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New ads rehash 'secret' issues

Published by Mike Pound on .

We're two weeks away from Election Eve – which should absolutely be a holiday on par with Christmas Eve– and The Battling Toms are lining up their best shots at each other – and emptying the wallets of their respective campaign funds. Two new ads hit YouTube – and, presumably, televisions near you – on Monday. Let's take a look at what each of The Toms want us to keep in mind as the campaign winds down.

Tom Wolf: Forward

What's new: Besides Mr. Wolf's shirt? Not much.

What's not: The Wolf campaign seems to have settled on three now-familiar themes: the $1 billion in cuts to education, rising property taxes and the state's lagging job-creation figures. The headlines and some of the clips are recycled and even the music – ominous at the start, switching to something more upbeat when Mr. Wolf explains what he'd do for the commonwealth – is familiar.

Bottom line: "After all – it's time to get Pennsylvania moving again."

Random things we noticed: This is intended to be a tidy synthesis of Mr. Wolf's campaign, something for us to chew on for the last two weeks before we cast our votes. It hits the things that, according to Mr. Wolf, Mr. Corbett hasn't done well, before touching on Mr. Wolf's goals of improving manufacturing, fixing the state's corporate tax structure and using a severance tax to fund education. As usual, accuracy is in the eye of the beholder; we've discussed the tricky accounting when it comes to discussions of the education cuts, and the job-creation rankings, while correct, have a lot to do with comparing our growth rate to that of much smaller states. And is this the right ad for this point in the campaign? With Mr. Corbett narrowing Mr. Wolf's lead in the polls, it's probably necessary for Mr. Wolf to continue poking at the governor, rather than stepping above the fray.

Tom Corbett: Radio Silence

What's new: Waitwaitwait – Mr. Wolf has a "secret plan" to raise income taxes? How come we haven't heard anything about this before?

What's not: OK, we were kidding about that last thing. No matter what this spot says about exposing Mr. Wolf's secret tax plans, Mr. Corbett has been trying to make Mr. Wolf's tax-reform plans – and his lack of specifics about them – an issue for weeks.

Bottom line: "The good news? We found out – before Election Day."

Random things we noticed: As an attention-grabber, this is a good spot. But Mr. Corbett has been asking Mr. Wolf about his plans for state income taxes for a while now. The issue was discussed -- at length – during all three debates. It's been mentioned in ads supporting Mr. Corbett before. So we're not sure the tack here – a "secret" plan that we were lucky to "expose" before the election – really works. In fact, the spot works against itself a little bit; as the narrator mentions the plan's alleged secrecy, we see a KDKA headline from June – as in, four months ago – about Mr. Wolf raising taxes. The narrator begins this spot by saying it's critical we pay attention; for anyone who has been paying attention, this ad is old news. But that's probably not who Mr. Corbett is trying to reach.

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Perry on Politics: A muddled future for the GOP

Published by Mike Pound on .

Mitt Romney campaigns at a campaign stop in Ohio in 2012. (Block News Alliance)Mitt Romney waves at a campaign stop in Ohio in 2012. (Block News Alliance)

By James M. Perry

Political pundits seem to be flocking to the conclusion that Republicans will capture the Senate and make gains in the House on Nov. 4.

Given the political climate (heated and sometimes hysterical), they probably should win, even though they have done nothing to deserve such a result. First of all, Democrats running for Congress, House and Senate, are faced with the uncomfortable fact that Americans have lost confidence in President Obama, and millions of them now despise him. That means that a vote for a Republican, unappetizing as the candidate may be, is a vote against Mr. Obama. Second, of the 36 Senate seats being contested, 21 are held by Democrats and only 15 by Republicans.

Republicans need to pick up six seats to take control of the Senate. If that happens, they will control both the House and Senate and will continue to have the benign support of a majority on the Supreme Court.

But that's the bad news for Democrats. The good news is that the Republicans are almost certain to make an unholy mess of Mr. Obama's final two years, alienating millions, and leading up to a landmark election in 2016. Mr. Obama will be gone and the Democratic standard-bearer will be Hillary Rodham Clinton, vying to be the nation's first female president. The latest Washginton Post-ABC News poll said she is supported by 65 percent of the Democrats.

The Democrats in 2016 will have a ready-made candidate for President and fewer seats to defend in the Senate, all of it being played out against two years of utter chaos brought on by Republicans in Congress (Benghazi! Obamacare! Ebola!) seeking desperately to take the nation back to the Calvin Coolidge era.

The GOP's biggest problem is they don't have a viable candidate for President anywhere in sight.

In the same poll that put Ms. Clinton ahead among Democrats, the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2016 is -- ready? -- Mitt Romney, favored by 21 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Second place, with 11 per cent, went to Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida (1999-2007). The rest of the field barely registers. Bunched together between 8 and 6 percent are Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Ben Carson, a conservative neurosurgeon, and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Mr. Romney's wife, Ann, says her husband is "done, done, done" with Presidential politics, and a somewhat lethargic Jeb Bush acts as if he believes two Bushes in the White House was enough.

So, even if the Republicans win the Senate on Nov. 4, there's always 2016. Wait until the year after next might work as their slogan.

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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Eakin accuses McCaffery of threats in email scandal

Published by Mike Pound on .

Justice J. Michael Eakin (Julia Rendleman/Post-Gazette)

Things are likely to be a little tense when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court returns to session in Harrisburg Nov. 17.

A second justice of the court, J. Michael Eakin, has admitted to receiving pornographic emails – and he's blaming Justice Seamus McCaffery, who apologized on Thursday for sending explicit emails, for threatening to make public those messages if Justice Eakin wouldn't convince the court's chief justice to retract statements he made about Justice McCaffery.

Confused? That's understandable.

In a statement released to the media and to the state's Judicial Conduct Board, Justice Eakin on Friday said he had received pornographic emails "some years ago." The messages were sent to a Yahoo account set Justice Eakin said he set up to conduct personal business without being identified as a judge.

Justice Eakin said the messages were brought to his attention when Justice McCaffery called him early Thursday. Justice McCaffery had by then been accused by Chief Justice Ronald Castille of receiving and sending more than 200 sexually explicit emails to people who worked in the state attorney general's office when it was run by now-Gov. Tom Corbett. For those who need a reminder: the accusations by Justice Castille drew an apology from Justice McCaffery, as well as an angry response that accused Justice Castille of carrying out a vendetta against Justice McCaffery.

Given the background of the relationship between Justice Castille and Justice McCaffery, the new accusations from Justice Eakin become that much more remarkable. From Justice Eakin's statement:

Justice McCaffery said he was receiving communications from 'people', and that 'they' had in their possession inappropriate emails that involved me. Specifically, he named one person that was on the other end of the email exchange, to convince me that they did exist and that he had seen them personally. The subject of much recent publicity concerning the sending of salacious emails, Justice McCaffery next told me he 'was not going down alone.' Justice McCaffery told me that I had to cause the Chief Justice to retract his media statements of the prior day. I told him I would not attempt to do so even if it were possible. He repeated that I had to, and that he 'needed an answer' by noon to prevent release of the emails involving my account.

So. That's one justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania accusing another of attempting to blackmail him. And Justice McCaffery apparently followed up on his threat; Justice Eakin said he was approached later in the day by reporters in Philadelphia about the emails he received.

"I have no reason to question the media's description of them, and that these were received, not sent," Justice Eakin said in a statement, adding that he had not seen the messages. "That said, in an abundance of caution, I am hereby reporting the matter to the Board."

To summarize: that's at least two justices – one of whom is the court's chief justice – who aren't going to be especially happy with Justice McCaffery when the court convenes again next month. And that's a Judicial Conduct Board that may be even busier than the court itself this fall.

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Florida governor candidates feud over fan

Published by Mike Pound on .

cristfanThe fan in question. (Associated Press photo)

It's not just us. Even if it may feel like it, Pennsylvania hasn't cornered the market on election-related weirdness. In Florida, current governor Rick Scott, a Republican, is in a tight race against former governor Charlie Crist, who recently changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. A debate between Mr. Scott and Mr. Crist earlier this week almost didn't get started ... because Mr. Crist had a fan placed in his podium.

Man. Florida gets to have all the fun.

More election deadlines. Voting absentee this fall? There are a couple of approaching deadlines you should be aware of. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is 5 p.m. Oct. 28. And completed ballots must be filed by 5 p.m. Oct. 31.

Applications are available at county elections offices – Allegheny County's office is at 601 County Office Building, 542 Forbes Ave., Downtown – online at votespa.com.

Completed applications must be returned to your local county elections office by the Oct. 28 deadline, and you should bring an approved ID along with the application, which will be mailed.

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McCaffey fires back with apology

Published by Mike Pound on .

judgesPa. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, left, and Justice Seamus McCaffery. (Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette)

First: Seamus McCaffery is sorry.

Second: Think the feud between Justice McCaffery and Chief Justice Ronald Castille could be left to cool down in the weeks before Justice Castille retires? Forget about it.

One day after Justice Castille, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said Justice McCaffery sent or received more than 200 sexually explicit emails, Justice McCaffery issued a statement covering two main points – apologizing for his involvement in the scandal and tearing into the state's top jurist.

The first part:

I served my country proudly in the United States Marine Corps. I served my city proudly as an Officer of the Philadelphia Police Department. Coarse language and crude jokes permeated both ranks. That's not an excuse, just a fact. Unfortunately, personal, private emails between me and some longtime friends were never meant to be viewed by anyone else, but they were. I sincerely apologize for my lapse in judgment. I erred and if I offended anyone, I am truly sorry.

The second part:

This latest cooked-up controversy over my personal emails is part of a vindictive pattern of attacks by the soon-to-be-retired Chief Justice, Ronald Castille. He is fixated on taking down a fellow justice with his misleading statements and incredible hypocrisy. Isn't it time for the press to ask the real question? Why is the Chief Justice fixated on hurling one accusation after another at me, in an ongoing attempt to discredit me?

Ron Castille's statement yesterday, issued on AOPC (Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts) letterhead and purporting to represent the position of the entire Supreme Court, was a lie. In fact, members of the Supreme Court did not even know about the statement until they read the publication. And it is only the latest lie in the Chief Justice's egomaniacal mission to 'get me.' His mission began when he reported me to the Federal Bureau of Investigation over my wife's legitimate receipt of referral fees, and that didn't work. He has done everything possible within our Court to undermine me with my colleagues, and that didn't work. Now, with only two months left in the hourglass of his tenure on our Court, he is trying to finish what he has been trying to do for so many years. He has been on this mission because I had the guts to challenge him on the Family Court fiasco and on what the citizens of Pennsylvania got for the more than $3 million of First Judicial District funds that were funneled to one of his closest friends. And I had the guts to challenge him on his disastrous handling of Pennsylvania's worst judicial scandal and a tragic injustice that will forever be known as the 'Kids for Cash' disaster.

Does the flap end here? Not likely. There isn't anything illegal about adults sharing adult pornography (as opposed to the kind that features minors, which has not been alleged in this case) but it could be a violation of use policies for state-owned computers, and Castille has implied that any judges involved in the scandal could be in violation of the state's Code of Judicial Conduct. Justice Castille is approaching the court's mandatory retirement age and has just a few weeks left on the bench – but that's plenty of time for this dispute to boil over even further.