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Santorum set to jump into 2016 presidential race

Published by Mike Pound on .

Clarification: Virginia Davis, a spokeswoman for Mr. Santorum, emailed to say Mr. Santorum has yet to make a final decision about a presidential run in 2016.

The sweater vest is ready for a comeback -- Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania's former U.S. senator and 2012 presidential candidate, is set for another shot at the White House.

In a story in the Washington Post, Mr. Santorum said he'll take a different approach from the conservative "cultural warrior" persona he pushed in the 2012 campaign, which saw him win 11 primaries and caucuses. With his social beliefs well-established, Mr. Santorum told Karen Tumulty that he'll focus more on economic issues this time around.

"It's very much heart of America, average Americans who have found a place where they see someone who will stand up and fight for them," Mr. Santorum said of his 2016 approach. "If the Republican Party has a future — and I sometimes question if it does — it's in middle America. It's not in corporate America."

In 2012, Mr. Santorum joined the fray late and had to build a campaign from scratch. But even with a head start this time – his Patriot Voices group is already pushing back against President Obama's executive orders on immigration – the Butler native said he'll still be fighting the odds in the next campaign.

"America loves an underdog," he told the Post. "We're definitely the underdog in this race."

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Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

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We're feeling even hungrier than usual this morning, and this bag of Doritos just isn't cutting it.

Hey, here's an idea: we'll bring back Breakfast Sausage.

1) Thanks to a retirement and some shenanigans on the part of two other justices, there will be three seats available on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015, and that's likely to attract record spending on the races, our James O'Toole reports. State-level races are now attracting donations from across the country – that's one of the things that led to record spending in this year's race for Pennsylvania governor – and we could see the same thing for the supreme court races as well.

2) We're just a month past Election Day, so the pledge by Gov.-elect Tom Wolf to raise $1 billion with a severance tax on natural gas drillers is still fresh in our minds. But plummeting energy prices – driven by a glut of gas and oil – might mean that Mr. Wolf's estimated income from the severance tax won't reach the levels he's expecting.

3) There's a push to get citizens involved in the state's 2021 redistricting effort, WITF in Harrisburg reports, a change that would avoid the current problem of "incumbents picking their voters instead of voters picking their elected representatives."

4) Vox.com cites a new Bloomberg Politics poll that makes us think about the benefits of body cameras on police officers. The poll found that just 25 percent of white Americans thought Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson should have been indicted in the death of Michael Brown. But when asked about the Eric Garner case – where Mr. Garner's confrontation with New York City police officers was taped and widely available – 52 percent of white Americans said there should have been an indictment. Also of note: about 90 percent of African Americans said there should have been indictments in both cases.

5) This isn't strictly politics, but Cameron McLay, Pittsburgh's acting police chief, proved to be adept at navigating the political waters of Pittsburgh City Council at his confirmation hearing Monday. Council could vote on Mr. McLay's confirmation as soon as today.

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Perry on Politics: This isn't the time for presidential modesty

Published by Mike Pound on .

obama jordan

By James M. Perry

Blow your horn, Mr. President!

If you listen to the pundits and just about any Republican in the House or Senate, you would believe the Obama Administration is an abject failure. Obamacare, they say, isn't working and the economy is a shambles.

None of that is true. Obamacare is working for its target audience, those Americans who aren't covered by health insurance, and the economy is recovering. And this year, 2014, may end up as the best year for job growth in 15 years.

"How many Americans know how health reform is going?" Paul Krugman asked in a recent New York Times column. "For that matter, how many people in the news business are following the positive developments?"

"Not many," he concludes. "How is that possible?" he asks.

"Think relentless negativity without accountability." Obamacare, Mr. Krugman says, has faced "nonstop attacks," involving predictions of disaster which have not come true. And these people, once one prediction fails to come true, simply come up with another.

One of the problems, of course, is that the roll-out was bungled. But, for the most part, it's working so well these days that one Republican senator (John Barrasso of Wyoming) limply argued the other day that Mr. Obama and his henchman are guilty of "cooking the books." The fact is, as many as eight million Americans previously uninsured are enrolled and thousands more are covered by an expansion of Medicaid.

"The usual suspects will keep crying failure but the truth is that health reform is -- gasp! -- working," says Mr. Krugman, a Princeton professor and winner of a Nobel Prize in economics.

It might be that the people who complain the most already are safely enrolled in well-regarded insurance plans. And they have yet to hear from those who have been enrolled in Obamacare and say that for the most part they are pleased with their coverage. Costs average just $82 a month.

Steve Benen, a blog writer, says "2014 isn't just an encouraging year as compared to other years in the Great Recession era, it's actually a strong year on its own." Indeed, more jobs have been created this year that were created in any year in the 12 years one of the Bushes was president. The Labor Department reported Friday that employers took on 310,000 new workers in November, far more than anyone expected.

Franklin D. Roosevelt took office during a terrible time, the Great Depression, when millions of Americans were out of work and thousands of them had taken to selling apples on city streets. Mr. Roosevelt, the greatest presidential politician of them all, created a jumble of alphabet agencies to put people back to work. They didn't all succeed, but that's not the point. What Roosevelt did was use his bull horn to convince most Americans that happy days were once again on the way.

Mr. Obama is the anti-Roosevelt. He's all brain and not enough gumption. Mr. Roosevelt was all gumption and only as much brain as he needed. Mark Shields, a shrewd political analyst, believes Mr. Obama, by style and inclination, might be a better Supreme Court justice. Justices, after all, issue their opinions and then step aside and let others handle the fallout.

That's Mr. Obama's problem. He makes good decisions most of the time and then steps aside.

Now, with Obamacare and the economy working, it's time to step out, not aside.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to 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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Auditor general: Ed department not cooperating with audit

Published by Mike Pound on .

Ron TomalisRon Tomalis

Eugene DePasquale could make the next few weeks pretty uncomfortable for Tom Corbett and outgoing officials at the state Department of Education, unless he gets the cooperation he's looking for.

Mr. DePasquale, the state's auditor general, said on Thursday he's getting impatient with a lack of cooperation from officials in the education department as he tries to complete a wide-ranging audit of the department before Mr. Corbett and his appointees leave office in January.

Mr. DePasquale started the audit over the summer, to examine how the effectively the department is able to help struggling districts improve; he expanded it in September to include an examination of the department's use of special advisers, after the department was unable – or unwilling – to release any information at all about the workload of Ron Tomalis, the former education secretary who was appointed to an adviser's post – while maintaining the salary he received as the department's secretary – by Mr. Corbett.

As a refresher: besides the fact that a car owned by Mr. Tomalis showed up pretty regularly at the department's offices in Harrisburg, we don't know a whole lot about what Mr. Tomalis did as a $140,000 adviser on higher education. Records requests by the Post-Gazette yielded a nearly empty work calendar and precious few telephone calls or emails; a right-to-know request filed by the campaign of Gov.-elect Tom Wolf yielded only a terse response from the department saying the personnel file of Mr. Tomalis was exempt.

Even with a stunning lack of documentation, Mr. Corbett and Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq insist that Mr. Tomalis did the work he was hired to do. And because of that stunning lack of documentation, Mr. DePasquale's audit is likely the best shot we have at determining whether Mr. Tomalis did or didn't do the work.

Officials at the department complained in the summer that the expansion of Mr. DePasquale's audit was political; in fact, spokesman Tim Eller initially said the department wouldn't cooperate with an audit of the department's special advisers until the initial audit was complete. Mr. Eller said on Thursday the department is now cooperating, but Mr. DePasquale said that hasn't been the case:

"Of all the audits we've done of all the agencies, they have been the least cooperative," Mr. DePasquale said of the education department. "They don't respond. We ask for 10 items, they respond a week later and give us one. We have to go back and chase down the other nine."

Mr. DePasquale has one more rather robust option for gaining the department's cooperation – he can issue subpoenas for the records he needs. That should be, as he noted, a last resort, although it looks more and more like it'll be a necessary option.

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Wolf gets down to budgeting business -- sort of

Published by Mike Pound on .

20141006lrtomwolflocal04-3erTom Wolf. (Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

If you're the budget secretary of the sixth-largest state in the union, the phrase "only $1 million in the bank" is terrifying.

And that's where Pennsylvania stands at the moment, according to Charles Zogby, who has managed budgets for Gov. Tom Corbett – a shortfall of $1.85 billion at the start of fiscal year 2015-16 after closing the current year with just a million bucks in the bank.

How did we get here? Following the lead set by his boss during this year's gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Zogby pointed his finger squarely at the General Assembly, particularly when it came to reforming the state's public pensions and privatizing sales of booze. Mr. Zogby also said increasing tax revenue would almost certainly have to be part of the solution.

"You can't say no to pension reform, no to (state Liquor Control Board) reform, no to everything else and no to taxes and balance the budget," Mr. Zogby said. "It's just not going to work."

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has some ideas about the budget deficit he'll face when he takes office in January – and the rhetoric is like a heartwarming return to Mr. Wolf's successful campaign:

"I do not want to go into this with anybody being under the misapprehension that somehow I caused this. I want to make sure we're all in agreement that I'm inheriting a big problem here."

There was another campaign flashback, one that was as annoying as it was prior to Election Day – the continued insistence of Mr. Wolf and members of his newly appointed budget task force that they don't yet have enough information to begin formulating a solution to the budget problems Mr. Wolf wants to remind us he didn't cause.

Here's Josh Shapiro, a Montgomery County commissioner who was just appointed vice chairman of Mr. Wolf's budget task force:

"It is too soon to put those solutions out there and too soon to say what the recommendations are to turn this around because we don't understand the scope of the problem yet and how deep the hole is yet."

We'll wrap up with this: The current budget – the whole thing -- is right here. Perhaps it's time for Mr. Wolf and his staff to stop campaigning and start working towards a solution.

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