Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett may not talk to reporters as much as his predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, did. The Republican was happy to field questions from teenagers during a recent visit to an inner city middle school, though. The governor visited four classrooms at Harrisburg’s Nativity Middle School, a small operation serving underprivileged boys who attend on full scholarships. He took about five minutes of questions at each stop, with some entertaining and enlightening results.
The first question: was it hard to get elected? Corbett told the class to ask the reporters in the back of the room, but then said it took “a lot of work. You have to go to all 67 counties, from Erie to Philadelphia. You meet people all the time – you start at 7, work until 11, and go back and do the same thing.” A few minutes later he mentioned another important detail: that you need “a lot of contributions from people with money who want to help you.”
Another student asked whether it’s hard to be governor. “It’s very hard. We’re broke,” Corbett said, explaining Pennsylvania’s $4 billion deficit. “I’ve had to propose a budget…and people are mad because we had to cut spending in a lot of areas. And they’re mad about that, because I promised I wouldn’t raise taxes because I want the people to keep more money. So there’s a lot of people upset, and there are newspaper polls out there that say they wish they would have voted for the other guy now,” he said, referencing a new Public Policy Poll showing 49 percent of respondents would vote for Democrat Dan Onorato, if they could “do last fall’s election over again.” (44 percent would vote for Corbett, and 8 percent weren’t sure. Corbett received a 34 percent approval rating in the survey.)
Corbett handled some questions better than others. A soft-spoken student told him, “where I live at, every single night we’ve got shootings,” and asked what Corbett could do to help. The governor responded with an answer about government and budgets. “This is interesting because it’s the city that gives you the police officers, not the state,” he said. “We have three levels of government, actually four. We have the city, we have Dauphin County, we have the state of Pennsylvania, and then the federal government. We all have different responsibilities. The police officers you see on the street, the Harrisburg police officers, are paid for by the city. Well the city has a budget, too. And they can only pay for so many people. So that has a lot to do with it.” A spokeswoman later clarified that Corbett didn’t hear the student’s entire question.
The best question came from a student who wanted to know whether Corbett’s “business is successful.” “You know when we’ll find out,” Corbett answered, “In…2014. We will have a reelection, and then the people will say that they either like me and like what I did, or don’t like me.”
“I told you what the problem is,” he continued. “It’s sort of like looking at a house that’s run down. Do you go in and just put some paint on it to make it look better? Or do you go in and take out the rotten wood and bring it down to a foundation and maybe rebuild the whole thing. Well that’s what we’re doing – we’re taking out and trying to fix the whole thing, rather than just paint over it.”
After the tour, Corbett fielded a few questions from adult reporters. He’s “working with the Senate” on school vouchers, but ducked a question on whether or not he supports the new component expanding the program to middle class families in year 4. Corbett also said he isn’t quite ready to announce he’ll sign a bill changing Pennsylvania’s construction code. The measure, passed this week by the House, is the first piece of legislation to reach Corbett’s desk. It repeals a law requiring sprinkler systems in newly-built homes. “I clearly told everybody back during the campaign that I supported the revision in the sprinkler law,” he said. “There’s nothing - anything I know about, I haven’t seen it yet – in the bill that would cause me to not sign it. But again, we’ve got to take a look at it.”
Senate amendments broadened the measure beyond the sprinkler repeal. Among other changes, Pennsylvania would no longer automatically adopt building code changes recommended by the International Code Council. Corbett has ten days to sign or veto the measure.