Shotgun wedding on the Mon
Last week, after Gov. Corbett signed a $2.3 billion transportation funding law that required an unnatural mix of Republican and Democrat legislative support, he toured the state to celebrate, even appearing with a sampling of the bill's uneasy and unnatural allies under the ailing Liberty Bridge in Pittsburgh.
This is not a crowd that loafs together. And until this one bill, many who were there had spent the last three years railing at each other over commonwealth priorities and spending levels, unable to agree on anything. So it was no surprise that the only purely gleeful faces in the photos of the event belonged to the guys in the hard-hats, who are looking at a long stretch of good work.
As for the politicians gathered on the banks of the Mon, they looked more like the mismatched families at a hurried shotgun wedding in the Ozarks.
And while it was necessary that the offspring of this unlikely bond have a proper announcement and sendoff, it is certain that these accidental in-laws will not be spending any time together.
Timing, always critical in politics, was not the best for either party to engage in a grand collaboration. For mayors and governors, this is the kind of initiative that is usually done in the first year in office, considering the likelihood that the voters will forget about the tax and fee increases by the time re-election comes around.
But with the governor running next year, his campaign will have a tricky message to deliver. The gas tax is sure to rise before the capital improvements are under way. And voters will have to trust that the eventual benefit — repairs to broken roadways and weary bridges, new jobs, effective mass transit — will be worth the pain they will be feeling at the pumps come election day.
And the Democrats, whose votes were essential for passage of this bill, are taking a risk by giving the governor a major legislative victory just months before he runs again.
Until now, the Democrat who emerges from the crowded primary field could have argued that state government was at a standstill, or backsliding, and the governor was to blame.
With this deal, the governor has blown up a large segment of his base — those ultra right-wing Republicans led by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe.
Metcalfe wields enough votes in the House to block any moderate Republican legislation, and it was Metcalfe's opposition that made a deal with the Democrats necessary on the transportation bill.
Metcalfe has vowed to continue the fight with his fellow Republican, saying: “Most definitely it will be an issue in the election. I will be talking about this next year.”
Now that the governor has nothing more to lose with the Metcalfe crowd, will he double-down?
Will he follow Ohio's Republican Gov. John Kasich and expand Medicaid or New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie and get out of the way of same-sex marriage? Both would be game changers.
Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).