Politically Uncorrected

Terry Madonna and Michael Young think there’s an epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease among Pennsylvania’s politicians, and they’re concerned it’s spreading. Below, their latest “Politically Uncorrected” column.

Politically Uncorrected

By G. Terry Madonna & Michael L. Young


Somebody needs to check Pennsylvania’s water supply. Perhaps it’s something those guys are drinking, or maybe smoking, that explains the faux pas outbreak spreading in the Keystone State. Either way, it’s threatening to become a serious epidemic.

First, Attorney General Tom Corbett, considered by many experts to be governor-in-waiting, recorded one of the truly boneheaded moments of the political season by trying to subpoena Twitter records in a legal showdown with a convicted Bonusgate defendant. This well-aimed shot to his own foot needlessly portrayed him as an enemy of the First Amendment.

Then, for an encore, he opined in an interview to a public radio reporter that Pennsylvania’s unemployed just weren’t looking for jobs hard enough because their juicy unemployment benefits kept them fat and happy.

These two gems, you might imagine, didn’t make anyone very happy. An embarrassed and uncharacteristically quiet Corbett quickly beat a strategic retreat, presumably seeking treatment for the foot-in-mouth disease he had recently contracted.

Almost on cue, Corbett’s backtrack came barely in time for incumbent Governor Ed Rendell to take center stage with a dazzling display of his own verbal maladroitness.

Rendell, always the consummate politician, is apparently concerned about keeping a bipartisan balance in Harrisburg. The governor doesn’t want anyone to think that only Republicans have dumb and dangerous ideas to proffer. Indeed, Democrats can hold their own in that category very well.

And here’s the proof if you doubt it. Rendell would like to mount cameras along highways to photograph license plates and compare the numbers against a database that would verify whether the driver has insurance. In short, he proposes that the state should monitor with cameras every driver out on Pennsylvania’s roads in case they’re doing something nefarious.

Not, you will note, because drivers have done something wrong or because there is a reasonable suspicion of wrong doing, but just in case. Is there an extra copy of George Orwell’s 1984 for the governor to peruse? Or maybe just a copy of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would do.

You will be relieved to know that strictly speaking Rendell’s plan is not a law enforcement proposal designed to get dangerous or financially irresponsible drivers off the roads. Allegedly Penn Dot and the state police are doing that already.

Instead, Rendell’s modern-day version of Candid Camera is really aimed at getting more money into the state’s fast dwindling treasury coffers. Who can blame him for good intentions? As Rendell winds up his final term, the state is, shall we say, financially embarrassed. It presently faces a $5 billion structural deficit and is flat broke by any benchmark you care to apply.

Now, Rendell is smart enough not to try to sell his camera scheme as law enforcement since everyone (over six years old, at least) knows that the state does almost nothing to enforce an insurance law already on the books for more than two decades. But he is naive enough to think he can get any serious money out of uninsured drivers who mostly are uninsured because they can’t afford insurance. This is the level of intellectual effort going on at the highest level of state government, circa 2010.

Rendell’s camera-in-every-lamppost proposition is so far his only recent entry in the I-can’t-believe-I-said-that category. Technically Tom Corbett’s still ahead. But stay tuned; these guys are very competitive. The campaigns still have many weeks to go, and the governor’s term doesn’t end until January 20. It’s still early.

What can we say about any of these not-quite-ready-for-prime-time doozies from the state’s top two officials? Rendell’s camera idea seems just plain frenzied. The state’s fiscal situation might be desperate, but the state’s governor doesn’t have to be.

As for Corbett’s blunders, maybe the less said the better.  He’s likely sorry for them, and everyone else is too.

But Rendell and Corbett have added further evidence, as if we needed it, that many politicians are falling more and more out of touch with average citizens. Even as Corbett seeks the governorship, his missteps are ominously bookended by Rendell’s late-term struggles. Yet both represent, by any measure, Pennsylvania’s best and brightest. None of this augurs well for a state facing its greatest governing challenges since the Great Depression. Get ready—the fun might just be starting.


High-risk insurance applications pouring in

Pennsylvania’s Insurance Department received more than a thousand requests to enter its new high-risk insurance pool during the first 24 hours of its application window.

About  1,100 applications have already been filed for the state’s new insurance plan targeted at people with preexisting health conditions. That’s about a third of the program’s 3,500-person cap, and department spokeswoman Melissa Fox explains they can’t increase participation. “The limitation on enrollment is based simply on the fact we are receiving $162 million from the federal government,” she explains. “The $162 million, when we look at the benefit package, will only be able to cover approximately 3,500  individuals.”

The Insurance Department is accepting applications at its website. Fox urges people to apply as soon as possible, though she says yesterday’s numbers don’t necessarily mean 1,100 spots have already been filled. “We have to do our due diligence by verifying social security numbers, citizenship and verifying that a preexisting condition exists. So I would not discourage folks to log on and complete an application.”

The money will cover a three-year stretch. Fox says the program is meant to serve as a bridge until 2014, when the new federal health care law goes into effect. The legislation bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

“That’s not gonna be good for business…”

Last winter, as we all remember, the Capitol cafeteria shut down due to a severe rodent infestation. Aramark officials vowed to turn things around, and they did. Untill the cafeteria failed another inspection a few weeks later.

It’s been smooth sailing since then, health-wise, but the rodents’ legacy lingers. The cafe lost more than $600,000 in business this year, compared to a similar stretch in 2009, according to the Patriot-News’ Kari Andren. “The cafeteria, which is operated by Philadelphia-based Aramark Inc., brought in $674,262 less in the first six months of this year compared to the same time period in 2009. Sales for the first two quarters of 2009 totaled nearly $1.1 million, while figures for the first two quarters of this year were just $407,738.”

The drop in traffic has hurt the state, too. Aramark has paid just $18,349, compared to the $44,869 it wrote out in checks during the comparative 2009 stretch.

Personally, I boycotted the cafeteria for a few months in the beginning of the year, but started going back around March. However, I’ve begun to reconsider that decision, after  I discovering a fly in my salad yesterday.

Unfortunately, Grover wasn’t around to help me solve the fly problem.

Ardo to Thompson’s office

Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson’s office has sent out a press release this morning announcing its new communications director: former Rendell press secretary Chuck Ardo.

Thompson, as you may recall, advertised the position on Craigslist earlier this year. Her staff has experienced an unusual amount of turnover for a first-year executive, and Ardo will be her third communications director.

Ardo left the Rendell Administration about a year ago, and had been working for the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

UPDATE: Ardo’s one-time nemesis, House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin, has this to say: “We all know Chuck as thick skin. This proves it.”

UPDATE 2: Ardo weighs in with this comment, via email. “The Mayor needs to concentrate on the pressing issues facing the city without the added burden of searching for staff. I was local and available to step in quickly. My expecation is merely to do the best I can to inform the public.”

Here’s the release:



HARRISBURG: Mayor Linda Thompson today announced that Chuck Ardo has agreed to join her team as Communications Director.  Ardo is a former spokesman for Governor Ed Rendell and served in multiple communications roles in several states prior to his days is Harrisburg. He will begin his new job on Monday morning.

“I am excited to have Chuck on board,” said Mayor Thompson.” He is already familiar with most of the issues and has an established relationship with key players as well as the press. I’m confident he will be as successful in his new role as he has been in so many others.  I appreciate his willingness to come out of retirement to serve the Administration.”

Madonna: Rohrer write-in should worry Corbett

Rohrer with Pittsburgh-area supporters on Primary Day

A group of conservative voters has launched a write-in gubernatorial campaign for Berks Country Representative Sam Rohrer, who lost in the spring primary. One analyst says he can envision a scenario where the movement has an impact on the fall election.

Rohrer and his hard-line conservative platform won 31 percent of the vote in May. The lawmaker hasn’t endorsed Republican nominee Tom Corbett, and indicates he doesn’t have any plans to. Pennsylvania law bars primary losers from running on third-party ballot lines, but a small group of Rohrer supporters have launched a website urging voters to write in Rohrer’s name in this fall.

Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna says the Corbett campaign should be worried. “I mean [Corbett] has, not arguably, somewhere between a seven to ten point lead,” he says.  “But what happens if they end up absorbing 7 to 10 points of his lead? I don’t think that’s out of the question, for Rohrer to get up to ten points.” Madonna says if nothing else, the campaign creates more hassles for Corbett. “You don’t want to be there if you don’t have to be,” he argues.

Rohrer is keeping the write-in campaign at arms-length distance. He didn’t return calls for comment, and Representative Gordon Denlinger, a Lancaster Country Republican who’s close to Rohrer, says the representative isn’t endorsing the movement. Denlinger isn’t fully backing the effort, either, but says it’s wrong to tell conservatives to vote for Corbett, just to put a Republican in the governor’s mansion. “, I would certainly not ever encourage someone to say, set aside your beliefs, let that take a back seat and just move forward with some type of a political calculation,” he argues.

Rohrer centered his primary bid around reduced government spending. He argues Pennsylvania is on the verge of insolvency, and increased spending and dishonest budgeting are putting the state billions of dollars in the hole each year. Rohrer actively courted “Tea Party” voters, appearing at 9/12 Project and Tea Party meetings across the commonwealth.

Organizers of the write-in campaign say they just don’t trust Corbett. One of the main collaborators, Sue Nelms, says the Attorney General lost her support when he called the Constitution a “living document.” She’s also skeptical, because Corbett didn’t deliver a clear answer to the hypothetical question of whether he’d seize Pennsylvanians’ guns, if ordered to d0-so by the president. “If he was governor of our state, I think he would not follow the Constitution,” she says.  “And I think that’s sad.”

PA-7 candidate has questions about Obama’s birthplace

From PoliticsPA’s Alex Roarty:

…Although he rejects the label “birther,”[third-party candidate Jim] Schneller has major questions over whether President Obama was born in the United States. He has filed a motion with the State Supreme Court challenging Obama’s right to be president.

“It became obvious from the Internet that our future president and a man I had admired … (wasn’t answering questions about his birth certificate),” he said. “The balloon deflated completely, because he didn’t get on the Internet and provide proof.”

According to a new CNN poll, 11 percent of respondents are confident Obama wasn’t born in the US, and 16 percent say they’re skeptical about his birthplace. Again, 27 percent – more than a quarter of respondents – think the president wasn’t born in the United States. (Today is, in fact, Obama’s birthday.)

Mail call: Sestak edition

Congressman Joe Sestak stumped in Lancaster today, and his campaign just sent this press release out. Two trends I’ve noticed: Sestak is now “Admiral Sestak” on first reference in their missives. After that, he’s “Joe.” It’s interesting to me that they’re pushing  the military angle, but  simultaniously trying to be more informal.

Anyway, here’s the release:

LANCASTER, Pa. – One year after announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Admiral Joe Sestak reaffirmed his commitment to practical solutions to overcome the economic challenges facing working families, which must include investment in small businesses.

Joe was joined at La Cocina Restaurant on King Street by some of those hit hardest by the recession, including local business owners and an unemployed worker.

“A year ago today, I got into this race to fight on the side of Pennsylvania’s working families,” said Joe. “Middle class workers across the state are struggling because of failed choices that put the powerful ahead of the people.”

Congressman Toomey led the biggest spending spree our nation has ever seen, eliminating the “pay-as-you-go” system and supporting President Bush’s budgets that turned a surplus in a record deficit. During his tenure, the wealthy got wealthier and small businesses and middle class Pennsylvanians were left behind. Joe believes that Pennsylvanians deserve a clear and comprehensive plan for growth and job creation. The key to recovery, Joe said, is in practical policies that help bolster La Cocina and other small businesses, which create 80 percent of all jobs.

Joe has introduced legislation as part of his Plan for Pennsylvania Families to have a 15 percent tax credit for small businesses to increase hiring, a move that could create up to 5 million jobs over the next two years, as well as tax benefits to encourage investments in small businesses. In addition, he proposes increasing available credit to allow more entrepreneurs to start businesses. His plan includes permanently establishing the Small Business Administration’s Community Express Lending Program, which accounts for almost a quarter of women and minority small business loans.

“These are sensible steps that can put our economy on the path to recovery,” said Joe. “In the Navy I learned that solving problems requires a practical approach, and we cannot let politics or ideology stand in the way of helping move our economy forward to create the jobs Pennsylvania is looking for.”

The reality is that while Congressman Toomey may claim to be on the side of small business, his record says something else entirely.

Fact Check: Congressman Toomey’s Record against Small Businesses

Pennsylvanians deserve to know the truth about Congressman Toomey’s disappointing small business record. The facts are clear: he has passed on every major opportunity to support small businesses, unrelentingly supports the interests of big corporations and misrepresents his own small business experience while trying to cover up a career on Wall Street. If elected to the Senate, Congressman Toomey will continue opposing small businesses in favor of large corporations:


  • Spent five years in Congress, championing efforts that successfully cut the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) budget by 50% ($507 million in 2005 vs. $1.1 billion in 2000);
  • Voted to eliminate funding and increase small business fees on one of the SBA’s most popular small business loan program (7(a) loans); and
  • Voted to give only 5% of the 2001/2002 tax cuts to small businesses, but 53% to the top 1% of earners.


  • Helped write the law deregulating Wall Street that lead to the recession;
  • Voted for corporate tax loopholes to help big businesses close factories in the United States and ship jobs overseas; and
  • Supports a flat tax that favors the wealthiest Americans and renders small businesses unable to compete against major corporations.


  • Congressman Toomey has spent his career working for Wall Street and fighting for their special interests in Congress.
  • Toomey’s role in the chain of restaurants he cites as his small business experience was as an investor.
  • “In a 2000 sworn deposition taken in a lawsuit against Rockin’ Robin’s, an Allentown nightclub owned by Toomey and his brothers, Pat Toomey testified that he delegated the day-to-day running of the establishment to his brother Steven and was not aware of details… ‘For most of the period of ’91 in which Rockin’ Robin’s was opened, I was living and working in Hong Kong’ as a banker, Toomey said.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/9/10]
  • The Allentown Morning Call reminds us, Congressman Toomey was “still pursuing his financial career in New York City” when he and his partners opened the first restaurant. He later moved to Allentown, but left it to his partners to handle day-to-day operations. He then sold all of his shares in the restaurant chain.


  • Voted to cut congressional funding for one of the SBA’s most popular small business lending programs — 7(a) loans — which resulted in fees on small business owners replacing the congressional funding. As expected, following Toomey’s vote, the borrower and lender fees for the 7(a) program were increased — doubling the cost for many small businesses. [HR 4754, #328, 7/7/04]
  • Voted for the Bush Administration’s budgets, which cut funding for the Small Business Administration by 50% from 2000 to 2005. [S.Con.Res. 95, 5/19/04, #198; H Con Res 95, 4/11/03, #141; HCR 353, 3/20/02, #79; H Con Res 83, 5/9/01, #104; HCR 290, 4/13/00, #125]
  • Voted for the Bush tax cuts that directed less than 5% of tax relief at small businesses, but 53% to the top 1% of earners. Because only one percent of small business owners are among the top 1% of earners, under Toomey’s plan 99% of small business owners received almost no tax benefit from the two bills that cost approximately $2 trillion. [HR 1836, 5/26/01, #149]
  • Voted with the Bush Administration to cut funding for Export Assistance Center, which helps small businesses sell to other countries while staying in the United States. [S.Con.Res. 95, 5/19/04, #198]
  • Allowed the Bush Administration to bundle federal contracts to large corporations and not once meet federal requirements for small business set-asides in federal contracting.
  • Chose not to co-sponsor the bi-partisan Small Business Contract Equity Act.
  • Voted against tax credits for small businesses who provided pensions for employees. The amendment also would have allowed a three-year tax credit for small employers of 50 percent of the costs incurred in establishing pension plans and would have offered them a 50 percent credit for certain employer contributions to retirement plans on behalf of non-highly paid workers. [HR 10, House Vote #94, 5/2/01]
  • Supports a regressive flat tax that favors the wealthiest Americans and places an unfair burden on small businesses, many of which would be rendered unable to compete effectively against major corporations. [Morning Call, 3/18/98]


  • Voted to give federal loans to corporations that move offshore [HR 4818, #386, &/15/04]
  • Voted to give benefits to corporations dodging U.S. taxes by moving offshore [HR 4520, #258, 6/17/04]
  • Voted for tax loopholes that export jobs, making it harder for American small businesses to compete. [HR 4520, 10/7/04, #509]
  • According to MSNBC, even plans to partially privatize Social Security, which “could be a windfall for Wall Street, generating billions of dollars in management fees for brokerages and mutual fund companies.” [MSNBC, 12/28/04]
  • Helped write the law deregulating Wall Street which tore down barriers between banks and created the “too big to fail” banks. [HR 10, 7/1/99, #276]
  • Opposed a bill to tax bonuses to executives at bailed out banks. [HR 1586, Vote #143, 3/19/09; Club for Growth email, 3/21/09]
  • Opposed the Credit Card Fair Fee Act and said that preventing credit card companies from changing their rates on their customers “is a fundamental infringement.”
  • Wrote that he believes that foreign subsidies to car manufacturers are a good thing, even though they “would result in fewer American cars sold, and consequently fewer American auto workers.” [The Road to Prosperity, p. 112]
  • Supported NAFTA, which cost Pennsylvania 44,000 jobs, calling it “good for America” [Morning Call, 9/16/93]
  • Argued free trade would create jobs, while acknowledging that workers might be “displaced” [Morning Call, 12/5/99, 1/21/00]