By Matt Nussbaum
By Matt Nussbaum
Let's hope Senate staffers are better at vote-counting than run-counting.
"What's the score?" one policy expert asked during the second inning of a Wednesday night softball game on the National Mall.
Responses from his colleagues varied from 3-5 to 4-5 to 5-4.
"Who's winning?" someone else asked.
Senate staffers, former staffers and interns gathered on the National Mall Wednesday evening for the annual intra-Pennsylvania rivalry that pits Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey -- along with their staffs -- against each other on a softball diamond.
Democrat Casey’s team prevailed 17-11. That tied the series 2-2.
The teams -- Hit It Toomey and Scrantonicity -- are both part of a summer league that pits Senate staffs against each other. Hit It Toomey and Scrantonicity have each played several other staffs already this summer, but Wednesday's game was the one that drew the most players, the most spectators and the most mock trash talk.
“I saw [Sen. Casey] a little earlier. I think he’s shaken up. I’m not sure he’s ready for this,” Mr. Toomey joked in a pre-game “press conference.”
The ribbing is in jest, but the rivalry is real. It’s so intense that staffers decided to chip in to hire a professional umpire from the American Softball Association after disputes over calls in previous games. That’s unusual in the league, except in championship games.
“This is a big deal. It’s our equivalent of a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry,” said Jim Brown, chief of staff from Mr. Casey’s Philadelphia office.
It’s also one of the rare times he finds his boss on the right – right field, that is.
“It’s where all the high-skilled players go,” the self-deprecating Democrat deadpanned.
He’s not that he doesn’t have his share of trophies. When he was a Little Leaguer, he played for a championship team, though he admits that his contribution was a single base-hit in two years of play.
On Wednesday, he had a clean base hit that pushed a teammate home. In the outfield, meanwhile, he was repeatedly saved by a center fielder who snared fly balls that soared past.
“That guy’s getting a promotion tomorrow,” an observer said.
“Yep. Head intern,” joked a staffer.
Mr. Toomey, meanwhile, legged out a grounder to get on base but didn’t score. He had mixed results in the infield, making a nice catch in foul territory and fielding one grounder but missing at least one other.
It was different Toomey, though, that Mr. Casey considered a bigger threat.
That’s 12-year-old Patrick, the Republican senator’s son who was a standout in the 2013 match-up.
“He was good last year and now he’s a little bigger,” Mr. Casey said.
Mr. Casey doesn’t take the game -- or himself -- too seriously.
“I just show up, play badly for one night, and my job is done,” he said. “I find the fewer times I bat the higher our score.”
In the office, Mr. Casey is the boss, but on the field clipboard-wielding policy staffer Jack Groarke is clearly in charge.
“I was close to getting the All-Star coaching gig but I had this commitment already,” he said with mock braggadocio before leading his team to the field.
Hit It Toomey is coached by Theo Merkel, the office’s expert on health policy.
Playing in the league is a longtime tradition for Hill staffers.
Mr. Brown has been playing since the 70s when he was a House committee aide. He first played for the Minish Maulers, named for former New Jersey Sen. Joseph Minish. It was on the softball field that Lynne, a pretty staffer for the Italian embassy who joined the team, caught his eye and, soon after, his heart. Now she is his wife of 31 years.
They are one of at least three couples who married after playing together on the Maulers. All of the marriages have endured, Mr. Brown noted.
That didn't take long.
Democrat Tom Wolf cruised to the Democratic nomination for governor on a wave of overwhelmingly positive ads introducing him to the state's voters. Mr. Corbett, of course, had no primary opposition at all, so he had no need to run negative ads during the primary, although his campaign did air one quirky commercial making fun of Mr. Wolf's trademark Jeep.
But now the general election combat is underway in earnest, with both sides airing sharp attack ads. The Corbett campaign was up with the negatives first. After launching a generic defense of his adminstraiton last week, the incumbent turned to an attack on Mr. Wolf's tenure as secretary of revenue under the administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell. The Wolf camp fired back Tuesday with a video, not yet airing on broadcast TV, which contains a litany of charges against the Corbett administration that echoed the criticisms that all of the Democratic primary candidates had trained on the incumbent.
Here's Corbett hitting his challenger:
And here's Wolf's broadside at the administration:
By G. Terry Madonna; Michael L. Young
It’s a trite but true political aphorism: “where you stand depends on where you sit,” meaning we tend to see things differently depending on what perspective we see them from.
If you're a Pennsylvania Republican, no matter where you “sit,” it’s hard to see what Gov. Corbett did with the 2014-15 budget as anything but a divisive, last-gasp effort to change perceptions of his leadership.
In case you missed it, Corbett, using most of his 10 days to sign or veto the 2014-15, state budget finally decided to do both. He signed it, but excluded about $72 million mostly earmarked for the legislature. This he excised with his line-item veto popularly known as “blue lining.” (A Pennsylvania governor cannot add appropriations to a budget passed by the legislature, but can selectively delete them.)
Corbett wiped out about 20 percent of the money intended to support the General Assembly plus some pet projects. (Before shedding a tear for the legislature be informed that it currently holds some $150 million in “reserve,” more than enough to get it through the year.
Corbett did this to “encourage” the legislature to return to Harrisburg to enact pension reform, his number one priority, and perhaps salvage his swiftly disappearing chances of re-election. (Ignore for the moment that voters don’t care that much about pension reform and list it as their fourth or fifth most important issue. It spoils the story if you worry too much about that.)
To be fair, Corbett was in a bit of a tight corner when the legislature delivered an on time budget sans pension reform. Facing a daunting re-election challenge, he needed some accomplishments.
By Matt Nussbaum
As the Pennsylvania GOP continues to splinter over pension reform, Tom Wolf, the Democratic nominee for governor, is savoring the political debate, but treading cautiously on the policy front.
"Why would [Wolf] do anything that gets him into a controversy when he's got a big lead and the Republicans are in a fight?" said G. Terry Madonna, Director of the Center of Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. "He'll have to engage Corbett if Corbett starts to rise in the polls. When you have a 22-point lead, you just go about your business."
When Gov. Tom Corbett hit the legislature Thursday with a veto of $72.5 million in funds controlled by the body, and said that their refusal to address pension reform led him to force "mutual sacrifice” on them, legislative leaders fired back. A statement from Republican senate leaders said, “We are disappointed that the governor has not, to date, been able to work effectively with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate to address important fiscal issues impacting our state.”
Then, Friday morning, House Republican Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) called a press conference in Pittsburgh to assail the governor's leadership on a range of issues, including pension reform.
"We're the ones leading," he said repeatedly, in reference to his House Republican colleagues.
But Rep. Turzai also took the opportunity to hit Tom Wolf on pensions, who has said borrowing by selling bonds might be one remedy to the state's pension shortfall.
"We think that's an unbelievably wrong approach to how to deal with the unfunded liability for the pensions. It's completely irresponsible," Rep. Turzai said.
The Wolf campaign, however, perhaps eager to allow the Republican infighting to continue unabated, declined to respond to the attack.
Wolf campaign press secretary, Jeff Sheridan, declined to say anything about Mr. Wolf's position on bond sales beyond the brief, one-sentence statement available on the campaign website, which says Mr. Wolf "will work to create innovative solutions and explore new funding mechanisms, like issuing pension obligation bonds, that are fiscally responsible, and fair and beneficial to future employees."
Vagueness is not a bad strategy, though, according to Mr. Madonna.
"Wolf is only going to be as specific as he has to be, because at the moment it's to his advantage not to be specific," he said,