How the Penn State Scandal Haunted the Pennsylvania Governor’s Race

The Republican governor of Pennsylvania loses.


Tom Corbett, the Republican governor of Pennsylvania, was defeated in his bid for a second term Tuesday, falling to Democratic businessman Tom Wolf, who is not the dapper southern guy who wrote Bonfire of the Vanities.

One of the biggest issues in the race—and a key driver of liberal rage—was education. Corbett and the GOP-dominated Pennsylvania legislature cut a staggering $1 billion from public education after he took office in 2011. The distribution of the cuts was highly discriminatory, with poor students losing, on average, 50 percent more funding than rich kids. In part because of these cuts, the Philadelphia school district faced a $300 million shortfall in 2013. That year, and again this year, Philadelphia students were allotted zero dollars for textbooks. But pissed-off liberals fuming about education cuts weren’t the only people who hated Corbett—some Penn State fans did, too.

It seems quite plausible that some voters thought Corbett went too easy on Penn State. But there’s little hard evidence to support that he did. Corbett, who was the state’s attorney general before being elected governor, was initially accused of stalling the probe of Jerry Sandusky’s actions for political gain. But Kathleen Kane, the Democrat who succeeded Corbett as AG, investigated the matter and cleared him of that charge.

In fact, many Pennsylvanians thought Corbett went too hard on Penn State, and specifically Joe Paterno, the late, legendary coach of the school’s football program. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Tom Fitzgerald explains:

Anger still burns among some PSU alumni over Corbett’s role, as governor and a member of the school’s board of trustees, in firing legendary football coach Joe Paterno after Sandusky was arrested in November 2011.

Corbett at the time also publicly backed the NCAA sanctions imposed on the university, including limits on football scholarships and the erasure of 111 of Paterno’s 409 victories, the most ever for a coach, from the record books.

“The Kane report doesn’t cause more bleeding, but it doesn’t heal past wounds for those who are angry at him for how he treated the university in the aftermath,” said Christopher Borick, a pollster based at Muhlenberg College.

“A lot of Penn State people feel he was heavy-handed and kicked him when they were down, piling on and gloating over the Paterno decision,” Borick said.

Paterno died shortly after he was fired, leading some alumni to accuse Corbett of being “complicit” in the coach’s death, as one GOP strategist put it.

In his first run for governor during the 2010 midterms, Corbett dominated in Centre County, where Penn State is located. But as Fitzgerald notes, Republican turnout in Centre County was down dramatically during this year’s primary—with 14 percent of GOP voters writing in someone other than Corbett for governor.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate