Judge spot for Corbett pal in limbo

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Gov. Tom Corbett's former chief of staff Bill Ward isn't a slam-dunk pick for an open spot on the Allegheny County bench, reports Jan Murphy at the Patriot-News. Corbett's team wants Senate confirmation in June (which means wading through the complex political system where one party gets a judicial pick, then another, to get two-thirds support), and Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille has asked the governor to hold off on nominations as a budgetary measure.

The courts face a nearly $9 million budget shortfall and each judge is worth $200K -- as there are four other bench spots open (including another in Allegheny County) filling them could cost $1 million. And it's not as if the courts on Grant Street are desperate for help, Castille told Murphy:

In requesting the moratorium on filling vacancies, Castille said he recognized heavy caseloads, particularly in counties with only a few judges, might require exceptions.

However, Castille said Allegheny County President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel told him her court’s caseload has declined. Allegheny County has 43 judges and two vacancies. Efforts to contact McDaniel on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

. . . Providing political balance to judicial nominations is often necessary. Judicial confirmation requires approval of two-thirds of the Senate.

With the current makeup of the Senate, at least four Democratic votes will be needed, even if all 29 Republican senators cast favorable votes.

But top-level GOP Senate staffers questioned whether Corbett can count on all those Republican votes.


Pa GOP: process for Orie replacement bid

Published by Tim McNulty on .

The state Republican party has released details on how they'll pick their nominee in the special election to fill the last 2.5 years in Jane Orie's state Senate seat north of Pittsburgh. The special is Aug. 7 but GOP officials will meet almost two months in advance, on June 16, to pick their party's standard bearer.

From the GOP office in Harrisburg (in full after jump):

Due the fact that the 40th State Senate District is made up of more than one county, the Rules and Bylaws of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania dictate that the PA GOP preside over a conferee meeting to select a Republican nominee who will participate in the Special Election to fill her seat.

Each of the counties that comprise the 40th Senatorial District will be represented by their respective number of allotted conferees based on the electoral results of the 2008 presidential race. Conferees must be registered Republican electors that reside in the 40th State Senate District.

There will be a total of 84 conferees, 29 from Butler County and 55 from Allegheny County. The names of conferees will be released to the public prior to the meeting.


"30 Rock" star joins schools lobbying effort

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Former Philly suburbs resident Tina Fey is lobbying friends and school supporters to urge Gov. Tom Corbett to increase public schools funding, sending them the video above. From the WashPost:

. . . [W]hen the three-time Emmy Award-winner heard that her old school district had proposed eliminating specialized elementary school classes in arts and music (along with library and gym) to help deal with a multimillion-dollar deficit, she decided to join the fight against the changes.

The Upper Darby district is on the border of West Philadelphia, and with 12,000 students, it is one of the largest in the state. Along with cuts in elementary education, the Delaware County Daily Times reported that officials had also proposed cutting out foreign language and technology in middle schools and reducing the teaching staff.

The proposals met with strong opposition from parents, students, alumni and others in the district, who are organizing against the cuts.

Fey, creator and star of “30 Rock,” heard that her old high school friend, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Maria Panaritis (who played Rizzo in that “Grease” production [with Fey]), was working on a piece about the budget cuts and offered to get involved.


Obama operative: Pa voters racist, but would rather drink with Obama than Romney

Published by Peter Sullivan on .

The saga of politicos insinuating Pennsylvania voters are racist continued Sunday with comments from an unidentified Obama operative.

The operative was quoted in John Heilemann's new exploration of Obama campaign strategy in New York Magazine:

"'Romney really, actually thinks that if you just take care of the folks at the top, it'll trickle down to everybody else,' says another Obama operative. 'But no one believes that stuff—no one! And once you puncture that, there's nothing left. He's not likable. He's not trustworthy. He's not on your side. You live in Pittsburgh and you've got dirt under your fingernails, who do you want to have a beer with? It ain't f#$%^ Mitt Romney. You're like, 'S#$%, I'd rather have a beer with the black guy than him!' "

Typical Pittsburgh voters, according to this Obama operative, are working class, vote based on who they want to have a beer with, and are racist enough that they view Obama being a "black guy" as a strike against him. But apparently Mitt Romney is so unlikable that it outweighs the race factor in the mind of the imagined Pittsburgh voter.

This is certainly not the first time that someone in politics has called Pennsylvania voters racist or otherwise made them seem not too intelligent.

Former Johnstown U.S. Rep. John Murtha told the Post-Gazette before the 2008 election that "there's no question Western Pennsylvania is a racist area." Murtha did think Obama could overcome the racism to win the state, though, which Obama did. Murtha apologized for the comment the next day. However, the apology did not stop him from telling WTAE a week later that "this whole area, years ago, was really redneck."

Perhaps the most famous analysis of Pennsylvania racism comes from Obama himself. In the midst of a tough Pennsylvania primary battle with Hillary Clinton in 2008, Obama made controversial comments to attendees of a fundraiser in San Francisco, the stereotypical opposite of working class Pittsburgh.

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said. "And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

These imagined Pennsylvania voters perhaps are not quite redneck racists, but they are working class and not too bright. Therefore, "they cling to guns or religion" or just blame immigrants.

Pennsylvanians also clung to Hillary Clinton, handing her victory in the primary.

Despite the clinging and the racism, Obama beat Sen. John McCain by a healthy 10 points in the general election in the state in 2008, and the Obama campaign appears to be confident that it will win the state again in this year's general.

The same New York Magazine article quotes a "senior Obama campaign official" boasting that there are 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania.

Peter Sullivan is a news intern at the Post-Gazette.


Budget talks blooming early in Hbg

Published by Laura Olson on .


An early state budget is looking increasingly possible, with top GOP lawmakers saying this morning that they plan to meet with Gov. Tom Corbett next week to present a spending plan that has support from House and Senate Republicans.

From Michael Macagnone, our Harrisburg intern:

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said that the plan he continued negotiating this morning with House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, would keep them on the road to a finished budget by the middle of the month.

"It is an optimistic time frame but an achievable one," Mr. Pileggi said Wednesday of the mid-June goal.

Mr. Turzai said that the eventual legislative budget deal would use the $27.6 billion plan the Senate passed as a ceiling, but did not rule out spending below that total.

... Mr. Pileggi said that the two Republican caucuses were "not apart in concept, and we are working through the details" on primary education funding and other issues. Neither House nor Senate Democratic leaders were invited to today's negotiations.

Photo: Michael Macagnone