Chalk another win for Corbett

Published by Tim McNulty on .

corbettcloseupWe meant to write this yesterday, but before we forget: chalk up another win for Gov. Tom Corbett and his behind the scenes negotiating style with UPMC & Highmark over a feud affecting people across Western Pennsylvania.

The low-key public style matched with hard work privately paid off two months ago in the governor's role in getting Shell Oil to place its $1 billion chemical "cracker" plant in Monaca. In that case Corbett quietly worked execs with a Steeler game while also pouring over Google Maps at the governor's mansion. And like that announcement, it's not clear what will happen in the long run -- some analysts say the hospital/insurer deal is only a temporary band-aid and will ultimately lead to higher prices for customers .

But Corbett was still key in getting a deal reached, as even the Senate's top Democrat acknowledged. From Bill Toland:

On April 2 -- the day after then-Highmark CEO Ken Melani was fired -- Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, Mr. White and Mr. Costa, along with Annmarie Kaiser (Mr. Corbett's secretary of legislative affairs) and Todd Shamash (the governor's deputy chief of staff and health care expert), met with UPMC and Highmark officials.

Mr. Costa said the meeting was instrumental from a political standpoint, although it didn't stir any breakthroughs from a business standpoint.

"That meeting helped move it forward," he said. "We needed the support of the administration to extend [the contract] longer than Jan. 1, 2014." And the legislators needed the weight of the governor's office to show the parties, particularly UPMC, that the Legislature was serious about some of the bills on the table, one of which would have forced the two parties into binding arbitration.

"Quite frankly, the governor's desire to see this brought to closure was key," Mr. Costa said.

While neither the legislators nor the governor presented a "stick," or threatened any hard deadlines, it was important for both Highmark and UPMC to know that "we were prepared to move on some legislation," perhaps by the end of May, Mr. Costa said.


ALIENS ATTACK: Coroner doesn't talk

Published by Tim McNulty on .

national examiner

There is weirdness afoot, as usual, along the corridors of Grant Street. The latest concerns Cyril Wecht and, separately, the Orie/Melvin family versus DA Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Wecht was surprised to hear he's on the cover of the supermarket tabloid National Examiner, despite the fact that he never talked to them about a JFK assassination story. Even though he would have if asked:

Dr. Wecht was more bemused than annoyed by his tabloid treatment and his sharing the cover with headlines proclaiming "COUNTRY MUSIC WARS!" "Man drives across America--ON 2 GALLONS OF GAS!" and "Whitney's DISTURBING AUTOPSY REPORT!"

"I've been in tabloids over the years, such as in the case of O.J. [Simpson] and JonBenet [Ramsey], but I don't know if I ever made the cover. I'm always willing to talk to them. I'm not going to be snooty."

Wecht would probably be more willing to talk to the tabloid than Zappala. In the latest twist in the ongoing Orie investigations -- which have included a grand jury investigation of Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin -- the DA is now reviewing a car crash by the justice's 24-year-old daughter for insurance fraud. During the corruption trial of state Sen. Jane Orie (the justice's sister) this spring, defense attorneys grilled Josh Dott, a Melvin aide and prosecution witness, over his relationship with the same daughter.


Questions on redistricting, voter ID

Published by Tim McNulty on .

State Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati calls the latest state redistricting maps an "outrage to voters," even though his comrade Dominic Pileggi, the Senate Majority Leader, supports them. Scarnati and Allegheny County GOP chief want the maps changed so Jane Orie's seat remains north of Pittsburgh and John Pippy's current seat is changed so primary winner D. Raja remains inside it. Karen Langley's story is here.

PA Independent has reaction from Pileggi and redistricting activist Amanda Holt, whose criticisms of the first round of maps led them to be remanded by the state Supreme Court:

The revised plan for new state House and Senate districts that was opened for public comment Wednesday contains "excessive divisions on a massive scale" even after the state Supreme Court ordered the commission to redraw the maps with fewer splits, Holt said.

The revised proposals contain about 50 percent fewer divisions, but Holt's analysis showed 32 unnecessary divisions in the state Senate plan and 205 on the new House map.

There is evidence of voter fraud in Philadelphia, but just not of the type the state's new voter ID bill is trying to stop, says an Inquirer story today:

The new law does add ID requirements for issuing absentee ballots, which could have helped curb the abuses suspected in the 2007 race and documented in 1993.

But the law's main provision, requiring the state's 8.2 million registered voters to produce drivers' licenses or other official forms of photo ID, appears to target a kind of fraud that by all accounts hasn't cropped up in recent years in the city or state.

"The phrase used is voter impersonation, where John Doe pretends to be Henry Jones in order to cast a vote," [veteran election attorney Gregory ]Harvey said. "No one has identified any such cases, certainly in Philadelphia, in my time frame." Harvey is 75.



Romney, trailing in Q poll, holds Pgh event

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Mitt Romney will be in Pittsburgh tomorrow coincidentally on the same day he's meeting with former foe Rick Santorum. The Romney camp is holding a lunchtime event at a specialty construction company in O'Hara.

Today he's in Wheeling for a private fundraiser hosted by a coal mine owner.

The visit comes as Quinnipiac reports President Barack Obama has opened an 8-point lead over Romney in Pennsylvania, while things are too close to call in fellow swing states Ohio and Florida. More details on the polls here.


Romney, Santorum meeting in Pittsburgh

Published by James O'Toole on .

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum will have their first face to face meeting since Mr. Santorum withdrew from the presidential race this Friday in Pittsburgh. The date of the meeting had been widely reported but Salena Zito, one of our friends from across the river, was first to report the site in her Twitter account.

A senior figure in the Santorum campaign confirmed the report.

In a National Review interview earlier this week, John Brabender, Mr. Santorum's longtime advisor, said that the former senator will "not be walking in there with a list of 20 demands."

"I highly doubt that a convention speaking slot will be discussed on Friday," Mr. Brabender told NR's Robert Costa. "But from a
consultant perspective, it's clear that Rick fired up the base in state after state. He kept winning, even after he was ignored by the
party hierarchy. It would be a logical benefit for the Romney people to have Rick play a major role at the convention."