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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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Selective service, selective facts

Published by James O'Toole on .

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

On a day when one more poll showed a big deficit for Gov. Tom Corbett, the campaign for governor took a puzzling detour through history Tuesday as allies of the governor's campaign sought to raise questions about the nearly half century old draft record of Democratic nominee Tom Wolf.

In a Grant Street press conference conjuring echoes of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's critique of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, several Pittsburgh area veterans displayed draft records that they said posed "troubling questions'' about the student and Peace Corps related draft deferments that Mr. Wolf had received in the late 1960s during the Vietnam War. The documents chronicled the draft status from his time as a high school student in 1966 through 1971, when he was classified as 1-A, meaning that he was eligible to be drafted but was not called to serve because his lottery-generated draft number was high enough to exempt him from that year's levy.  

The speakers, Kim Stolfer, of Firearm Owners Against Guns, and Sam DeMarco, of the Tea party affiliated group, Veterans and Patriots United, voiced concern at the records but failed to show that Mr. Wolf had done anything improper or had in any way run afoul of the Selective Service System.  

"This record is anything but clear, and in some cases, highly troubling,'' Mr. Stolfer insisted.

In particular, he had his colleague pointed to an entry on the purported service records that suggested that Mr. Wolf had been summoned for an armed forces physical on Dec. 5 1968, a time when he was serving in the Peace Corps in an interruption in his undergraduate career at Dartmouth College.  Next to that date was the notation "FR,'' which the GOP activists said stood for "failed to report.''

In a demonstration of the thoroughness of the opposition research on both sides, however, the Wolf campaign _ which had obviously anticipated such scrutiny _  supplied a copy of correspondence with the Selective Service agency from July of this year in which an an information specialist for the agency said the initials stood for "forwarded record.''

Mr. DeMarco declined to say how his group had obtained the Wolf draft records.

Mike Mikus, a spokesman for the Wolf-affiliated Committee for a Fresh Start, stood by as the lunchtime event proceeded outside the City-County Building.  Afterward, he denounced the charges as the actions of "a desperate campaign reaching for straws.''

Mr. Mikus borrowed his own page from history -- in this case, the partisan controversies over the Vietnam-era National Guard records for former President George W. Bush, and before that, of former Vice President Dan Quayle.  He maintained that the GOP attack was ironic because Mr. Corbett had enlisted in the National Guard at around the same time.

"He joined the National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam,'' he said. 

Billy Pitman, a spokesman for the Corbett campaign, said, "It's appalling that Tom Wolf and his campaign are disparaging the committment and sacrifice of Pennsylvania's national Guard Forces.''

And he insisted that the group who staged the press conference had no affiliation with the governor's re-election effort.

The communications for the event, however, was handled by Matt Beynon, a veteran GOP campaign operative.  When asked about his role, he said, "I'm helping out the governor.''

Mr. Beynon was an associate of Mr. Corbett's media strategist, John Brabender, when they both worked on former Sen. Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign.

The records on display amid the midday traffic showed that Mr. Wolf's draft status varied during the years.  He registered with the system in 1966 when he was still a student at the Hill School, a private highschool.  Upon entering Dartmouth in 1967, he was classified 1-D as a member of the Navy Reserve Officers Training program.  He entered the Peace Corps in 1968 and would end up serving in India with a draft deferment tied to his work with the volunteer agency.  He returned to Dartmouth in 1971 and received a standard student deferment because the campus NROTC program hd gone out of existence.  In the meantime, the government conducted a draft lottery in which draft eligible individuals received a number based on their birth date.  The lower the number, the more likely one was to be drafted.  Mr. Wolf's number was 143.   In 1971, after his student deferment expired, the highest number called was 125, according to the Democratic campaign, so he was not called for service.  

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Coalition pushes education funding reform

Published by Karen Langley on .

Ed funding rally

From the Monday files:

HARRISBURG -- A coalition of business, education and community groups gathered Monday at the Capitol to kick off a campaign for fair and predictable funding for K-12 education.

The group, The Campaign for Fair Education Funding, launches its public effort as a state commission holds hearings around the state on how Pennsylvania pays for its elementary and secondary schools.

Representatives of the funding campaign described principles that will guide their approach -- accurate data, stable funding, shared responsibility and accountability by schools -- but said they had not yet settled upon a formula they could recommend. The state funding commission, made up of Corbett administration officials and legislators, is charged with reporting to the General Assembly by June 2015.

"We will get to the point where we are advocating for a specific proposal," said Kathy Manderino, manager of the education funding campaign. "We are working our way through those principles, to figure out what all of our partners think needs to be in that formula. And at at the same time, obviously, we're following very carefully and kind of trying to share our knowledge and information and resources with the Basic Education Funding Commission because we realize we're on parallel paths."

Campaign members include A+ Schools, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Allies for Children, the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Mayor Bill Peduto, in town for a meeting of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, appeared at the event.

Education funding has become a prominent topic in state politics, particularly in the campaign for governor. But where Democrats and Republicans have tangled over the accounting of state and federal money in their efforts to show if Gov. Tom Corbett cut or invested in public education, the group Monday stuck to broad goals of fairness and predictability.