Corbett tours the fair

HUNTINGDON – Despite waning popular support, Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday his relationships are strong with Republican senators, representatives and office hopefuls, and he sees a unified party moving forward with primary season come fall.

“We have a tremendous record to talk about, not the least of which is not raising taxes on people and creating more jobs,” he said. “I campaigned on that … three years ago.”

Sporting light-wash jeans and a black Steelers polo, Corbett made his last stop of the day at the Huntingdon County Fair, the first of an annual three-day cross-state tour to promote tourism.

He spent Wednesday morning kayaking down the Juniata River, then lunching with economic-development and tourism groups at the county visitors’ bureau before visiting Raystown Lake Museum.

Accompanied by his wife, Susan, and a handful of staffers, Corbett wended his way through Laney Hall at the fairgrounds to greet vendors, shake hands with residents and pose for photos.

“You should have a Pirates shirt on,” commented one man as he passed by the governor, who amassed a crowd behind him as he walked.

Despite friendly gestures and a warm welcome at the fair, polls show Corbett remains deeply unpopular statewide. He has but a few months to boost his ratings before the 2014 election cycle begins.

One of the ways he can do that is to sign at least one of the measures he promoted during spring into law.

While Corbett can tout passage of three on-time budgets during his tenure as governor, his major agenda items: liquor privatization, transportation funding and pension reform, failed to make it through before the legislature’s summer recess.

“I wanted them done by the end of that session, and we didn’t get it done, so we go into the next session,” Corbett said. “I’m looking for them to [all get] done. I’ll continue to work on that.”

One of the most costly and difficult to pass will be pension reform, with neither chamber producing a bill for a vote in June. But Corbett said he remains confident all three will be passed and said party leaders continue to talk about a solution to the pension crisis.

“We have an agreement from the leaders to work on pensions. That’s being worked on as we speak,” he said.

Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, whose district encompasses all of Huntingdon County, also was on hand for much of the tour.

Last week, the senator made headlines when he added his name to the list of those calling for Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s impeachment over her refusal to defend the state’s gay marriage ban in court.

Asked about his own thoughts on Eichelberger’s stance, Corbett bristled.

“I’m not going to go into what my feelings are. … That’s not appropriate,” Corbett said.

“I’ve taken an oath to defend the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he continued. “If she chooses not to, then she’ll have to deal with that herself. We will defend them.”

Corbett finished his evening tour guided by Agriculture Secretary George Greig, who said the governor has been a friend to the farmer and farming communities.

He pointed to Corbett’s support for three agriculture transportation bills, a honey bill to loosen regulations on producers and eliminating the inheritance tax on farms.

As part of the tour, Corbett also presented a check from the Pennsylvania fair fund to organizers.

“Fairs will be able to start capital improvements, which they haven’t done for eight to 10 years,” Greig said.

He said under Corbett, state fair fund coffers have increased from $780,000 to full funding at $3 million.

“Fairs are a perfect match of agriculture and tourism the two top industries in Pennsylvania,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have a governor who pays attention to [them].”

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.