Tom Corbett Talks About the GOP and His Election: Last in a three part interview

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Tom Corbett Talks About the GOP and His Election

Last of a three-part interview of the PA Attorney General

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, often mentioned as a Republican front-runner for the 2010 governor’s race, is running for re-election this fall. With twelve indictments in the "Bonus Gate" scandal under his belt, including two guilty pleas, Corbett is aggressively campaigning across the state, making his case that he should be returned to Harrisburg. The Bulletin recently sat down with Mr. Corbett for an in-depth interview:

TB: The Republican Party imploded in 2006, losing both houses of Congress and many state offices. Given that in 1994, Pennsylvania was the most Republican state in the country, what happened? What caused the GOP’s demise?

TC: The Party lost its focus. It lost its brand ID, and didn’t keep its promises. Congress didn’t keep its promises. In 1994, Republicans created the Contract With America, but didn’t keep the contract. And the people held them to that. Spending is out of control, and the deficit continues to grow. People just said "enough." And quite honestly, people like "change." The key word in the Obama campaign is "change" — no definition of change, just change. Fashions change every year, so there’s an appeal to that, but the willingness to change was increased by the fact that the Republicans did not keep their word. The base did not come out. We’ll see what happens this time around. Some talk that the Republican brand is no longer "top shelf" but rather bottom shelf. And to a certain extent, I have to agree with that. We have to try to move that brand back up.

TB: So what needs to be done to right the ship in the next month? Has that catalyst occurred, or will 2008 be another tidal wave against the Republican Party?

TC: In the last thirty days of a campaign, it’s very difficult to see a great deal of change, because it’s more about the individual candidates than the party. Look at Congress. It has a lower approval rating than the President, but people like their Congressman. But I think what is occurring is that people are moving to vote for individuals rather than along straight party lines. Those broad labels of "Republican" and "Democrat" are not what they were 30 years ago. But at the same time, people are not happy with what the Republicans have done. So in the remaining weeks, the McCain-Palin campaign has to get out their base. I have seen a much more energized base after the selection of Sarah Palin. People are out there working hard. You need that energy to go out and get the undecided voters to say, "Yes, I’ll consider voting Republican."

TB: Following up on that, you are locked in a tight battle with your opponent. Polls over the last fe
months have shown your race to be close, but recent polls have John McCain down by 10 points. If Obama wins by that margin, or even half of that, how will that affect the rest of the GOP ticket, specifically your race?

TC: First, when I won last time, I lost Philadelphia by 393,000 votes. The AP and the Inquirer said that Pennsylvania had elected its first Democratic Attorney General. But the tide changed over the course of the night as the vote from the central "T" and the western part of the state came in. That’s still part of the strategy. We need to do very well in the rest of the state. And I have better name recognition now than I did four years ago. We’ve been working in the southeast. And we’ve been working with the black community, the Mayor, the Police Chief, and the District Attorney here in Philadelphia, especially with the Gun Violence Task Force. We’ve done a lot of consumer protection. Our child predator unit has arrested 167 child predators. We are in many schools with Operation Safe Surf, helping to educate students and schools about Internet safety, and to bring that message home so that parents can keep their children safe when online. So people know more today what Tom Corbett does and stands for, clearly more than they did four years ago. And we will appeal to voters, who I think will make their decision on this office not being a D or an R, not by pulling a single lever vote. But in looking at the two candidates. Look at what I’ve done, look at what I said I was going to do four years ago, and look at my opponent’s inexperience. I’ve kept my promises.

TB: What are the most significant differences between you and your opponent?

TC: The experience factor. The judgment factor. My opponent (Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli) has been a defense attorney, a plaintiff attorney, and the Northampton DA. In my opinion, no significant prosecutions. No significant long-term investigations. No significant role in creating criminal justice policy in this state. No consumer protection experience. And he has yet to define himself. He has yet to present a game plan for what he wants to do with this office, as I did four years ago. I had an advantage back then: I knew what the office could do. He’s run three times and still
doesn’t know what the office of Attorney General does. He still doesn’t understand how consumer protection works. He clearly thinks the AG should tell district attorneys what to do, but we’re not in that position. He wants a cold-case homicide squad within the Attorney General’s office, but we don’t do homicides unless they are referred to us by DA’s. He’ll mislead everyone about that, but if were truly serious, he would have created one in his own office.

The difference between he and I is that I told you what I was going to do, and I did it, because I keep my word. He talks about doing something, but he doesn’t do it.

TB: Last question. Assuming you win in November, what are the chances that you will run for governor in 2010?

TC: Assuming I win, I get to take the next day off! That question has been asked to me many times. I take that question as a compliment to the job that I have been doing. But I take it much more so as a compliment to the work of the men and women— the agents, the attorneys, the support staff — in the Attorney General’s office. I truly believe the people of Pennsylvania, over the last four years, have gotten maximum effort out of these people. Just look at the numbers. Over 2,400 drug dealers have been arrested, and major organizations have been taken out, across the state. The public corruption investigations. There are many people who could be sitting in my chair who would’ve never touched this investigation, who would have just referred it to the US Attorney’s Office, where it would have taken four years. We’ve gotten the first phase done, we’re into the next phases because we’re pushing it, and we will complete it. So on behalf of my office, thank you for the compliment!

Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]