Pa. GOP Sen. Jake Corman officially enters 2022 governor’s race

‘I’ll be someone who can get things done,’ Corman told the Capital-Star

By: - November 16, 2021 4:20 pm

GOP Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, reacts to Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

Jake Corman, the highest-ranking Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate, is the latest candidate to announce a run for governor in 2022, touting his legislative experience as his No. 1 qualification for the job.

The 57-year-old Pennsylvania native, and current Senate president pro tempore, officially announced his candidacy on Tuesday morning, joining the already crowded GOP primary field, and saying he’ll concentrate on “putting people first.”

“I think we’ve seen over the last 18 months or so government overreach by the executive branch in Pennsylvania, which is [an infringement] upon the freedoms of the people of Pennsylvania,” Corman, R-Centre, told the Capital-Star during a phone interview. “I’m running for governor to put those people back in charge, put them first.”

His campaign ranks as its top priorities government reform to avoid abuse of power during emergencies, the investigation into the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections, subsequent election code changes, job creation, education investments, and allocating more resources for law enforcement.

Corman, who described himself as having a track record of “getting things done,” has served in the upper chamber since 1999, taking over the seat his late father held representing the 34th state Senate District, which includes Penn State University and a mix of rural central Pennsylvania communities.

He has since risen through the ranks of the Senate GOP, serving as majority speaker for five years, and the most powerful Senate Republican since January — a role he will not relinquish despite his gubernatorial candidacy.

“I can do both very easily,” Corman said, noting that two-term Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, is not stepping down from office amid his campaign. “People have done it at the federal level. People have done it at the state level.”

He added: “You do it for your own legislative seats when you run for reelection, so it’s certainly something I’m very comfortable with, but it is important, and we will draw bright lines between our campaign activities and our legislative activities, and our official duties.”

Corman is up for reelection in 2022, and did not say whether he’s decided on making another run for Senate while campaigning for governor.

Corman has sponsored and passed legislation to reform the state pension system and increase penalties for hazing on college campuses. He waged, and won, a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association on behalf of Penn State, his alma mater, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.

In a settlement, the NCAA agreed to waive sanctions against Penn State’s football program, restore 112 wins to former head coach Joe Paterno, and keep $60 million for child abuse prevention in Pennsylvania.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, he was — and still is — a vocal opponent of statewide mandates enacted by Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration, including business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. 

Recently, Corman filed a legal challenge against the K-12 mask mandate put into effect by the acting state Health Secretary Alison Beam earlier this school year. In a 4-1 decision last week, a Commonwealth Court panel tossed the universal order, but an immediate appeal from the Wolf administration means the mandate is still in effect. 

During his first speech as the Senate’s presiding officer, Corman vowed to support government transparency through increased lobbying reform that would more clearly define the relationship between lawmakers and the Capitol’s legion of lobbyists, and to “meet the standard that the public is comfortable with.”

In May, Corman and House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, announced plans for the legislation, calling it a step toward rebuilding trust in democracy.

Corman, however, has come under fire for accepting thousands of dollars in gifts and lodging during his tenure in office, including a trip to the Bahamas for the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s mid-year meeting, the investigative news site Spotlight PA first reported

And despite a group of legislative Republican leaders endorsing efforts to limit lawmakers accepting gifts, Corman has largely refused to comment on the proposed ban. 

But if elected governor and legislation that would impose a gift ban reached his desk, Corman told the Capital-Star that he’d sign it.

“I’ve always been a guy about transparency,” Corman said, noting his first speech as the Senate’s highest-ranking Republican. “If someone receives a gift, as long as they are transparent about it and open, and the public can review it, then I don’t have a necessary concern about it. But again, if it’s something that’s a mission of the Legislature, I will certainly support it.”

Though not a core initiative if elected governor, Corman said he would be open to reviewing legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis, adding that the bill must meet “really significant standards” such as regulations, taxes, and background checks.

Corman was one of dozens of Republicans in the General Assembly who argued the 2020 general election had “irregularities” worth examining. He also signed a letter asking Congress to delay certification of the state’s electoral results in January and endorsed the taxpayer-funded Senate election probe.

“The investigation is just what it is,” Corman said. “If it finds nothing, it finds nothing. If it finds something that we can do that’s actionable, to make laws better and more secure, our goal has always been stated from the beginning, make sure it’s [as] easy to vote as possible and make sure that vote is as secure as possible.”

During Tuesday’s interview, Corman recognized President Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election, noting that his role is not to “relitigate” certified results. But he said it’s lawmakers’ jobs to “restore” trust in the electoral process, adding that he would support election reform that ensures security and faith in the results, he said.

Corman’s entrance to the race, which is already double-digits deep, further complicates the Republican primary field.

Former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, strategist and lobbyist Charlie Gerow, and former federal prosecutor Bill McSwain are vying for their party’s nomination. Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, and Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, also are considering potential gubernatorial runs.

So far, Shapiro is the only candidate running for governor on the Democratic side.

Corman — who thinks his two decades in the General Assembly makes him voters’ best option — has described Shapiro as being “hand-picked” by Wolf, a Democrat who is term-limited and must leave office in January 2023.

“Taking someone from the legislative branch to the executive branch who has a good relationship with the legislative branch on both sides of the aisle, I’ll be someone who can get things done,” Corman said. “And that’s ultimately what we want in Pennsylvania, right? We want to get good things done for the people of Pennsylvania to improve their lives.”

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