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It's official: we're ridiculous

Published by Mike Pound on .

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At least we're in good company.

The Fix, the Washington Post's political blog, issued a list on Tuesday outlining the nine most ridiculous campaigns of 2014 – and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone here that The Battling Toms made the list.

Specifically, the scandal over pornographic emails that circulated through the office of the state attorney general while Gov. Tom Corbett served that post is what attracted the attention of the Post and, really, who can blame them? It's already forced several resignations – Randy Feathers, a former prosecutor who was appointed by Mr. Corbett to the state parole board, is the latest – prompted an investigation by the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and forced Mr. Corbett to spend as much time talking about porn as he does energy policy or pension reform. And while Mr. Corbett squirms, his challenger, Democrat Tom Wolf, can sit back and look concerned while clucking about things like leadership and setting the tone from the top.

And that was good enough to rate the race between The Battling Toms as the eighth most ridiculous race in the country. For the sake of context: what other campaigns made the list? They are all doozies, but we're especially fond of a couple, starting with this, from the race for Texas lieutenant governor:

And poor Mitch McConnell, the U.S. Senate minority leader from Kentucky, who very much wants to switch places with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid once the Republicans win the majority in the Senate. But there's a problem – Mr. McConnell is clinging to a 4-point lead over Democratic challenger Alison Grimes and in at least one instance, he hasn't done much to help himself. In an ad filled with iconic Kentucky images, there is a snippet of a college basketball team celebrating a championship. The bad part is that the team is not the Kentucky Wildcats.

It's Duke. Whoops.

The Kentucky race reaches an even higher level of ridiculousness with an ad from Ms. Grimes, in which she touts her Kentucky-ness while shooting skeet; the kicker for that ad comes in a photograph of Mr. McConnell holding a rifle over his head, Charlton Heston style – and Ms. Grimes chides the senator for holding the rifle incorrectly.

The back-and-forth in the Kentucky race was good enough to rate it as the most ridiculous race in the country. But with three weeks left before Election Day, we can still hope that The Battling Toms can crack the Top 5.

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Tracking campaign donations in the governor race

Published by Mike Pound on .

You don't have to have whispered conversations in dark parking garages to follow the money in the race to be Pennsylvania's next governor.

We invite you to take a look at Price of the Prize, an interactive collaboration between the Post-Gazette and our friends at Public Source. The site has compiled all of the campaign finance information filed by The Battling Toms as they head for Election Day Nov. 4.

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Want to peruse a list of Tom Corbett's best Allegheny County donors (starting with the Western Pennsylvania Laborers' PAC, which has given Mr. Corbett $60,000 to date)? Want to find out who's been Tom Wolf's biggest backer (that would be Mr. Wolf himself, to the tune of nearly $10 million)? It's all here, listed by candidate, county or donor.

Once you've taken a first look, be sure to bookmark the site. It will be updated as more campaign finance figures become available, so you can A) track any last-minute donations and B) see if anyone from Forest County writes a check to either Tom between now and Election Day.

 

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Tomalis work records still locked up

Published by Mike Pound on .

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What exactly did Ron Tomalis do in his 15 months as an adviser to Gov. Tom Corbett? We may never know.

The state Department of Education said on Monday personnel records that covered the time Mr. Tomalis spent as a special education adviser are exempt from the state's open records law. And that appears to be the final stop for the Right-To-Know request filed by the Campaign for a Fresh Start, a PAC supporting Mr. Corbett's Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, after the state's Office of Administration and the governor's office referred the request to the education department.

Mr. Tomalis worked for more than a year as an adviser to Mr. Corbett on higher education, after stepping down as the state's secretary of education to take new position. One thing he kept? The $140,000 salary he earned as education secretary.

You've likely heard about what happened since. Records released after requests from the Post-Gazette and others show Mr. Tomalis had a barren appointment schedule, a nearly empty telephone log and no travel to any of the state-run universitiesalthough his car apparently made regular trips to the education department's parking garage.

The request from Fresh Start PA sought the employment contract that outlined what Mr. Tomalis was to do as a special adviser and any other personnel records – performance reviews, progress reports and development plans. When the education department responded last week, it said there was no contract – Mr. Tomalis rather was "appointed by and served at the pleasure of" Mr. Corbett. And the other stuff? Exempt from Right-To-Know requests, the education department said.

Reaction? Mike Mikus, spokesman for Fresh Start: "If Ron tomalis was a real employee, how is it possible that the Corbett administration cannot produce a single employment record?" And from Chris Pack, spokesman for the Corbett campaign: "Tom Wolf's campaign is seeking documents they know either do not exist or, by law, are confidential and cannot be released, to distract from Wolf's proposal to raise Pennsylvania's income tax."

And that leaves us where we were in August, when Mr. Tomalis resigned from his position: without much of an idea what he did to justify a healthy taxpayer-funded salary. We can hope that an audit by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale turns up some answers, but in the meantime, we can't help but think that the administration of Mr. Corbett could put this to rest quickly by releasing something more substantial than parking records to show us how Mr. Tomalis spent those 15 months.

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Five thoughts on Wolf-Corbett Debate III

Published by Mike Pound on .

20141008MWHdebateLocal04-1wolferTom Wolf answers questions after Wednesday night's debate in Pittsburgh. (Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette)

The third and final debate between The Battling Toms is under our belts, and this time, Democratic challenger Tom Wolf -- the winner this time out -- was the candidate who was most composed. In fact, if you were expecting fireworks in the WTAE studios, you were probably as disappointed as we were.

  1. Both candidates pretty clearly had talking points in mind when the debate got underway, and if you were paying attention, you couldn't have missed them. For Gov. Tom Corbett, the mission was to point out every instance that Mr. Wolf failed to answer a question. For Mr. Wolf, the word was "leadership" – and his contention that Mr. Corbett hasn't offered much. Which message resonated? Mr. Corbett, sounding very much like he was on his heels, made a point of saying that he is a leader in his closing remarks.
  2. With a bill on medical marijuana clearing the state Senate – and about to die in the house – it was interesting to hear a question marijuana legalization. Mr. Wolf said he'd support medical uses and favored decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. Mr. Corbett reiterated his support for studying the use of a cannabis-based oil for medical uses; he also said he doesn't approve of recreational use under any circumstances, because, in his words, it is a "gateway drug that creates all of the drug problems we see in the United States."
  3. Another question we hadn't heard before was about the state's voter ID law and – surprise! – the candidate who signed it into law once already said he'd do it again (with a bill that had been re-worked to appease the concerns of state appellate judges). Mr. Corbett also admitted that there was little evidence of voter fraud in the state, but said the law was necessary as an "insurance policy." Mr. Wolf said he wouldn't sign a voter ID bill, which he said was pushed by Republicans to "disenfranchise Democratic voters."
  4. Mistakes? There were a few. While answering a question about the price of gasoline, Mr. Wolf tried to have it both ways, saying he "applauded" the transportation funding package pushed by Mr. Corbett earlier this year – and then he criticized Mr. Corbett for raising taxes as part of the transportation funding package.
  5. The bigger mistake? He's down by double digits in most recent polls and he's got less than a month until Election Day. And that's why it was surprising that Mr. Corbett would turn in his sleepiest performance in the last of the three debates. Re-election may already be out of reach, but Mr. Corbett needed to win – and win big – last night; instead, he let Mr. Wolf land jab after jab. And the comments about the complexity of questions and the time he had to answer them came off as petty.

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Turning up volume in the campaign for governor

Published by Mike Pound on .

From here on out, it's only going to get louder.

Between Tuesday's attempt at Swift-Boating Tom Wolf and an ad released earlier in the day, the campaign team of Gov. Tom Corbett is turning up the heat on Mr. Wolf – and it probably shouldn't be a surprise if that continues during tonight's third and final debate – airing at 7 p.m. on WTAE – between the two candidates.

The discussion about Mr. Wolf's draft record may or may not have been the responsibility of the Corbett campaign – a spokesman said there was no official connection, but a GOP operative at the event said he was there "helping out the governor." But there's no question about the origin of the ad, titled "Learning Curve." That's all Mr. Corbett, with an assist from U.S. Rep Allyson Schwartz.

In the run-up to May's primary election, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ms. Schwartz – who now serves as chairwoman of the "Women for Wolf" group that is bringing Hillary Clinton to Philadelphia to campaign for Mr. Wolf -- spent a lot of time poking at Mr. Wolf about what happened to his company when he retired and then returned. And while the Corbett campaign has asked plenty of questions about Delaware and the corporate taxes paid by the Wolf family's business, it had yet to jump into this area – until Tuesday, when it jumped in with both feet.

There are issues here, all of which were refuted in the primary campaign. The implied connection between Mr. Wolf's contributions and the investment by the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System in the fund that bought out Mr. Wolf when he retired doesn't work; the Philadelphia Inquirer points out that PSERS invested in the buyout fund that paid Mr. Wolf and his cousins upon their retirement two years before Mr. Wolf cashed out. And while it's true that PSERS and the other investors haven't recouped their money after the economy tanked – nearly taking the Wolf Organization with it – but neither has Wolf, who told the Inquirer that the investment he made when he bought back the company was substantial enough that he's borrowed money to fund his campaign.

Attacks by Ms. Schwartz and Rob McCord – the state treasurer who also opposed Mr. Wolf for the Democratic nomination – during the primary campaign prompted the Wolf team to release the following ad. And thanks to the latest broadside from Mr. Corbett, we'd bet that it's going to return to a television near you very soon.

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