heller

at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter at @kheller.

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