Spitzer takes on the health care lawsuit

Add another voice to the chorus of Democrats criticizing the health care lawsuit Attorney General Tom Corbett signed onto last week: nformer New York Governor (and AG) Eliot Spitzer.

Writing at Slate, Spitzer predicts the “odds this suit will succeed are marginal.” He argues the federal government is well within its bounds to mandate health insurance purchases. “Health care and health insurance, after all, are quintessential examples of interstate commerce. Moreover, although the attorneys general may not appreciate the modifications made by Congress to Medicaid coverage, Medicaid is still a voluntary program; states can opt out. For a court to invalidate either of these two central prongs of the statute, it would have to reverse jurisprudence that predates the New Deal.”

Another candidates’ debate

UPDATE: Here’s my radio report on tonight’s reform debate. See below for a link to a PLS live forum I took part in during the event.

By and large, all six candidates for governor spoke from the same page last night during a Harrisburg forum focused on reform issues.

Scott Detrow reports from the state Capitol.

I’ll be taking part in a live forum about tonight’s gubernatorial debate over at “FYI by PLS.” You can read that here — and be sure to check back  for more coverage later tonight.

Politics as Usual: campaigns and TMI

(That would be too much information, not Three Mile Island.)

Is Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial campaign finally up and running? That appears to be the case. In today’s Politics as Usual, we dig into Dan Onorato’s new ad, candidates starting to take shots at each other, and Tom Corbett’s health care lawsuit, which continues to command attention.

And in drops of knowledge, we reveal just how much these races have taken over our lives.

Listen here!

GOP candidates face the 9/12ers

Jim Thorpe — Sitting in front of a three-story tall American flag at a mountaintop Carbon County concert venue, Tom Corbett and Sam Rohrer made their case to a group of 9/12ers tonight. As sleet and snow fell outside of Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, about 200 conservative grassroots activists sat and listened to the two Republicans, who were joined by Hazleton Mayor and Congressional candidate Lou Barletta, as well as lieutenant governor hopeful Steve Urban.

Corbett’s anti-health care lawsuit dominated the early portion of the forum. Corbett insisted, once again, that the suit isn’t politically motivated. “What we are doing is protecting the individual’s right to choose,” he said. “The individual’s right, in this case, to do nothing. Not to engage in commerce.” Afterward, Corbett told reporters he would stop discussing the lawsuit if Democrats halt their partisan attacks on the motion.

But Corbett spent much of his opening statement talking about the matter, and he singled out the legal challenge when a questioner asked how he’d respond to overreaching by the federal government.

An unusually fiery Rohrer backed Corbett’s decision to join the effort.

Rohrer was clearly playing on his home turf tonight. (More on that tomorrow.) He received round after round of applause from the audience, especially when he laid out his signature effort to eliminate Pennsylvania’s property tax. He says the levy is simply unconstitutional.

Corbett pushed back on the issue, saying Rohrer’s plan to fund school districts with Marcellus Shale royalties, gambling revenue and a broadened sales tax base wouldn’t be able to pass the General Assembly. He also questioned whether Rohrer’s math added up. Corbett called property taxes a serious issue, and promised to look into the matter, but Rohrer said that isn’t enough.

Rohrer momentarily lost his footing at the end of the forum, when a questioner brought up the 2005 pay raise, and asked whether it was “legally or morally right” for lawmakers to vote for it and take the hike. Rohrer, who voted for the pay increase, skirted the answer. “For me, on that issue, I said the taking of it is unconstitutional and immoral,” he explained. “I think I was one of few members who didn’t take it. The court said it was ok. All the members had to deal with that appropriately.”

Corbett alluded to Rohrer’s pro-pay raise vote at the beginning of his answer, calling it “the big elephant in the middle of the room.” But he didn’t specifically tell the audience his opponent voted “yes,” or Rohrer after he failed to bring up the vote himself. Corbett did bring it up when talking to reporters after the session, though.

Rohrer has said he committed to supporting the pay raise before he realized the full scope of the measure, and that he regrets the vote.

I’ll have more on the 9/12er forum – specifically the audience’s reaction to Corbett and Rohrer – tomorrow.

TV Time (updated)

Time and time again, Pennsylvania’s political pundits have said this year’s gubernatorial campaign won’t really start until candidates are running ads on television. According to PA1010, that phase starts today.

The website reports Dan Onorato has made a “heavy” advertising purchase. That makes him the first gubernatorial candidate to take to the airwaves. And considering Onorato’s heavy financial advantage over the other Democrats, we can assume it will be a few more weeks before his primary opponents join him on TV.

Poll after poll after poll has shown the gubernatorial candidates — especially the Democrats — are virtually unknown to the state’s voters. TV ads are the most efficient way of driving those numbers up, and increasing name ID.

UPDATE: Here’s one of the spots:

Hoeffel on the attack

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel got a bit chippy during a mid-morning Capitol press conference. His first target: Attorney General Tom Corbett, who Hoeffel says is only joining the anti-health care reform lawsuit to score political points with conservative Republican voters — or as Hoeffel puts it, “teabagging tea partiers.”

Corbett’s campaign recently sent out a fund-raising mailer touting the lawsuit as proof the A-G “is working to stop the federal government from threatening individual liberties by imposing this mandate.” Hoeffel says that’s evidence of the Republican front-runner’s real motivations.

Hoeffel has tried to stake himself out as the liberal candidate in the race. He supports a graduated income tax, less abortion restrictions, legalized gay marriage and a host of other traditionally liberal policies. If the strategy is going to work, Hoeffel will need strong support from the Philadelphia suburbs on May 18th. To that end, many view Senator Anthony Williams’ campaign as a real threat to Hoeffel. So I took note when the commissioner took aim at Williams’ platform during an answer about education funding.

It’s one of the first times I’ve heard a Democratic gubernatorial candidate “go negative” about one of his primary opponents. Time and time again, the four Democrats have failed to offer clear policy distinctions during their joint forums or solo press appearances. (This is a clear contrast to the Senate race, where Arlen Specter, Joe Sestak and Pat Toomey are blasting out negative emails on a near-hourly basis.)

For his part, Williams says he isn’t worried his pro-vouchers stance turn off Democratic voters. In fact, Williams says he’ll make an issue of calling out his opponents for what he considers to be inconsistent views.

All six candidates will take part in a forum Wednesday night. It will be interesting to see whether Hoeffel continues to play offense in that setting.

Another Veon mistrial motion, and other #bonusgate news

The long-running trial of former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon and three one-time aides may not be done yet.

On Monday, Veon, Brett Cott and Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink were convicted for doing campaign work on state time. But the next day, a juror wrote a (since-deleted) blog post detailing how he and other panelists took an unauthorized field trip to the state Capitol, in order to scope out the scene of the crimes.

That raised a red flag for Perretta-Rosepink’s lawyer, Michael Palermo. He’s filed a motion for mistrial.

Palermo says the trip may have been innocent, but he wants Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis to call the jury back to ask about it.

This is Palermo’s second mistrial motion. The first one — based on Judge Lewis swapping in an alternate for a sick juror and then restarting deliberations — was rejected. A spokesman for Attorney General Tom Corbett says he’s confident the verdicts will be upheld.

And in other #bonusgate  news, the attorney for Steven Stetler and Brett Feese is now calling for an investigation into whether Corbett is doing just as much state-funded campaigning as the people he’s charged. Earlier this week, I asked Corbett how lawmakers running for office should draw the line between their official duties and their campaign efforts.

Stetler’s  preliminary hearing was initially scheduled for this morning, but that court date has been postponed.

Here’s the mistrial motion: