Corman forging ahead with election audit
Senator addresses myriad issues in interview
LOCK HAVEN — Pennsylvania State Sen. Jake Corman believes a forensic audit of Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election, including testimony from voters, will help the cause of election reforms now stalled by the governor’s veto.
Corman spoke with The Express this past week as he made his way through the 34th Senatorial District encompassing Centre, Mifflin, Juniata and part of Huntingdon counties to talk about that issue and others heading into the fall legislative session in Harrisburg. He formerly served Clinton County, as did his father, J. Doyle. You can find Corman’s full interview on video online at www.lockhaven.com.
The Bellefonte resident is party leader of the Republican-controlled Senate and is pro-tempore. He recently appointed Sen. Cris Dush of the 25th Senatorial District that includes Clinton County to head up a forensic audit of the election, replacing Sen. Doug Mastriano. The interview follows in a question-and-answer format:
Q. — Let us start with the controversial decision to conduct a forensic audit of Pennsylvania’s November 2020 general election. Senator you want to conduct a forensic audit of that election. You said it is not designed as a recount but rather (and we quote you), “To get to the bottom of everything that went on.” Two questions: What went on to merit the audit and why remove Sen. Mastriano and appoint Sen. Dush to chair the hearings?
Corman — Since November of last year, there probably has not been another issue (election integrity) that my office has been contacted the most about. How the election came down, how a lot of unusual things that went on. The people who I represent (are) asking if not demanding answers. We provided our role and the Legislature’s role as oversight. Obviously elections are run by county and state government together as well as federals, you can say. The Pa. Department of State does not implement the election but they certainly provide guidance and then pull it all together. With that concern out there, and I will get into the details of that in a second. I just think it is important for us to do our job, and to do our job, is to provide oversight to state activities.
Democracy is so important obviously and I think we can all agree on that whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, whether you come from rural, urban or suburban Pennsylvania … elections happen. They come and they go — Republicans win, Democrats win, we all survive. I am a Republican, I did not vote for Barrack Obama either time. I did not vote for Tom Wolf either time — we are surviving. A lot of Democrats probably did not vote for Donald Trump the first term, probably did not vote George W. Bush or Tom Corbett. We all make the best of it and we move on.
But the key component to an election is the belief in the election and a belief in the result of the election. Again, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but you have got to have faith in the election because if you do not have faith in the election, then you do not believe your vote matters. If you do not believe your vote matters, then you have a problem because people will bring that frustration out in many different ways.
I think that a lot of the protests that we had saw last year after the George Floyd killing, was emanating from a frustration that their voices were not being heard. That they are not being recognized. So therefore, people took to the streets and unfortunately, some people took that legitimate protest and made it worse and had violence. If people do not believe that they have a role in civil society — in a democratic government then they are going to act out. Our job as policy makers, as legislatures, is to — if that belief is out there, whether people agree with it or not — it is out there and it is significant. Then our job is to get to the bottom of that. Our job is to conduct an investigation, oversight of how the election was performed. As policy makers, all we can do is take that information and then try to make things better moving forward. This is not about overturning an election. We have no authority to do that.
What we want to do since I started out — my first act as pro-tempore, was to create an election integrity committee — bipartisan and we did that and we have had a lot of hearings. It estimated in us passing a bill. Unfortunately the governor vetoed it which just adds to that frustration. Now you have people who did not necessarily have the belief in the last election results and now you have people who say ‘well they passed a nice bill and they included a lot of good things that would help’ and that is vetoed. Now we are back to square one. What I had hoped to accomplish — and I will get into details of your second question part — is that at the end of the day, one or two things is going to happen: either we are going to uncover information that will help us put into statute reforms so that people will believe in the election moving forward; or we will not uncover anything and then maybe that would help dispel a lot of the issues that people were concerned about. Again it brings faith back into the system.
At the end of the day, I am just trying to accomplish the faith in the system. This is not the kind of investigation where I do not have a predetermined result. What is important about the investigation is the credibility of it. The credibility of how it was conducted, who conducted it, and then whenever the results bring out — what we get from this investigation, that not only Republicans eyes will agree with it, but Democratic eyes and Independent eyes … all eyes will agree with what recommendations come out of it. I just think in this rather volatile time — the day of the internet where conspiracies are high and rumors are high — it is important for us to get to the factual part of things. That is why I think it is important that after the election integrity committee to take this next step to try to bring faith back into the system for the large segment of the population who does (not have faith in it). The reason that I made the change — and I do not want to get too deep into certain personnel matters — the credibility of the investigation is extremely important. If you … start off by bringing doubt into it by hiring individuals that may not be may be connected to one side or the other, taking dark money to sort of fund things of that nature — you almost lose before you start. After months of working the former chair and I just could not get to a place where we were comfortable in the direction it was going from a credibility point-of-view. So Cris Dush, who obviously represents this area — a former Naval officer who has an investigation background — I have faith that Cris will do a good job. We had left Mastriano on the committee so he can still be a part of it. Because he has certainly put a lot of work into it. But again, at the end of the day, I hope if I have established anything in my 22-year career (it) is credibility and I am all about getting results. I always joke that I am a chairman of the can-do caucus … get things done caucus. I want to get things done and I want them to get done right. The results will be what they are and I have faith that Sen. Dush can accomplish this.
Q. — That leads into another question: Who will conduct the audit?
Corman — We are working on that now, working with some vendors, which will be important as we move forward. What we would like to start out with — and I do not want to get into Sen. Dush’s territory too much because he is a chair of this committee now — but I think we want to bring citizens in to get started. Bring citizens in to come in and testify under oath involving a lot of their concerns with the last election or any fraud that they may have seen personally. Again, you sort of get a lot of stories out there. We had a hearing in Gettysburg back in November after the election, a lot of people came in and talked. Unfortunately, we did not get – for whatever reason — no one did it under oath and we did not get a lot of signed affidavits. We want to give the citizens of Pa, who are out there talking about this, let us bring them in under oath to talk about what transpired and what they saw or what happened to them maybe. And give them – start out that way in order to at least credence that there is a problem and then as we move forward, we will need to get any other information. Again I do not want to get too far into Cris’s territory — but clearly we will have to hire individuals to assist us — I mean we are not a forensic auditor by any stretch of the imagination.
One of the issues we will have to deal with before is, for whatever reason, the current acting secretary of state has taken a very aggressive approach to the voting machines. Fulton County has now filed a complaint against the department of state because they de-certified their machines — they did not investigate them, they did not look at them — they did not even say there was a problem, they just did it. I think we are going to assist Fulton County in that endeavor. The threat of certifying all these machines gave everyone pause because we do not want to waste taxpayer dollars by bringing a lot of machines in and then say decertify them all to buy new machines. So, we want to understand from the machine manufactures, why would someone looking at this cause a problem that they can not be used in the future. Let us be thoughtful, let us be smart, let us not just rush in and grab things and then deal with consequences later. Let us get the secretary of state here, let us support Fulton County and their case and get to meet with machine’s manufactures and find out why they would think they would need to be certified immediately, so that we do not do necessarily the things hopefully that they are concerned about. I am no expert but when you go into an investigation, it is a methodical process — it is important to do things correctly so that we can move forward. I do not want to indicate that we are not going to slow, we are not, we are going to move quickly. But we want to be smart about it and not just sort of do an approach where we are just doing things to do things, so there has be a reason behind everything.
Even before we get into the whole machine issue, there are some simple things to do like looking at the voter rules, look at the paper ballot results and if they match up as far as who voted with the voter rules — things like that. Then there is a whole plethora of things that the secretary of state did, former secretary of state who resigned, that we completely inappropriate in my opinion — that we can go through, whether they quantify into how many votes, I do not know. My big grief with the former secretary of state is, again we have the most controversial, emotional presidential race in our life. What we want is what I said we want, a winner and a loser and we all move on. The last thing we want is a lot of doubt. I think the actions of the former secretary by all the things she did as far as engaging in a campaign to get people to vote by mail. Why does the department of state care about how people vote? We allow them to vote by mail but why are running ads, why are we flying planes over certain communities? Did we fly planes as many over Republican communities as Democratic communities, did we buy ads with not just celebrities and sports athletes, but farmers and sportsman to encourage people. What was the basis of engaging that. What is the basis of the secretary of state getting rid of signature verifications? What is the basis of the secretary of state, out of the blue creating dropboxes without any security? I am not necessarily opposed to dropboxes. What we are not allowed to do is go to an apartment building around here and get 100 different ballots and put them into the box. I do not know if that happened but I do not know if it did not happen because I do not have any evidence because we did not put any security into these dropboxes. These and many more actions that the secretary took had brought doubt in the process. I think we need to go through that, so that we can prevent that from happening again.
Q. — The election reforms vetoed by the governor, now the audits tied to the election reforms, where do we stand with the proposal to reform the election and with the voter ID as the governor said that he does support voter ID?
Corman — I am not sure he has been real clear of what exactly he supports, but I think it is too important of an issue not to re-engage. I think some of the Republicans are like ‘well the governor vetoed it, we will just use this sort of as a gubernatorial campaign. But it is too important, so I think we need to re-engage. I do not no think we give up on voter ID but any stretch of the imagination. I think there are many ways that we can get to voter ID that does not add as a burden to vote. I think the state of Colorado, Blue state, they have like 14 different types of ID that you can use to qualify for voter ID. We do not want people who are lower income have to buy something when we can provide it. But our philosophy has been and maybe this is a cliche, but we want to achieve is make it easier to vote — harder to cheat. I think whether you are Republican or you are Democrat, whether you are a city urban, in a rural suburban area, everyone should be for that. That is all we are trying to accomplish, make the access the easiest as possible for people to vote. But I do not think having some sort of identification is a burden to vote. We use an identification for absolutely everything else we do in our society, so I think that it is something that we can get over and I think even former president Obama has mentioned he could be for voter id, so hopefully the governor, after he vetoed it — I am not sure what he supports yet — but we will re-engage with the governor and hopefully get a bill to sign that we believe in.
Q. — Have you been vaccinated? Do you encourage others to get vaccinated?
Corman — I have been vaccinated and my family has been vaccinated. What I try to do is, my job again is not to encourage or discourage — my job is to get information out to people so they feel comfortable and then they make their own internal decision on how to move forward. Now that the FDA has approved it, I think that will go a long way to make some more people feel comfortable but prior to that, let us go back again to give former president trump a lot of credit. He got this from day one to the market place in record time and that is great and it was needed and I am glad that he did as a seminal achievement of his career to get this vaccination out to people, so we can try get back to some normalcy. Unfortunately, when you do that, you have to do — they did not cut any corners and things of that nature — but you have to do it in rapid speed. The FDA did not approve it as of yet, so it did not go through the other vaccinations that — obviously a longer process which got the FDA approval. So, I can certainly understand why some may think ‘you know maybe I want to wait until I see approval of it or I see some sort of,’ — maybe if your a young woman in your child baring years, I just could understand it — or a young person that ‘even if I get the virus, the odds of me being sick are not very high, so maybe I want to wait,’. So, it is not my job to encourage or discourage, my job is to get out there and get information out there to people, so they can make their own decisions in an intelligent way.
I hope people will get vaccinated now that the FDA approved it. We should feel more comfortable and it (should) get us back to normalcy faster. But it is amazing how a sort of public health crisis became a political battlefield. I have never seen anything like it. But it unfortunately is the society we are in today. The biggest issue over the last year, prior to the election, obviously was executive power versus legislative power which emanated in a Constitutional amendment where people of Pennsylvania voted to give the Legislature more authority. The issue was — and I try to not to be too critical although I certainly oppose of some of the things the governor did — but we are all going through a trial and error. There is no manual on the shelf to grab and say, “hey, I see a pandemic (so) do this,” right? That did not exist.
Everyone is going to make mistakes, including the governor, and he did. There were some things that I was critical about, but what I was most critical of is that he was doing it unilaterally. Although he would do some informational meetings occasionally with legislative leaders, he certainly was not looking for input on his significant policy decisions.
In a free society — a democratic society in which we live — it is important for the people to be involved. My phones were ringing off the hook. My staff could tell you, I am surprised that my staff did not quit. From the beginning of the pandemic through the election, we have seen more calls in the last year than we (saw) in the decade previous combined. Because people could not get to the governor … they had to get to their legislative leaders.
You know, “why is unemployment compensation in such a disaster?” “What does this order mean?” “What does that order mean?”
They could not get the governor so they were calling us trying to get answers. It was a very, very frustrating time and a heartbreaking time. The people who are calling our offices (saying) “I cannot make my car payments; I cannot pay my rent payment because you told me to stay home and not work, yet I am not getting my unemployment compensation.”
It was one of those frustrating and depressing times I think for everybody. In our democratic representative society there are checks and balances to everything. It was not just Gov. Wolf, it was Republican governors around the nation as well. I get why they thought they needed to do (mandated closures) but I think we have seen that it does not work well. We need to have collaborative decision, checks and balances so that no one has too much power. No one envisioned when they created the governor’s emergency powers that they would last over a year. Emergency powers are like … “OK, there is a flood, there is an earthquake, something like that — you need a governor, executive person tp come in, secure the area, make sure that everybody is safe.” We still have that authority. We did not take that away from (the governor.) But after a certain time you have got to go back to a democratic process and you cannot govern for over a year and make every decision for every individual. You just cannot. It is not healthy. Again, so people act out like “my vote does not matter” and “I do not have a say” and “I cannot get any help” and you have civil unrest.
Our job is to educate as a government. Our job is to get information out to people so they can make their best decisions. But at some point in a free society, you have to allow people to make decisions.
Q. — And that is sort of the approach we think you would take when we talk about masking for students? The same thing where it is going to be up to the districts is kind what you are saying? Let them decide?
Corman — Well every district is different and I think when you allow people go solve a problem — we are a “can do” society right? We are not a stay-at-home society. We are an “OK here is a problem, give me the best information and let us go solve the problem.” And so school districts — obviously a lot of people in a small space — they know what the CDC guidelines are. They know what the health recommendations are as far as distancing and so forth. So allow those schools to work through IT in a public process with their constituents … to provide a safe environment … not tell them that they cannot do it … (that) they have to stay home. Here are all of the health requirements, here are all of the health recommendations, here are the CDC guidelines; go design a program or plan for your school that you can provide the best education for kids is absolutely possible. And I have faith in school districts to be able to do that. Some may not be able to do it and then say, “hey we need to go back to being remote.” That is their call. I would not support that necessarily as a father of kids in school but that is ultimately their decision. Maybe it is remote for a little bit of time, I do not know. Masking is the same sort of thing. So, let them go through it and make those decisions and I think, at the local level, they can do that.
Q. — Related to the pandemic, we are talking to a lot of businesses. Of course, we have a lot of wonderful advertisers and clients, and people we report on who are finding difficulty finding workers. Some are experiencing also some delays in getting products to sell. Certain segments of retail products. What can the state legislature do to try to alleviate these?
Corman — There are a couple things. One of them is not just…I mean, unfortunately a lot of this comes down from the federal government. At some point they have to take the foot off the gas. I get their desire, and it is bipartisan down there, to jump in and help people who are in a difficult time. But at some point, you have to get to where you can not give more of an incentive not to work instead of incentive to work. We are a society based on work. You do a hard day’s work, you get a hard day’s pay. It could go to support your family, or support your community. But if the government continues to roll out money to you for doing nothing and you are making the economic decision, ‘well I do not need to work because I have this money here…’, that is bad for society. I certainly understood it during the height of the pandemic, but at some point you have to take the foot off of the gas. Look, I did not lose a paycheck, my wife is a school teacher — she did not lose a paycheck. But yet the government is sending me money. Why are they sending me money? I did not lose a paycheck. You know I still have the same bills, I have got the same issues. Some of that you want, because you want to stir the economy right. And I get that to a point.
The federal government has to take their foot off the gas and allow us to return to some sort of normalcy. Obviously, it is an employees’ market out there. You can not go by any particular service center. You can not go by any window, people can not get work. There are now people looking for workers, offering bonuses, things of that nature. We do not have to have a minimum wage discussion — goodness, I mean we are far past anything minimum wage would do — which is good for work by the way, it is not bad thing for workers for a change to be in this spot. But for a while, you have to get back to some sort of normalcy. That is the first component, the government has to take the foot off the gas.
Second component is, I hope we learned what we went through since NAFTA and before: Corporations making decisions where cheap labor overseas was a good business model. How many jobs did we see leave here in rural Pennsylvania? We had manufacturing towns, Lock Haven being one of them. We lost businesses overseas for cheap labor. I always remember the Pennsylvania furniture manufacturer in Selinsgrove that used Pennsylvania hardwood; they made the decision to still use Pennsylvania hardwoods but ship them oversees, build them, then ship them back. How does that make financial sense — and if it does make financial sense, then we got a problem.
I am not big about pressuring corporations and so forth (but) we should be pressuring industry that take our jobs overseas for cheap labor to reshore (come back). We have seen now in an emergency that supply-chain problems really create issues for our society. That will be the next level as the federal government tries to finalize an infrastructure plan (that) could send a lot of infrastructure dollars (to) us to hire people to do work. Do we have the skilled labor to do that? Are they going to make decisions not to work? That is the next level and you know I am hoping that people now look at this and corporations (make) decisions to bring jobs back to Pennsylvania.
If we want to be better as a world, to take on environmental issues we need to reshore jobs (back) into the United States … that improves our environment because we have by far a better environmental standard than any Far East country. So more of those manufacturing jobs (that) come back to Pennsylvania and come back to the United States … they will be done in a much cleaner fashion.
I am hoping people understand that all this offshoring of jobs may have made some economic sense (then) but now it is a time of emergency (and) it does not make sense. We all fought for energy independence because when you do not have energy independence, then you are reliant on foreign countries. Producing energy domestically gives us better control. I have always been a big supporter of the agriculture industry and making sure they can be successful, because if we offshore all those jobs and our food supply, then we really are making ourselves vulnerable. Hopefully we can put things in place that will incentivize people to come back and do a lot of manufacturing here in the United States and Pennsylvania again.
Q. — Of particular interest locally is Lock Haven University. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) board of governors recently approved integration and the impact on Lock Haven has been a reduction of programs and jobs. What are lawmakers talking about in terms of the Senate’s support of the PASSHE system and it’s 14 state schools?
Corman — It is a difficult issue and obviously a lot of this is being driven by student population. The amount of graduates west of Harrisburg in the rural Pennsylvania from 30-40 years ago to the amount of high school graduates we have today is far smaller. I think Penn State’s decision back decades ago to offer four-year degrees at their branch campuses also has had a significant (impact). There is a lot more competition out there for our students. Now we are going to have another drop (in graduates) because in 2008, when we went through the economic meltdown, people did not have (as many) children. Now in this cliff we’re on … it is putting even more stress on us. We just do not have the graduates to support the system as we once did.
Now the offset of that is these schools are very important to these towns, whether it be Lock Haven, Clarion, Slippery Rock, IUP, Bloomsburg or Mansfield. All these schools are economic drivers of those communities.
Obviously if we did not have Lock Haven University here — it is a lot of jobs, a lot of people, not just the job, taking that money and spending it into the community. Buying cars, building homes or whatever it might be. We had to do whatever we can to make sure that Lock Haven University can thrive in the future.
Not being on the PASSHE board, I do not have all of the ins and outs but my argument has been — as long as you treat all of the schools fairly, which I do not think that they did. I think there are some schools that are in worse shape than Lock Haven that were not forced to integrate. I do not know how you justify that to the people of Lock Haven that we were forced to integrate and others that were in worse economic shape did not. But I am willing to go ahead, if this helps save the system, so we keep a Lock Haven campus here. The thing about the system is that it is a system, so you have some bigger schools and you some smaller schools. Maybe you have to combine some of the programming in certain places so you can afford to keep all of these campuses open.
I want to do whatever we can to keep the campuses open because it keeps the jobs and keeps the communities thriving. That means coordinating some programs at one school and other programs at a different school. As long as you make sure that this school has enough programming…that kids are going to come here because if you say ‘well we are going to integrate and we are going to merge and do all of that’, then you just sort of do not give them anything and then they die in the mines, 5-10 years later — that is not a plan or a plan I would support. They have assured us that they are not looking to shut down any campuses. They want to make sure every campus has attractive programming for students who want to come here because, at the end of the day, what drives the success of the school is the students who want to come here.
That is why the NCAA decision is important as far as athletics since you are a branch campus or you are a — I do not know if branch is a correct word — but if you are combined with Bloomsburg, does Lock Haven still get to participate? Obviously Lock Haven has a hugely successful wrestling program for years — the football program and everything else brings students to the school. Making sure that they can continue to compete is important. It may not seem important but it is because it attracts students here and it attracts interest here. We have to make sure that all that continues. As long as we are doing what we can to save dollars but at the same time, make sure that campuses can be viable, make sure that they are attractive for students, then I can support where they are heading. Again, I would have thought they should have treated all schools the same but short of that, hopefully we will continue to monitor and continue to provide the oversight of the legislature of the board to make sure that it has happened.
Q. –Where are you going to direct energies and what are your goals and priorities for the remainder of the year?
Corman — Survival. Look, we are trying to work with the governor to continue to bring normalcy to the commonwealth, to the state, to the communities. Now that we are at the table, so to speak with this constitutional amendment, we have a responsibility now. We can not sit back and complain, we have to be a part of the solution. We want to do what we can to assist with the governor as there are (COVID-19) variants coming through and they are concerned there. We do not infringe on people’s freedoms but at the same time, we get education out there that people can make good decisions. We have to work with the governor to do that. I think that is obviously a top priority for all of us.
When we can not congregate, just as someone who represents Centre County, when 100,000 people who do not show up seven Saturdays a year (Penn State football), that is a huge blow to our economy — as it is in every community that had events. Obviously the Little League World Series is enormous for Lycoming County and it comes into Clinton County. The fact now they are having the series this year but they are still not having the people, is a blow to that community. These are the things that we have to continue to work with to try restore normalcy, so we can get back to a good economy, and which then provides jobs which provides income; which provides wealth to our communities.
I think we have to, as we have went through this, continue to look at ways to empower parents on the education of their children. You should not be predetermined by your zip code or your economic status on where you have to go to school. Kids are like anything, not one size fits all. My kids all go to public school, they do well in a public school — happy day in the public school. But as we have seen through this pandemic, some schools handled it fairly well, some did not; some offered better alternatives to helped educate, some did not. Why should a parent who you know may not have the ability to go out and pick a school — whether it be another public school, traditional or charter or a private school — that might be a better option for their kids to get educated? Why should they not have the same choices everybody else has because they do not have the economics in their own family to make that happen?
I think we have a very good educational improvement tax credit program which we were able to make historic increases in this year. I think we need to continue to empower parents to make the best decision for their children so they can get the best education they possibly can. That is the key to a healthy society, an educated society. We do not abandon the public schools by any stretch. We just sent again record dollars to our public schools and the state budget. They got a lot from the feds directly, so you know we have to continue to make sure that there is a public system that is very good that is an alternative for everyone. As we have seen this year, sometimes enough for their own public schools can not provide everything for everybody. Only it should not be just the wealthy who have options to go elsewhere. I think anything we can do to empower the parents, we should continue to do and that will probably be a big issue over the next year or so.
Just so you know, this goes back to the pandemic but just do whatever we can do for our economy. We are an energy based economy in a lot of ways. I know that is a big battle out there but energy is a huge job creator. It is something we need as a society. I am sort of an all of the above type of individual. We need to make smart decisions on our energy production and I think the governor is going down the wrong path with this regional gas alliance. Why would you get into an agreement with a bunch of states that do not produce energy on how energy is going to be taxed? It does not make sense to me. If you want to get into an alliance with West Virginia or Ohio who have the same things at stake as we do, that makes some sense. Obviously we all want to reduce emissions the best we can. I think you are seeing the private sector really forcing this issue, forcing their companies to go carbon neutral, things like that. That is great and they should do it but for us to sort of get into an alliance goes back to me, the executive branch versus legislative branch every environmental alliance that we have been in whether it be the Susquehanna River basin commission, whether it be the Chesapeake Bay, whether it be the Delaware River — all would pass by the legislature through a statute and then signed by the governor. The governor is trying to go outside the legislature to create this gas alliance with states like New York, New Jersey, Maryland and the northeastern states who do not produce much energy. So, they do not have anything at stake and try to reduce in their emissions. We have reduced emissions dramatically here in PA mostly because of natural gas becoming such a big part of our energy production. But let us be smart about it. It still can be a great driver of our economy but we all have something at stake with our environment too.
Usually most answers are in the middle somewhere and if we can put sort of the extremists on each side out and get to the middle — I think we can still produce energy and produce jobs and take care of our environment.