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Don't bother Wolf with details

Published by Mike Pound on .

Democratic candidate for governor Tom Wolf speaks outside a school in Canonsburg. (Robin Rombach/Post-Gazette)Democratic candidate for governor Tom Wolf speaks outside a school in Canonsburg. (Robin Rombach/Post-Gazette)

The Battling Toms continue to battle and Harrisburg has a month to get some stuff done before November's elections. Add it all up and you have a pretty busy Tuesday.

  • Tom Wolf, the Democratic nominee in the race for governor, reiterated his campaign's claim that Gov. Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from education during his first term, prompting an exchange that left both Toms looking a bit weak. Mr. Wolf was asked about the details of his opponent's cuts; he responded by saying he didn't want to "get into the weeds on the details." The response of Corbett campaign officials? They seem to be stuck in a time warp where their guy is running against Ed Rendell: "So ba­si­cally, (Mr. Wolf is) say­ing we're right and he's en­gag­ing in se­man­tics to per­pet­u­ate a lie against Gov. Cor­bett's his­toric in­vest­ments in our pub­lic schools and cuts made by his for­mer boss and men­tor that were re­placed by one-time fed­eral stim­u­lus money from Wash­ing­ton," said Billy Pit­man, a Cor­bett spokes­man.
  • As we mentioned a day ago, it seems like a good bet that a cigarette tax to help bail out the Philadelphia School District – that's a $2-per-pack tax the district says it needs to fill an $81 budget hole – will get quick attention from the General Assembly.
  • One we didn't mention a day ago? The potential for movement on a proposal to allow the use of medical marijuana in the state. State Senate Republicans will discuss the bill, which would provide for a narrow use of marijuana for medical purposes, this week; if that caucus reaches a favorable outcome, a vote by the full Senate could come next week. The bill's prospects in the House – and, if it gets that far, before Mr. Corbett – don't seem as solid.
  • Mr. Corbett is asking Commonwealth Court to block the release of hundreds of emails related to the Jerry Sandusky case, after the state Office of Open Records ruled that the emails should be released. Penn State alumnus Ryan Bagwell filed requests to review 644 pages of emails between former Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, aides to Mr. Corbett and officials at Penn State.
  • And speaking of emails, the Post-Gazette has filed suit in Commonwealth Court to force the state's executive branch to halt its practice of permanently deleting emails after five days; the suit seeks to establish a policy that requires emails be stored for at least two years. The suit stems from the employment of Mr. Tomalis as Mr. Corbett's special adviser on higher education; Mr. Tomalis resigned last month amid accusations that he collected a $140,000 salary for a no-work job. A right-to-know request filed by the PG yielded just five emails from Tomalis, along with a startling admission by acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq that officials in her department delete emails daily.
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Perry on Politics: Scottish independence would bring cultural change

Published by Mike Pound on .

A passerby argues with two Scottish independence referendum Yes supporters one holding a Scottish Saltire flag up and one not seen, outside the "Better Together" No campaign offices in Edinburgh, Scotland, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. (Matt Dunham/AP photo)

A passerby argues with two Scottish independence referendum Yes supporters one holding a Scottish Saltire flag up and one not seen, outside the "Better Together" No campaign offices in Edinburgh, Scotland, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. (Matt Dunham/AP photo)

By James M. Perry

"I hope everyone thinks carefully about the (independence) referendum this week," Queen Elizabeth II said the other day.

Her comment doesn't mean the queen is taking sides, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, said.

Not officially, maybe, but everyone knows where the queen stands. She doesn't want to break up a union that's lasted for 307 years. Losing Scotland would mean that the British monarchy, which once ruled what's now the United States, and India and Canada and Australia and New Zealand, would be left with England and Wales and Northern Ireland.

Unthinkable. But polls, most of them not very reliable, show that Scotland's 4.3 million registered voters are very closely divided on whether to say yes (for independence) or no (for staying with the union).

Putting aside the really big questions of what happens to Britain without Scotland in the European Union and what happens to the two economies, think for a moment of historical and cultural changes.

The largest regiment in the British army is, of all things, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. Famous old Scottish regiments have been downsized and assigned to the Royal Regiment as battalions. The Black Watch, for example, is now the regiment's 3d battalion, with its headquarters and brand-new museum at Balhousie Castle in Perth. Other old Scottish line regiments, now battalions, are based in Edinburgh, Penicuik, and Glasgow. The Queen is the regiment's colonel-in-chief. The mascot is Lance Corporal Cruachan IV, a Shetland pony.

This, of course, is all heavily Scottish. Troops are recruited and trained in Scotland (will an independent Scotland allow that?) The band plays familiar Scottish airs. From time to time, the troops even parade in kilts.

Will all this survive a break-up of the union?

What would happen to Balmoral Castle, a private fiefdom covering 50,000 acres (and as many as 150 separate properties) in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, a royal playground since Victoria and Albert? It's a 19th Century castle, and not very pretty, but Victoria loved it and this queen and her family seem to love it too. The royal family runs the place (though it's actually owned by a trust, employing 150 full and part-time employes.) There's even a malt distillery on the grounds.

Following Albert's death in1861, Victoria became a regular visitor, spending up to four months at Balmoral in the summers. It was during this time of mourning that she met and became enamored of John Brown, one of the estate's ghillies (a kind of gameskeeper). Writers and movie directors are still trying to make something of it.

Will the royal family really want to come back to Balmoral, if it's in a different country?

Every year, it seems, the queen spends a week in Edinburgh, Scotland's grand old city. She stays when she's there at Holyrood Palace, founded by David I, King of Scots, in 1128 and still owned by the crown. The palace contains the state apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived there in the 16th Century. Elizabeth entertains her subjects and holds a number of garden parties when she's in residence.

Independence would put an end to that.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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What will short legislative session bring?

Published by Mike Pound on .

Gov. Tom Corbett. (AP Photo)

Gov. Tom Corbett. (AP Photo)

Ready for a month of fun?

Our state legislators return to Harrisburg today to begin a four-week session that probably won't produce much action on some of the biggest issues facing Pennsylvania – but could, at least, produce a fair amount of fodder for us.

What could happen: Our Karen Langley takes a look at the possible agenda for the session; among the issues that could make it through in the next four weeks are a cigarette tax to deliver extra funds to Philadelphia schools, improved monitoring of prescription drugs through an electronic database and new child-protection provisions.

What probably won't: It's rare that Mr. Corbett makes a public appearance these days without mentioning pension reform, but the more the governor talks, the less it seems anyone in Harrisburg is listening. And Mr. Corbett himself seems to understand that pension reform won't go anywhere this fall; he's already pledged to call a special session to address the issue if he's re-elected. And although house Majority Leader Mike Turzai is calling on the governor to renew his push for modernizing the state's system to sell beer, wine and booze, Mr. Corbett seems reluctant to jump back into that debate.

Election-year politics in the background: Mr. Corbett may find that even his Republican partners in Harrisburg are a bit uncooperative after he cut $72 million in operational funds for the Legislature from the 2014-15 budget, something Mr. Corbett said was a result of the Legislature's inaction on pension reform. And will Democrats work to give Mr. Corbett a boost with Election Day less than two months away? Not likely.

Lest we forget: We're probably going to see and hear plenty from Mr. Corbett while the General Assembly is in session, because he badly needs a legislative win of any kind between now and November. Why? Two more polls, both released last week, show healthy leads for Tom Wolf, Mr. Corbett's opponent. YouGov.com found Mr. Wolf with a 46-35 lead among likely voters – and those figures jump to 50 to 39 when those who are leaning towards a particular candidate are included -- and a new Quinnipiac University poll showed Mr. Wolf with a commanding 59-35 lead.

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Toomey seeks student protection

Published by James O'Toole on .

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.,  was joined District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Allison Hall, the director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape at a Courthouse news conference calling for enactment of legislation designed to chiled students from sexual predators in schools.

The proposed law, The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, is designed to bolster the effectiveness of background check on school personel.  The measure would prod schools to preform more effective scrutiny of the records of their employees, including checks on federal as well as state data on charges of sexual misconduct and violence.   It would also bar school districts from engaging in the practice of "passing the trash,'' _ a pattern conduct that's recurred across the country in which a school with a problematic employee, but one not charged or convicted of an actual crime, is persuaded to leave one district with the promise of a positive letter of recommenation to hellp them get employment elsewhere.

Mr. Toomey said that more than 300 school employess had been arrested for sexual misconduct in the alst year, including 18 in Pennsylvania.

"Every one of these stories represents a tragedy,'' Mr. Toomey said.  

The Republican co-sponsored the legislation with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.  It was prompted by a case in which a Delaware County school district dismissed a teacher but helped him secure a new job in West Virginia.  Subsequently he was convicted of raping and murdering a student there. 

Noting that similar legislation has passed the U.S. House unanimously, Mr. Toomey urged the Senate to allow a vote on the bill.  Mr. Toomey and Mr. Manchin have asked for consent to bring it to the floor but they have yet ot convince thier colleagues, and the chamber's Democratic leadership to allow a vote to go forward.

 

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Taking each other to school

Published by Mike Pound on .

Education has been identified as the most important issue to Pennsylvania voters this fall, so we should expect a lot of discussion of the issue by The Battling Toms between now and November. And SURPRISE – two new ads and two opposing takes on Gov. Tom Corbett's education budgets.

Did we say "surprise?" OK, maybe not so much.

Corbett: Statistics Class

What's new: Not much, except that Ed Rendell seems to be as much of a target here as Mr. Corbett's actual opponent, Tom Wolf. As we recall, Mr. Rendell was a pretty popular guy and we wonder if he's the best surrogate for Mr. Corbett to pick on.

What's not: The Corbett campaign employs happy musicians as well?

Bottom line: "And now you know the truth."

Random things we noticed: Given the recent ads by Mr. Corbett and the state Republican party, it seems likely we're going to see as many mentions of Mr. Rendell and President Obama as we will actual issues – or an actual candidate. Given the complexity of this issue – and that fact that both candidates can lay claim to being right – we wonder if the Corbett campaign will continue to focus on the funding issue or move on to something more palatable to his base, like, say, dismantling Common Core.

Tom Wolf: Education Facts

What's new: As was the case with Mr. Corbett's ad, not a whole lot. Although it does seem like Mr. Wolf is content to run against one guy.

What's not: Outside of the bit about the number of educators who have lost their jobs under Mr. Corbett's watch? It's all old hat, even down to using the same headlines for the claims about "taking the ax to education" and the number of districts considering property tax increases.

Bottom line: "Tom Corbett. Can't trust him on education. Can't trust him to be for us."

Random things we noticed: We wondered before whether Mr. Wolf himself has the personality to pull off an attack ad, so it's worth noting he doesn't appear in this one. And we really appreciate the addition of a new claim on Mr. Corbett's education record—that would be the one about teachers losing their jobs – because the old ones are feeling a little stale.