Corbett's hard medicine could use some sugar

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The moderator of a roundtable discussion televised earlier this year asked three panelists -- all from the news and opinion field -- to pinpoint a reason for Gov. Tom Corbett's low approval ratings.

A left-wing blogger cited the governor's supposed support for the "transvaginal ultrasound" -- an invasive procedure that a bill proposed in early 2012 would have made, in practice, mandatory for women seeking an abortion very early in a pregnancy.

Gazing in a very different direction, a local reporter dared to question the fickle public: The governor had promised during his campaign to slash state spending and produce a share-the-pain budget without raising taxes, and he's done exactly what they elected him to do. Shouldn't they be pleased, rather than showering him with disapproval?

Combine both of those men's observations and you're on to something. As the governor's poll numbers continued to drop and as activists agitated for followers to name him their "March Badness" winner, an old New York magazine article -- "The Repo Republicans" -- comes back to mind.

Watching Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger take a star turn on the GOP's 2004 convention stage, writer Andrew Ferguson wondered how "overwhelmingly Democratic" constituencies could elect these Republicans. His conclusion: desperation.

In the New York of 1993, after 20 years of Democratic mayors, "matters had disintegrated so thoroughly, and the usual remedies had failed so utterly that there was nothing left to be tried. The city elected a Republican."

Ditto for California and its new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In short, when the Dems' drain-the-coffers partying is over, call in a Republican to clean up the mess.

Isn't that what Pennsylvania did in 2010?

Slick, shameless Ed Rendell had spent the state into disaster. Sure, he had plenty of help from a Legislature that couldn't pass a budget, probably because its members -- from both parties -- were otherwise occupied, first feathering their own nests and those of state employees, then later giving testimony in various and sundry trials for rampant public corruption.

It was Attorney General Tom Corbett who led the prosecution of our criminal Legislature, so naturally, when Mr. Rendell's tenure limped to a conclusion through the onset of the Great Recession, voters invited Mr. Corbett to continue cleaning up.

He has done so. But really, who loves a repo man? Especially one whose good timing ends on Election Day and who apparently employs no public relations team.

If you're the guy administering our bitter medicine, a spoonful of sugar would come in handy. The devil -- or re-election -- is in such details.

Though not particularly well-liked prior to 9/11, Mayor Giuliani won a second term -- perhaps because New York City floated high on the late '90s Internet bubble even as the end of the crack cocaine epidemic brought dramatically lower crime rates.

Mr. Corbett's timing doesn't look so fortuitous: While Pennsylvania's economy stumbles along with the rest of the country, the pro-fracking administration hasn't managed to get any praise for Marcellus Shale revenues -- probably because early and ecstatic profit predictions were undercut by the ensuing oversupply.

If the economic picture were rosier, Mr. Corbett could probably survive gaffes like his comments about transvaginal ultrasounds. Asked in March 2012 whether requiring a woman to watch an ultrasound of the fetus she wishes to abort is going too far, the governor said: "You can't make anybody watch, OK? Because you just have to close your eyes. As long as it's on the exterior and not the interior."

Clearly the governor wasn't familiar enough with the legislation to know its particulars, but just as clearly, he doesn't support invasive procedures -- a fact his opponents have intentionally misrepresented. Their yearlong effort to keep his comment alive -- long after the legislation's, uh, aborted fate -- has produced results in his national "March Badness" win. (Quite a gestation!)

Mr. Corbett might also survive if he had more friends in his own party, but his largely even-handed crackdown on Harrisburg corruption alienated the GOP's self-serving old guard.

So with 2014 right around the corner, Democrats see Mr. Corbett as low-hanging fruit. They're hungry for a possible win in an off-year -- one in which Democrats can otherwise expect to do quite poorly (a reprise of 2010's disaster).

Mr. Corbett's loss might be the best thing for his party's long-term interests -- and his own. Despite his stringent fiscal stewardship, pensions are on track for a train wreck. Now 4.2 percent of the budget, the state's Independent Fiscal Office estimates they will consume 9.6 percent by 2017, bringing either a surge in debt or more of those draconian budget cuts.

Should this happen on a Democrat's watch, the electorate may find themselves in need of ... another repo man.


Ruth Ann Dailey:


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