Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Corbett and the court of opinion
There's irony here.
Tom Corbett, who ascended to the governorship on the wings of law and justice, faces the prospect of law-and-justice issues clipping his re-election odds.
At least a half dozen legal snarls set to unfold in coming months can put the governor on the wrong side of stuff with real political impact.
And when I say "wrong side," I don't mean legally. I mean, excuse the word, optically -- what it looks like and how it plays as he seeks a second term.
The issues are Corbett-generated. They'll attract attention, and, win or lose, help define the guv's time in office.
Let's count the ways.
·Commonwealth Court last week ruled that Corbett was wrong to cut basic health care to tens of thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians in 2011.
If the administration appeals, picture a headline, "Corbett Fights Court on Helping Poor."
This dovetails with his, so far, refusal to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act even as other conservative Republicans (Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Florida Gov. Rick Scott) embrace it. Sticking to his guns burnishes a far-right, uncaring image at a critical time in his tenure.
n His lawsuit against the NCAA over Penn State sanctions from the Sandusky scandal could be tossed out of federal court -- embarrassing for a former attorney general.
But even if legal standing is granted, there'll be big tax-dollar payouts to outside counsel (mega-firm Cozen O'Connor) and a rehash of charges that the suit's intent is to gain favor with Penn State's alumni/fan base.
n Corbett's unpopular plan to outsource lottery management to the Brits already has been rejected by Attorney General Kathleen Kane. It now sits in limbo but could end badly in two ways: If he drops it, he looks bumbling; if he retools the contract, which presumably means rebidding it, he keeps the issue in the news.
n The state's controversial voter-ID law, suspended for last year's election and this year's primary, goes to trial in July.
Even if Kane defends the law (she opposed it as a candidate and has authority to opt out), the agency charged with implementation, the Department of State, will be represented by lawyers for Corbett.
If it's overturned, he looks inept and/or is forced to appeal. If it's upheld, then appealed, it drags into 2014, handing Democrats a hammer, and minority and urban voters a reason to turn out.
n A right-to-know decision is expected soon in a Commonwealth Court case in which the Associated Press seeks greater transparency from Corbett, something he pledged as a candidate. Fighting transparency plays badly enough. Losing the fight plays worse.
n The state Supreme Court is considering a case with huge impact in western Pennsylvania: Corbett's appeal of a lower-court ruling that preserves local-government authority in zoning and regulating gas drilling.
A loss would affect an industry Corbett pushes, and potentially the construction of a Shell ethane-cracker plant near Pittsburgh for which Corbett's offering $1.6 billion in tax credits.
These cases -- not to mention likely litigation tied to attempts to alter state pensions or privatize booze -- draw attention to Corbett on hot-button issues touching poor people, Penn State, state workers, voting rights, government transparency and drilling.
They resurface as the governor faces record-low approval and an ethics complaint about gifts from lobbyists and business leaders.
I believe in incumbent advantage, especially in a state that re-elects every governor who runs for re-election. I believe Corbett gets an edge by running in a non-presidential year when turnout should be low.
But Corbett's painting himself into a political corner.
He once said, "Let's make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural-gas boom."
He's now making himself the Rick Perry of Pennsylvania.