Guest editorial…Corbett should do right for all of Pa.

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by Linn Washington Jr.

The January 2011 move to the Governor’s Mansion for Tom Corbett—the winner of the Nov. 2 election for Pennsylvania’s top elected post—requires a drastic change in his mindset in addition to merely changing the location of his residence.

Corbett, currently Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, must expand his mindset beyond the often rigid view-point of the prosecutor to include compassion—a precious practice that win-at-all-costs prosecutors too often ignore despite their ethical duty to seek justice, not just convictions.

Corbett spent most of his professional career as a prosecutor.

“Hopefully [Corbett] will be more open-minded and show compassion that he didn’t have to show as a prosecutor. He has to operate differently as governor than he did as attorney general,” said Rev. Gregory Holston, pastor of the St. Matthew United Methodist Church in suburban Trevose, Pa.

A few weeks ago during a candidates’ forum broadcast by Philadelphia’s WURD900AM, Rev. Holston asked Corbett a pertinent question that produced an illuminating answer exposing an embarrassing lack of awareness by the now Republican Governor-Elect about an issue of major importance to Blacks statewide.

Holston asked Corbett about his plans for addressing the state government’s historic exclusion of minority-owned businesses from economic opportunities generated by Pennsylvania’s government.

Corbett essentially said he would study-the-issue … an issue Blacks have raised with Pennsylvania governors for nearly two decades.

“His answer shows he has no idea of issues in our community,” Holston said during an interview late last week. “I asked that question because too many times politicians come to our communities without knowing our issues. They repeat political pabulum and we do not challenge them on that.”

Former Republican Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge pledged to improve fairness in the state’s contracting practices while campaigning in Black communities during the mid-1990s but once elected, Ridge ignored that pledge.

When Ridge took office, White-owned firms received more than 95 percent of the construction contracts awarded by Pennsylvania’s state government, according to data compiled by the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.

Ridge, who Corbett calls a mentor, did not publicly fight against a legislative measure to eliminate Pennsylvania government’s paltry affirmative action programs—programs that conservatives hypocritically claimed discriminated against Whites despite whites holding commanding numbers of executive and top-level management positions throughout state government and Pennsylvania’s state-operated college/university system.

Another response by Corbett during that WURD forum displayed a prosecutorial penchant for lack of compassion.

Corbett defended his rigid record of rejecting applications for pardons from former inmates who’ve turned their lives around and desperately need pardons to off-set that ex-con status blocking them from jobs, bank loans and other things needed to become more productive in life.

With more than a billion dollars in Pa’s budget devoted annually to operating the state’s prison system Corbett will have to change his mindset regarding incarceration policies if he is serious about cutting wasteful spending by state government.

A little known death-row case Corbett’s AG Office is fighting spotlights the defend-the-indefensible stance prosecutors too often take.

The AG’s Office opposes new trial appeals from Roderick Johnson who challenges his conviction using formerly withheld official documents showing Reading, Pa. police and prosecutors coddling the drug dealer whose testimony secured Johnson’s first degree murder conviction.

These documents (improperly/unlawfully) withheld by Reading police and prosecutors for nearly a decade, describe that drug dealer smoking marijuana with a Reading detective who is mentioned in some documents as supplying that dealer with drugs; detectives returning that dealer’s stolen safe containing crack cocaine, cash and guns; and Reading’s top prosecutor allowing that dealer to keep his gun permit, despite that dealer’s guns being involved in numerous shooting incidents.

Ethics, law and fairness suggest Corbett’s AG Office supports Johnson challenging the official misconduct he’s endured, but tough-image prosecutor Corbett expends tax dollars defending a corrupted murder conviction.

Corbett repeatedly cites New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as the Republican elected official he will use as his model for governing.

Ex-prosecutor Christie gets praise from some for his bull-in-the-china-closet approach to cutting New Jersey’s massive state budget deficit while others call Christie a bully—pointing to things like his bashing teachers for refusing to take salary cuts while he cuts taxes for millionaires.

Among Christie’s first high-profile actions was refusing to reappoint the only Black serving on New Jersey’s State Supreme Court.

Christie replaced this highly respected jurist with extensive previous judicial experience with a corporate attorney with no judicial experience, but apparently the proper credential of being a Republican Party operative.

Further, Christie then appointed all White Republicans to the state panel that selects judges including the former New Jersey Attorney General who sanctioned racial profiling by state police and then lied about it during legislative hearings.

Christie’s relations with most of the recognized Black leaders in New Jersey have been as rocky as his relations with that state’s teacher’s union.

Christie’s “policy formation is not inclusive. We think he would benefit from having more diversity at the level of senior staff policy advisors,” said Jerome Harris, President of the New Jersey Black Issues Convention.

“It appears that if you don’t agree with him totally, there is no room at the table for you.”

Reverend Holston of Trevose says he thinks Corbett could be more responsive to issues of importance to Blacks because he doesn’t feel that Corbett is as “arrogant” as Christie.

“Corbett might listen. I think some opportunities exist.”

(Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning writer who teaches journalism at Temple University.)

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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