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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Those crazy days of summer politics

| Saturday, May 31, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Tom Corbett and Tom Wolf can now enjoy summer politicking, the very best thing about winning a primary. Neckties off, sleeves rolled up, these political boys of summer will stroll county fairgrounds and stand on picnic tables, giving rousing stump speeches to folks who love politics like others love baseball.

Gone are the stilted rubber-chicken banquets of winter, spring and fall. Summer campaigning is an endless run of barbecues, corn roasts and ethnic gatherings at amusement parks and picnic groves. With luck, a candidate could even bid on and win a pig at the Centre County Grange Fair, forever bonding with local voters.

Crawling with kids, these family gatherings are living civics lessons, but this year will be different from others. The kids are at the political epicenter of voters' concerns. This gubernatorial race will focus on education funding, debating what is required to prepare and protect Pennsylvania's public school students.

The Franklin & Marshall poll, released by Terry Madonna at regular intervals throughout the campaign, shows education at the very top of Democrats' concerns. Likewise, the Muhlenberg College poll shows education topping Democrats' priorities at around 30 percent. In both, education greatly outdistances the economy, the usual perennial leader.

Incumbent Corbett says he has funded “basic education” at record levels. Challenger Wolf says Corbett cut other education programs so severely that it is harmful to children and the economy. With two so disparate claims, it seems that both cannot be true.

Otto von Bismarck, the 19th-century German statesman, said, “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election.”

The “Iron Chancellor,” who famously said that one should never see how laws or sausages are made, had a knack for cynical quotes about politics, and many voters share his dim view. But in this case, both candidates can be telling the truth, but answering different questions. It requires close attention to the fine print.

Voters could conclude that Gov. Corbett's claim that he has increased “state tax dollars” devoted to “basic education,” one part of the education budget, is true. And they may also find that Democrat Wolf is telling the truth when he claims that education funding across the board has been severely cut by Corbett.

State Rep. Joe Markosek, Democrat chair of the House Appropriations Committee, contends that “excluding the state's required pension payment, total education funding to classrooms remains lower than 2008/09, which was the year prior to federal stimulus funding.” The governor counts those mandatory pension payments as part of his commitment to education.

Wolf would solve the education funding crisis through enactment of an extraction tax on Marcellus shale gas drillers. Corbett has steadfastly refused to go along with that approach.

When Nat King Cole told us to “roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” in his 1963 hit, political campaigns were far from his mind. But this summer, with a hot race for governor upon us, he might have been right about those “crazy days.”

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (joemistick.com).

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