GOP governor hopeful Guzzardi wants to be voice of 'the forgotten taxpayer'
Bob Guzzardi wants to know where he can find outrage, the kind that provoked the 69-year-old lawyer into a primary challenge against his party's choice for governor.
“He's alienated the base,” Guzzardi said of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. “He broke his promises to the base, and we needed to have a challenge. I don't know why there aren't more challengers.”
Guzzardi, a Montgomery County resident, Philadelphia real estate owner and self-described constitutional adherent, is running against Corbett in the May 20 primary.
Other Pennsylvanians must seethe over millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations, Guzzardi said. They must disapprove of lawmakers receiving per diem payments on top of plump salaries and benefits. And people must be angry about increased driver's fees and gasoline taxes to fund a Corbett-backed transportation bill, he said.
Guzzardi believes those people will be his supporters. They once belonged to Corbett.
Corbett won his seat in 2010 by nearly 10 percentage points, during an election year fueled by voter indignation over rapidly expanding government spending. Nearly four years later, his strongest backing comes from the party establishment, which remains focused on electing a candidate widely considered the most vulnerable gubernatorial incumbent in the midterms.
Guzzardi mounted a unconventional challenge, refusing to accept campaign donations. He spent about $4,100 of his money in the first quarter of 2014, including about $900 on palm cards. He purchased one radio ad, in a central Pennsylvania city along Route 15 called Sunbury where he likes the farmers market.
His campaign reflects Republican dissatisfaction with the Corbett administration.
In a January poll from Human Events and Florida-based Gravis Marketing, 41 percent of 956 registered GOP voters said they would prefer another candidate for governor, compared with 38 percent who preferred Corbett.
In a primary matchup between Corbett and Guzzardi, Corbett would win, 42 percent to 23 percent, the poll found.
A February survey by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed Corbett losing in November to any of four Democratic challengers.
Corbett retains endorsements from the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and long-standing allies such as the Pennsylvania Chamber for Business and Industry. The Republican Governor's Association supports him, pointing to his elimination of a $4.2 million deficit and private-sector creation of 141,000 jobs as first-term achievements.
Establishment vs. grass roots
Guzzardi, who became politically active in the past decade, said some people told him that he has no chance of winning.
“Well, what does that have to do with anything?” he asked. “I have a better chance than Tom Corbett of winning in November. If I'm the nominee, the Democrats will be flummoxed.”
Some tried to stop Guzzardi outright. On March 18, four petitioners objected to his candidacy, represented by at least one attorney retained by the state party. The Commonwealth Court challenge questioned the validity of Guzzardi's candidacy, noting that he failed to file a statement of financial interest on time with the State Ethics Commission. The statement was filed with the Department of State.
GOP spokeswoman Megan Sweeney said the party has been “helpful to the petitioners in a variety of ways,” but she declined to confirm whether it funded the challenge outright.
“He's certainly entitled to his opinions,” Sweeney said of Guzzardi, “but as far as we're concerned, we're focused on electing Gov. Corbett and electing Lt. Gov. Cawley in November.”
Leo Knepper, executive director of the conservative Citizens Alliance for Pennsylvania, said there is natural tension between the GOP establishment and grass-roots conservatives. Some are frustrated by how Corbett has “spent his political capital,” Knepper said, citing a lack of government reform initiatives and continuation of the capital, stock and franchise tax that was set for elimination in the 2013-14 budget.
“There's a big disconnect between what I would say would be more conservative or even good government practices, and his list of accomplishments,” Knepper said.
Ryan Shafik, a Republican consultant who caters to “anti-establishment” candidates, encouraged Guzzardi to run. He said Guzzardi is outspoken, impassioned and ready to carry a message of reform — a man who “believes what he believes.”
Room for reduction
If elected, Guzzardi said he would not sign any budget that raises taxes or any contracts that raise worker pay or allow automatic deductions for unions.
He said there is room to cut in the state budget, pointing to $518 million funneled to four state-related, tax-exempt universities including Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh. And he is troubled by the $30 million in-state grants allocated to Comcast in January toward a new skyscraper headquarters in Philadelphia.
Guzzardi wonders why more Pennsylvanians — politicians, voters, news media — are not asking whether that's a good idea.
“I'm looking at what's happening and I would like to be the voice and hand of the forgotten taxpayer,” he said.
Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.