Tom Corbett ContactBack to top
Address: 225 Main Capitol Building, Harrisburg , Harrisburg PA 17120
Tom Corbett BiographyBack to top
- Elected: 2010, term expires Jan. 2015, 1st term.
- State: Pennsylvania
- Born: Jun. 17, 1949, Philadelphia
- Home: Shaler Township
Lebanon Valley Col., B.A. 1971; St. Mary's U., San Antonio, TX, J.D. 1975
- Professional Career:
Teacher, civics and history, Pine Grove Area schl. district, 1972-73; Asst. district atty., Allegheny Cnty., 1976-80; Asst. U.S. atty., Western District, PA, 1980-83; practicing atty., 1983-89; U.S. atty., Western district, PA, 1989-93; Aide, Rep. Tom Ridge, R-Pa, 1990; Practicing atty., 1993-95; PA atty. gen., 1995-97; Owner, Thomas Corbett & Associates, 1997-2004; Asst. gen. cnsl., Waste Management, Inc., 1998-2002.
- Military Career:
PA Army Natl. Guard, 1971-84.
- Political Career:
PA atty. gen., 2004-10.
- Family: Married (Susan Manbeck Corbett); 2 children
Pennsylvania’s governor is Tom Corbett, a Republican elected in 2010 to replace Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who was term-limited after eight years in office. Corbett was a popular two-term attorney general, but he has encountered resistance to some of his proposals, such as privatizing the state lottery system, and in early 2013 his approval rating lagged far behind those of Rendell and ex-Republican Gov. Tom Ridge at similar points in their tenures.
Corbett was born in Philadelphia but grew up in Shaler, a Pittsburgh suburb. His father was a lawyer, while his mother battled cancer for years before she died of a heart attack when he was in high school. He attended Lebanon Valley College during the Vietnam War era, joining the Army National Guard and eventually reaching the rank of captain. It was at college that he met his wife, Susan, whom he married while in law school at St. Mary’s University in Texas. After a stint as a high school civics and history teacher back in Pennsylvania, he worked as an assistant district attorney for Allegheny County, and then spent three years as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Corbett was briefly a policy advisor to Ridge, who was then serving in the U.S. House, and worked on Ridge’s successful 1994 gubernatorial campaign. In 2004, Corbett ran for attorney general, touting his experience as a federal and state prosecutor. His Democratic opponent, Jim Eisenhower, kept the race close. Eisenhower—a distant relative of former President Dwight Eisenhower—sought to make an issue of Corbett’s work as the counsel for Waste Management, the largest landfill operator in Pennsylvania, which included defending the company to the media when its trucks were cited for nearly 900 safety and environmental violations. But Republicans had controlled the attorney general’s office since it became an elected position in 1980, and Corbett managed a narrow 50%-48% win.
During his first term in the job, he launched a wide-ranging investigation into state legislative corruption, which resulted in criminal charges against 12 people with ties to the House Democratic Caucus for allegedly using state resources for campaigns. The probe, which became known as “Bonusgate,” was controversial. Rendell said he didn’t understand why only members of his party were charged after two years of investigating. Corbett responded that he first targeted House Democrats because they had given out far more money in bonuses to staffers. Corbett’s 2008 reelection essentially became a referendum on the issue, as Democrat John Morganelli picked up the charge of playing politics and called for the appointment of an independent prosecutor. But Corbett withstood the onslaught and prevailed against the Democratic electoral tide across Pennsylvania that year to win another term, 52%-46%.
Corbett’s victory established him as the GOP front-runner for governor in the 2010 election. He ran on a pledge to clean up corruption, calling for a ban on all gifts to state officials and eliminating “walking-around money,” which lawmakers used as a form of earmarking to help their districts. But most of his focus was on fiscal issues. He said Pennsylvania needed to become more business-friendly, vowed not to raise taxes, and said he would use future federal economic stimulus dollars only for infrastructure needs. In March 2010, he joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn the federal health care law as unconstitutional, a move that Democrats harshly criticized as a sop to the tea party. Most activists in that movement, though, cast their lot with Republican Sam Rohrer, a state legislator who waged an insurgent candidacy highlighting issues such as home-schooling and morality. But he proved little match for Corbett, who won the primary 69%-31%.
Awaiting Corbett in the general election was Democrat Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County executive who already had spent millions of dollars in television ads to become acquainted with Eastern Pennsylvania voters. Though Rendell had promised to stay out of the primary, his biggest allies and campaign donors backed Onorato. He sought to depict himself as a solid manager who had brought fiscal discipline to the county, and attacked Corbett for a remark that some unemployed Pennsylvanians would rather collect benefits than work. Corbett responded by criticizing Onorato for advocating a severance tax on natural gas from the Marcellus Shale and other areas, a move he contended would chase away industries. The race tightened in the fall, but Onorato failed to pick up much ground following a series of October debates. With Pennsylvania joining the national Republican tide, Corbett coasted to a 54%-46% victory. He outraised Onorato, $25.5 million to $21 million. Except for the Philadelphia region and blue-collar Lackawanna County to the north, he dominated the state, even taking advantage of his Pittsburgh ties to edge out Onorato in Allegheny County.
Taking office, Corbett talked of modeling his administration after that of neighboring New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie, who drew national attention for his hard-nosed stands against labor unions and for making deep cuts to state departments. Corbett unveiled his own budget proposing severe reductions, including $1 billion to public schools and a 50% reduction in aid to colleges and universities. During his early months in office, polls showed that voters were willing to trust him to handle such problems, and he was able to avoid the confrontations with unions that ensnared other GOP chief executives, including Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But a Franklin & Marshall College survey in March 2011 showed strong opposition to his refusal to tax natural gas extraction and his proposed cuts in public education.
To bolster his case, Corbett stressed the state’s $4.2 billion budget shortfall, which he compared to a stack of $1,000 bills piled 250 miles into the sky. His argument was blunted somewhat when news outlets reported in June that Corbett, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, and their spouses each received new sport utility vehicles at a total taxpayer cost of $186,000. Corbett defended the move by saying the State Police asked for the vehicles, not him. The governor ultimately struck a budget deal that decreased spending for the first time since 1970. It included no new taxes and sharply curtailed education spending and programs for the poor, although the budget tapped into some of the state’s surplus to soften the blow. He won praise that fall for his calm demeanor after Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene inflicted heavy damage on the state. But his subsequent proposal for drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation drew mixed reviews. Industry officials lauded its emphasis on encouraging natural gas use, but environmental groups criticized its inclusion of a county-assessed impact fee that the groups said would undercut environmental efforts downstream from the drilling region.
In November 2011, Corbett came under fire after The Patriot-News of Harrisburg raised questions about his handling of the explosive child sex-abuse allegations against former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The newspaper said that just one state trooper was assigned to the case after local prosecutors referred it to Corbett’s office in March 2009, and that his office did not directly supervise the probe until more than a year later. The governor said the investigation moved “as quickly as it possibly could.” The university’s board of trustees subsequently ousted university President Graham Spanier as well as beloved head coach Joe Paterno. But Corbett drew further criticism after it was revealed that his administration had approved a $3 million grant to Sandusky’s charity organization despite knowing of the allegations against him. The grant was suspended. He generated more controversy in March 2012 when he signed into law a tough new voter identification law that critics said was aimed at curtailing minority participation at the polls. Then, after affirming his support for a rule requiring women to get a fetal ultrasound exam before receiving an abortion, he suggested that women not wanting to see the ultrasound results “just have to close your eyes.”
In July 2012, the governor signed another budget bill into law that reflected a number of his priorities: $300 million in business tax cuts, a deal for Shell Oil to build a natural gas-based petrochemical plant in southwestern Pennsylvania, and the expansion of a program providing money to lower-income students by giving tax credits to businesses that finance scholarships. But the lingering public doubts about the Sandusky investigation continued to bedevil him. A Franklin & Marshall poll in early 2013 gave him overall “good” or “excellent” ratings from just 26% of respondents, a figure that it said was the worst for a sitting governor in the poll’s 18-year history. Democrats began making noise about challenging him, among them U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., and Corbett seemed assured of a spirited 2014 reelection fight.Show Less