Corbett again sees fault among jobless

Gov. Tom Corbett addresses a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Gov. Tom Corbett addresses a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (AP)
Posted: May 02, 2013

HARRISBURG - In the heat of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Republican candidate Tom Corbett stirred controversy, and fodder for Democrats, by saying many jobless people "are just going to sit there" and not seek work until their unemployment benefits ran out.

Now, midway through his first term and positioning himself to run for a second, Gov. Corbett is taking renewed heat for quoting employers as saying they "can't find anybody that ... has passed a drug test."

In a monthly "Ask the Governor" program, taped Monday by the website PAMatters.com, Corbett defended his economic strategy and disputed a study ranking the state 49th in job creation - and once again suggested that some of the unemployed create their own problems.

As he did in the 2010 radio interview, Corbett said his comments were based on what employers had told him.

"There are many employers that say, you know, we are looking for people, but we can't find anybody that, that has passed a drug test, a lot of them, and that's a concern for me because we're having a serious problem with that," he said Monday.

The leader of a business trade group said many employers do have that complaint. But G. Terry Madonna, political analyst at Franklin and Marshall College, said the remarks were sure to give ammunition to those seeking to topple Corbett in 2014. "The Democrats will be unmerciful on this," he said.

Indeed, the Democratic political machine was quick to pounce.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, who is running for Corbett's job, issued a statement through campaign spokeswoman Reesa Kossoff saying, "Gov. Corbett's response to his own failed leadership on the economy shifts between making excuses and blaming and insulting the people of Pennsylvania."

State Treasurer Rob McCord - who is considered a likely candidate but who has not announced his intentions - called it "the typical blame game from someone who doesn't understand the economy."

Corbett spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said the governor had heard complaints about the drug-test issue "repeatedly" from business people. She said the secretary of labor had heard similar complaints, and suggested a reporter contact business groups.

Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said Corbett was probably hearing from the group's members, who number in the thousands. Barr said failure to pass the tests is one of the more common comments he hears.

"The substance issues are definitely a problem in Pennsylvania," he said. "It's especially an issue when you have [employers with] zero tolerance on drug and alcohol use, like in the natural gas industry."

Democrats have pointed to Pennsylvania's ranking of 49th - ahead only of Wyoming - in job growth in March, according to data compiled by Arizona State University. While unemployment fell two-tenths of a percent to 7.9 percent in March, it remained above the national figure of 7.6 percent.

Corbett, in the interview, said the state had added 110,000 jobs since he took office and that investments were being made in training for "the jobs of the 21st century," particularly in the natural gas industry.

One analyst said the remarks about drug tests might undercut that message.

"It's another misstep that layers him with an impression of insensitivity," said Christopher Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. "Politics is often about people feeling a relationship with their chief executives, expecting empathy and understanding for what they're going through. For many Pennsylvanians, when they hear comments like this, it's the exact opposite."


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Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

Inquirer politics writer Thomas Fitzgerald contributed to this article.

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