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UPDATE: Corbett adviser Tomalis resigns

Published by Mike Pound on .

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UPDATE: Ron Tomalis has stepped down from his position as higher education adviser to Gov. Tom Corbett. In his letter of resignation, Mr. Tomalis said he would leave the controversial job Aug. 26 to pursue other unspecified opportunities:

However, as you know, I have been engaged in conversations with other organizations regarding new opportunities, and given recent events, I believe it is in the best interest of the Administration that I resign my position with the Commonwealth, effective August 26, 2014, to pursue those endeavors.

In a release issued by Gov. Corbett's office, Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq thanked Mr. Tomalis for his contributions to the department:

Ron has truly been an asset to me and the department since I assumed the role of education secretary. He has been instrumental in overseeing the creation and re-establishment of important educational programs that benefit the students of the commonwealth.  I wish him all the best.

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It shouldn't be too difficult for the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett to prove that Ron Tomalis holds an actual job -- one that's worth the $139,000 salary he pulls -- in the state Department of Education.

All we'd need to see is some evidence of his work, right?

But that's a little tough to measure when officials in the department delete work-related emails every day, in an apparent violation of the department's data retention policy.

Gov. Corbett and current Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq have both defended the advisory position created for Mr. Tomalis, the former state education secretary, saying he puts in full 40-hour weeks in an office just down the hall from Ms. Dumaresq.

The trouble is that a review of the adviser's work calendar show very little work was scheduled in the last year. Officials at Penn State and Pitt, for example, say officials at either university haven't had contact with Mr. Tomalis since he took the job -- a curious thing, since the bulk of his responsibilties deal with the state's colleges and universities.

And then there are the emails. In seperate interviews in July, Ms. Dumaresq gave two reasons for turning over just five email messages produced by Mr. Tomalis in the last year. She told the Post-Gazette July 24 that Mr. Tomalis prefers face-to-face interaction over email. And on July 31, she told a Harrisburg television state that department officials delete emails every night.

That's the problem. The department's policy, obtained by the Post-Gazette after two informal requests and a Right-To-Know request, sets schedules for retaining messages that are considered public records, and only "transitory records" -- items not related to state business, reference materials from outside organizations or personal messages, for example -- can be regularly purged.

However, the five emails released from Mr. Tomalis' records, which came in response to a Right-To-Know request from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, had dates from February, May and June and all appeared to be "transitory" in nature. Two involved registering for a conference. Two others dealt with an invitation for a department representative to serve on a governing board of an education and business venture in India and a fifth email was one in which Mr. Tomalis asked for clarification about the number of higher education institutions in the state.

It's a bit tough to decide which is worse for the Education Department and Gov. Corbett -- the complete lack of evidence that Mr. Tomalis does any work whatsoever or the apparent violation of the department's own policy. Either way, there is more fuel for those from both parties who have questions about Mr. Tomalis, his job and his salary.

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Philly makes final push for 2016 Dem convention

Published by Mike Pound on .

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Philadelphia is one of five cities making a push to land the 2016 Democratic Nationall Convention, and an Associated Press story that moved over the weekend points out that Philly's history of hosting political conventions -- and its history in general -- could be the point that gives it an advantage over its rivals.

Birmingham, Ala.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix also have been courting the Democrats, but they don't have former Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell, Philly Mayor Michael Nutter and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady standing in a Center City beer garden. The other contenders also don't have Philadelphia's experience hosting political conventions; it's hosted seven of them -- most recently the Republican convention in 2000 -- while the other cities are all hoping to host its first.

Which town has the best shot? Each has points for or against:

Birmingham: Would give the Democrats a stage in a state that hasn't gone Democratic in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter's run in 1976. But that doesn't change the fact that the potential for a bump in one of the reddest of red states isn't especially likely. Sure, holding the convention in a small city like Birmingham would mean the Dems were the only game in town -- but that doen't matter if no one in town is watching.

Brooklyn: Good: It's New York City, the media capital of the entire planet. And it's the adopted home state of Hillary Clinton; nominating her there would make for an energizing start to the campaign. But Brooklyn and NYC might be too big for the convention, in that it wouldn't be the lone thing going on in the city's spotlight. And would the party be ready to embrace the home city of controversial New York Mayor Bill de Blasio?

Columbus: Ohio is THE swing state, and the Republicans have already staked a claim there, announcing early this summer that Cleveland would host the GOP convention in 2016. It could be that the Democrats feel it's necessary to maintain a strong presence there to continue the momentum they gained with presidental wins in 2008 and 2012. The question? Is there enough room in Ohio -- or, more importantly, is there enough money -- to pull off conventions for both parties?

Phoenix: The Latino population of Arizona could turn this historically Republican state into a swing state in 2016, and the Democrats would definitely want take advantage of that. And if immigration is still an issue on the national stage, there would be few better places in the country than Phoenix to highlight the differences between the parties. The other side of the immigration coin? The state's own tough immigration laws could make for some discomfort on the part of Democrats.

And that leaves us with Philadelphia. Like Brooklyn, it's a huge media market. Unlike Brooklyn, all of those eyeballs live in a swing state. The Democrats would love a bump from a Philly convention, especially if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the GOP nominee and -- as a bonus -- if a bump would help Democrat unseat U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, the Republican who will be running for re-election that year as well.

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Helpful Huffpo tool tracks governor's race

Published by Mike Pound on .

If you've been paying attention, you've seen polling results that show Gov. Tom Corbett is narrowing -- slightly, anyway -- the massive lead held by Democratic challenger Tom Wolf immediately following Pennsylvania's primary election in May.

If you haven't been paying attention, Huffington Post has a tool you might find to be helpful.

huffpo pa gov polls

This version of the Pennsylvania Pollster chart tracks the results of 10 polls, from six polling organizations, ranging from early 2013 -- when incumbent Republican Corbett was in a dead heat with the businessman and former state revenue secretary from York -- through the end of July. The chart isn't just an aggregation of polls; as this FAQ explains, the HuffPost data folks also include "trend estimates," which, they explain, is "a current estimate of support for each candidate (or responses to an issue or rating question) based on all the available data." This cuts down on noise that could be caused by differences in polling methods or errors in the results.

And if you want a look at more straightforward poll aggregation results, you can have that too. Click the "Create Your Own" tab and you'll see those trends with the modeling removed; you can also toggle those results between registered voters, those likely to vote in November or a combination of both.

Skeptical about the results that include Huffington Post's modeling? Understandable, sure, but here's a thing to keep in mind -- the Pollster charts nailed the results of the 2012 presidential election across the board. 

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Legislators write to support Israel

Published by Karen Langley on .

Nearly half the members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly have signed a letter pledging support to Israel in the conflict in Gaza.

Ninety-nine of the 203 state representatives and 27 of 50 senators put their names on the letter to Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States.

Signatories include House Republican leader Mike Turzai, Senate Democratic leader Jay Costa and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati.

The letter states, in part:

The nation of Israel has on numerous occassions initiated peace overtures with its leading protagonist, the Hamas/Palestine government, unfortunately, to no avail. To protect itself from the unwarranted missile attacks by the Hamas/Palestine government, in recent days, Israel has no choice but to defend itself by moving its ground forces into the Gaza Strip.

The full letter can be found here:

http://www.post-gazette.com/image/2014/08/06/israelsupportletter

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Corbett closer in Keystone survey

Published by James O'Toole on .

Another survey finds Democrat Tom Wolf with a substantial lead over Gov. Tom Corbett, but one that's short of the blowout proportions depicted in the initial post-primary polls.

The web site Keystone Report commissioned the automated survey by Magellan Strategies RB which reports that the GOP incumbent is trailing his challenger 50 percent to 38 percent.  The survey of 1,214 likely voters was conducted July 30 and July 31.  It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

The new numbers from the Republican leaning firm are roughly consistent with those in a CBS/New York Times survey released last week.  The CBS/NYT survey was conducted by YouGov Surveys and based on a ithe responses of a preselected internet panel rather than a traditional random sample survey.  Between its innovative methodology and the contrast in its fundings from earlier polls, it was tempting to view it as an outlier in assessments of the race.  But the Magellan/Keystone results reinforce the notion that the margin has closed somewhat over the summer.

 

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