With his popularity about the same as a hairy wart, Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.) had to make some critical changes in his administration if he has any hope of winning a second term in 2014.
There are many things he could have done.
He could have increased funding to education. Shortly after he took office, he slashed educational funding, including half the budget of the 14 state-owned universities. But he decided education wasn’t all that important.
He could have restored some of the budget to child care services, programs for the disabled, and the state parks and forests. But, he didn’t do that.
Tom Corbett could have made his statement for austerity by reducing his out-of-state travel, which included trips to Chile, Brazil, France, and Germany. But, he didn’t do that either.
He didn’t have to buy a $265,000 vacation condo in Hilton Head, South Carolina. That got him a double dose of stupid. First, he has been taking the media on state-sponsored trips all over Pennsylvania to show how great a state it is, and what a wonderful place it is to vacation. And then, as if buying a vacation home in South Carolina while governor wasn’t bad enough, he just happened to forget to include that in his annual Code of Conduct statement. That Code, begun under the governorship of Dick Thornburgh, requires all members of the executive branch to disclose all real estate holdings, with the exception of the primary residence.
Not long after becoming governor, he announced he wanted to privatize just about everything—the turnpike, liquor stores, and even the lottery, leading the people to wonder why he became governor if his wish was to eliminate government. Alas, he found that he couldn’t even convince his own Republican legislature to follow his path. As for the lottery, a Franklin & Marshall poll revealed that only 18 percent of the voters thought the lottery should be run by a private company, especially the foreign-owned company he had hand-picked.
He could have saved the state at least $500,000 if he didn’t sue the NCAA to overturn the sanctions against Penn State. He may have believed that since he was on the Penn State board of trustees he had standing to sue. Alas, the former attorney general—under whose watch the crimes were committed, but Jerry Sandusky wasn’t arrested—probably just had a slight “mental lapse.” Penn State, in spite of its name, is not a Pennsylvania state-owned university, but a private university. Nevertheless, Corbett’s attempt to placate outraged Penn State fans, most of whom seemed to throw scorn his way for how he failed to prosecute Sandusky and who manipulated the firing of Joe Paterno, became nothing less than an embarrassment when a federal court threw out his suit even before it got to the discovery phase. In doing so, Corbett single-handedly made the NCAA look like a sympathetic figure.
There’s also a lot he didn’t have to say, but did.
He didn’t have to say that he had no Latinos on his staff, and then suggest, “If you can find us one, please let me know.” For the record, Governor, there are 800,000 Latinos living in Pennsylvania, and none are hiding in caves.
In support of proposed legislation that would have required all women undergoing abortions, even if they are to save her life, he didn’t have to support a demand that physicians run invasive tests and then be required to tell women the results; for the women, who had no desire to see the ultrasound, he dismissed their concerns as, “You just have to close your eyes.”
He didn’t have to say the reason why there was unemployment was that employers had trouble finding workers who could pass a drug test. Of course, that sound bite, with no evidence, could have been designed to cover up the reality that when Corbett took office, the state ranked seventh in job creation. This year, it’s in 49th place.
He didn’t have to be the gas industry’s cheerleader by claiming there were 240,000 new jobs because the gas industry came to frack the state. The only problem with his numbers is that it is about 10 times more than reality, according to the Keystone Research Center.
With all the cuts to social services, he didn’t have to alienate the people by extending a $1.65 billion tax credit to a foreign company, Royal Dutch Shell, which owns or leases almost one million Pennsylvania acres, and is already the world’s leading corporation in terms of profits. Corbett may have believed extending that huge tax credit was good business, and would spur job creation and the economy. But, there is another probability for his generosity—one of Corbett’s largest campaign contributors is billionaire Terrence Pegula who sold his company to Royal Dutch Shell in 2010 for $4.7 billion.
Tom Corbett could have restored the $2 million that was originally budgeted for public health education and studies of the effects of fracking—but which he cancelled entirely. But, obviously, he didn’t think studying the health effects from fracking was worth alienating the oil and gas industry. That would be the same industry that had given him about $1.8 million in campaign contributions.
Yes, there is a lot that Tom Corbett could have done to improve his popularity. But, what he did was to shuffle his top advisors and change his public relations staff, a couple of whom went directly into PR agencies, where they represent the oil and gas industry.
There is a basic principle of PR: Sell the Sizzle Not the Bacon.
In Tom Corbett’s case, the sizzle has already fizzled—and the bacon has now shrunk to about 30 percent of what it once was.
Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster, an in-depth analysis of the effects of fracking upon public health, the environment, worker safety, and agriculture. Dr. Brasch also investigates the history of energy policies in the U.S. and the relationships between the energy companies and politicians at local, state, and federal levels.