Penn State alumni resentment hangs over Corbett

Gov. Corbett has been facing an uphill fight for reelection in the fall. In the primary, an unusually high number of voters in the county that is home to Penn State wrote in candidates.
Gov. Corbett has been facing an uphill fight for reelection in the fall. In the primary, an unusually high number of voters in the county that is home to Penn State wrote in candidates. (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press)
Posted: June 26, 2014

For more than two years, Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane hounded Gov. Corbett with the suggestion that he slowed the Sandusky child sex-abuse investigation for political gain when he was the state's top law enforcement official.

Yet when Kane released a report Monday that concluded there was no evidence of that, Corbett stayed silent. There was no I-told-you-so news conference, just a muted statement from the governor's office.

Corbett's advisers calculated that neither the report nor any response he might make would change minds on the emotionally charged issues surrounding Pennsylvania State University, where Jerry Sandusky was an assistant football coach and founder of a charity for wayward boys.

Corbett, who is in an uphill campaign for reelection this year, faces a bigger Penn State problem than whatever happened in the Sandusky investigation begun by his office in 2009 when he was attorney general, several Republican strategists and other analysts said Tuesday.

Anger still burns among some PSU alumni over Corbett's role, as governor and a member of the school's board of trustees, in firing legendary football coach Joe Paterno after Sandusky was arrested in November 2011.

Corbett at the time also publicly backed the NCAA sanctions imposed on the university, including limits on football scholarships and the erasure of 111 of Paterno's 409 victories, the most ever for a coach, from the record books.

"The Kane report doesn't cause more bleeding, but it doesn't heal past wounds for those who are angry at him for how he treated the university in the aftermath," said Christopher Borick, a pollster based at Muhlenberg College.

"A lot of Penn State people feel he was heavy-handed and kicked him when they were down, piling on and gloating over the Paterno decision," Borick said.

Paterno died shortly after he was fired, leading some alumni to accuse Corbett of being "complicit" in the coach's death, as one GOP strategist put it.

"Tom Corbett could cure cancer and the 'Joe-bots' would blame him for something," the strategist said.

While Corbett himself stayed on a gubernatorial plane - he praised the professionalism of Kane's report and defended the work of his investigators and lawyers - Republican state Chairman Rob Gleason hit Kane.

"Kathleen Kane used a terrible and horrific tragedy to smear Tom Corbett and professional prosecutors to advance her own political ambitions," Gleason said.

Kane's promise to investigate the investigation was critical to her 2012 election, when she won more votes in Pennsylvania than President Obama. She had suggested that Corbett was influenced to slow the probe because he was running for governor and had received contributions from supporters of Sandusky's charity, the Second Mile.

The report's author, H. Geoffrey Moulton, rejected those possibilities, though his report said there were some unnecessary delays in parts of the investigation.

For Corbett, "it didn't do any additional damage and it didn't help him much," said Mike Mikus, the Democratic strategist who ran Katie McGinty's primary campaign.

"The report said there was no proof of politics, but it also said some aspects of the case were mishandled - so at best it's a push," Mikus added.

Borick said it is difficult to assess how deep or harmful the Penn State resistance to Corbett might be.

GOP officials were stunned after the May 20 primary, however, by the unusually high number of write-ins for governor in the primary in Centre County, which Corbett won handily in the 2010 election.

In that county, home of the PSU main campus, just over 8,000 Republican voters turned out to vote May 20 - and 1,144 of them (or about 14 percent) wrote in a candidate other than Corbett for governor.

That was widely interpreted as disapproval of the governor for his handling of Penn State.


tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718

@tomfitzgerald

www.inquirer.com/bigtent

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