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Jake Corman, the top Republican in the Pennsylvania state Senate, is now the newest candidate for the GOP’s 2022 gubernatorial nomination.
Corman, 57, is well-known in state government circles as a member of his party’s senior legislative leadership since 2008, when he was first elected Senate Appropriations Chair. His father was longtime state Sen. Doyle Corman, R-Centre, and his mother, Becky, ran the statewide field campaigns of former Gov. Tom Ridge and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.
Corman also brings the longest public service resume into the crowded GOP field, including now, his oversight over the highly-partisan fight over the need and scope of a fresh audit of Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election results – an issue in which several Republicans are vying to burnish their credentials with supporters of former President Donald J. Trump.
On the Democratic side, two-term state Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the presumed nominee and has thus far cleared the primary field, having amassed a campaign account of $10 million and won two statewide races. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is term-limited and must leave office in January 2023.
With Wolf in office since 2015, Corman has been part of a Republican leadership that sent more than 50 bills to a veto on the Democrat’s desk, putting Wolf on track to compile the most vetoes by any governor since Milton Shapp in the 1970s.
That includes legislation on restricting abortions in Pennsylvania — such as limiting abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, instead of 24 — and stripping some of the authority Wolf wielded during the pandemic.
Republicans, meanwhile, have rejected many of Wolf’s highest-profile priorities, including multi-billion-dollar tax increases, although Corman-led Senate Republicans compromised on raising the minimum wage and imposing a severance tax on Pennsylvania’s huge natural gas industry. Both died in the House.
In a first 15 minutes with the new candidate Tuesday, PennLive asked Corman a few questions about his nascent candidacy, Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
How do you hope to expand the base of the Republican brand to win a state race next year, because I get the feeling that you are worried that of the people who are in the race right now for the gubernatorial nomination, they they’re not up to that?
“What I’m looking to provide is to show the Republicans and the Democrats that I’m someone who can get things done. At this point in my career I’m not necessarily interested in being the governor; i’m interested in doing the job of governing. I see tremendous opportunities for Pennsylvania and I want to do my best, as someone who has experience, to achieve those possibilities.
“I think I’m uniquely qualified as someone who understands the legislative process because, look, the legislature can’t get anything done if the governor doesn’t sign it, and the governor can’t get anything done if the Legislature doesn’t pass it. And for far too long we’ve had governors and legislatures here in Pennsylvania battle each other.
“I think I’m the one person who will hav the ability to work with the Legislature and accomplish good things for the people of Pennsylvania.”
What do you hold up as an example in your career that shows are you open to and capable of building a big tent?
Corman cited his championing of public pension reform in 2017.
“It was something where past poor public policy decisions had gotten Pennsylvania in a situation where its liabilities were high and at the time we had a Democratic governor who didn’t think we had a problem. He just thought we should pay the bill.
“And through negotiations, through public advocacy, we were able to come up with a bipartisan bill that was not as much as i would have liked to have gotten, it was more than the governor wanted to give, but most importantly it was better than the previous law and it took about 60 to 70 percent of liability off the table for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.
“That’s an area where we worked together and made things happen and that’s ultimately what the people of Pennsylvania want. They wants things to get accomplished.”
The pension bill that passed did little to wring savings out of a then-$60 billion liability that lawmakers (including Corman) and then-Gov. Tom Ridge hung on the system in 2001 with a set of lucrative benefit increases.
Rather, its focus was on controlling future costs by reducing the retirement benefits of most future public school and state government employees hired after 2018, it by shifting some risk for future investment losses off taxpayers and onto the public employees of tomorrow by introducing a 401(k)-style benefit.
For the last 15 years or so, you’ve worked with three governors who had their own agendas. What would a Gov. Corman’s top priorities be?
Guaranteeing personal freedoms.
“In the last 18 months, I think we’ve seen enormous executive branch overreach which has infringed into the lives of the citizens of this Commonwealth. They were told whether they could go to work or not; told when they could go to school; told when they could receive health care.
“I think the governor acted in ways that he thought were in the best interest of the people of Pennsylvania. I would say that he still handled that incorrectly. So ensuring those freedoms is probably my top priority.”
“To me the biggest area of job growth is the energy economy. We just saw that with an exciting announcement up in the Northeast where private industry is going to invest six billion dollars and create thousands of jobs in an area of the state that needs jobs. So having creative policies like that and not having negative policies like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is something that as the governor iIwould be setting that agenda to make sure we have… good jobs to be able to support our communities.”
Parental choice in education.
“Making sure that we have opportunities for people to get an education and empowering parents to make the best decisions for their kids would certainly be a priority for me.”
Explain what you mean by that latter point? Tuition vouchers?
“I’ve voted for school vouchers in the past. I’m for anything that gives parents more power to make decisions over where their kids get a good education.
“My kids are in public school. They do very well in public school, and I’m very happy with my public schools. But that’s my kids. Other parents have kids that maybe are struggling in their public school – and that may not be the fault of the public schools, it’s just maybe their kids would excel in a different spot. Why have a one-size-fits-all approach?
“And so anything we can do, whether it’s empowering parents to be more involved at the local school district level in the public schools or its empowering parents to make decisions on where their kids go to school, I am for. I think that is the best thing we can do for education, and giving as many opportunities as possible is a positive thing.”
I heard you say if Gov. Tom Wolf successfully places Pennsylvania in RGGI, a Gov. Corman would take us right back out. If so, then what’s your solution to climate change, or do you simply feel that’s an issue for federal policy solutions?
“I think we all should be doing what we can to reduce emissions where we can. Whether that’s supporting the nuclear industry, whether that’s transitioning to different type of fuels… we should be looking everywhere we can to be smarter environmentally because we all have a stake in a clean, healthy environment.
“But we still need power. And the alternative (fuels) aren’t anywhere near ready to take that load. If we don’t produce the energy here in Pennsylvania, it’s not going to not get produced. Ohio, West Virginia or someone else is going to produce it. And so they’ll have those jobs.
“So as we continue to work to find better methods, cleaner methods to power our nation – natural gas is a much cleaner fuel than others, and we’re sitting on a ton of it…. You have a state that has access to populations, and you have a state that has cheap energy. To me, that is a great recipe for creating a lot of jobs here in Pennsylvania and that is what we should be focusing on. At the some time working on ways to do things smarter, do things better. But we’ve obviously come a long over the last few decades.
“But producing the energy here that we need is much better than (having it produced) somewhere else.”
“I’m a big believer that we move forward through innovation. We have the intellectual capital in this Commonwealth to match with anyone in the world with universities like Carnegie Mellon, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh. Let’s use our intellectual capital and resources to solve problems. To me, we’ve always benefitted from our higher education institutions, but we’ve never had a plan to sort of take advantage of that…. We have all the assets right here. Let’s energize them and use them.”
Considering the long political legacy of your family in Central Pennsylvania and beyond, in some ways is this candidacy the culmination of a family’s political journey?
Corman, a Bellefonte resident, first considered a run for statewide office against U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey in the 2012 cycle, but ultimately opted out of that race.
“This was never in my plans, necessarily. If you asked me 10 years ago if I was going to run for governor, I probably would have said i was running for governor because I wanted to be the governor. Now, I’m less interested in being the governor, but more in doing the job of the governor.
“I have young kids. I have a daughter in college. I have two boys in high school. And they’re soon going to be making decisions about where they’re going to spend the rest of their lives. And I want them to have every opportunity here in Pennsylvania, to choose to Pennsylvania (for themselves.) And I want that for every parent in Pennsylvania.
“So I come at this from a parent perspective. Not as a legislator, but as a parent of children. And I see so many opportunities here if we just allow Pennsylvania to be unleashed. And so I want my kids to establish their roots here, to establish their families here, and to have that choice if they want to live here. The last thing I want to hear them say is: “Dad, we really like it in this area but there’s just not any opportunities for me.’
“It’s really that’s perspective that’s driving me to run for governor, to make change. To hopefully develop a relationship in Harrisburg with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done and to do big things.”
The upcoming GOP gubernatorial primary will be an interesting test of former President Trump’s continuing influence with Pennsylvania’s Republican base.
Corman’s standing with Trump loyalists, however, is mixed, at best.
Over the summer, Trump and his allies in the baseless quest to prove that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election had held up Corman as an obstacle, before Corman embraced an audit. That switch has thrust Corman into the spotlight to defend what the Senate GOP calls a “forensic investigation,” an undertaking that has stoked an intra-party fight and drawn legal challenges from Democrats.
Asked Monday by The Associated Press if he believes Biden won legitimately, Corman said his job “is not to relitigate the last election.” But, Corman said, his job as a legislator and, possibly, governor “is to make sure we have a process in place that people have faith in.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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