Jake Corman, the Senate’s highest-ranking member, has served in the chamber since 1999 after taking over the seat his father held.
HARRISBURG — Jake Corman, the newest entrant to the crowded Republican gubernatorial field, said Monday that he will set himself apart by emphasizing his ability to break through gridlock and get things done with lawmakers in the institution where he has served for more than two decades.
Corman, 57, the Senate’s highest-ranking member as the president pro tempore, confirmed for the first time Monday that he is running for governor.
Corman has served in the chamber since 1999 after taking over the seat his father held. It is Corman’s first run for statewide office.
The Republican primary field for governor is double-digits deep, something party officials can’t remember ever confronting in a statewide race of such importance, and Corman enters the race as a familiar face to donors.
He has spent most of his 22-plus years helping lead the Senate’s Republican majority while serving during the terms of five different governors.
“Someone who comes from the Legislature, who understands the Legislature, can work with the Legislature to get good things accomplished is something that we need,” Corman said in a telephone interview. “I think we’re tired of sort of the gridlock and the back-and-forth between the two.”
Added Corman, “we have to solve problems. That’s what we’re there for.”
On the Democratic side, two-term state Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the presumed nominee and has thus far cleared the primary field, having amassed a campaign account of $10 million and won two statewide races.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is term-limited and must leave office in January 2023.
With Wolf in office since 2015, Corman has been part of a Republican leadership that sent more than 50 bills to a veto on the Democrat’s desk, putting Wolf on track to compile the most vetoes by any governor since Milton Shapp in the 1970s.
That includes legislation on restricting abortions in Pennsylvania — such as limiting abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, instead of 24 — and stripping some of the authority Wolf wielded during the pandemic.
Corman also has gone to court against Wolf’s pandemic policies as a plaintiff, challenging the authority of Wolf’s acting health secretary to order masks to be worn inside schools and child care facilities.
“We had a top-down government response to this pandemic and a lot of people’s individual freedoms were infringed upon,” Corman said. “And I think before we accomplish anything else, we have to protect the freedoms of the citizens of the commonwealth.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have rejected many of Wolf’s highest-profile priorities, including multi-billion-dollar tax increases, although Corman-led Senate Republicans compromised on raising the minimum wage and imposing a severance tax on Pennsylvania’s huge natural gas industry. Both died in the House.
At the moment, Corman and the Legislature’s GOP majorities are poised to send more firearms bills to certain veto on Wolf’s desk, and are at a stalemate with Wolf on high-profile legislation to fix glitches and gray areas in the state’s sweeping mail-in voting law.
Corman represents a swath of central Pennsylvania surrounding Penn State’s main campus.
A Penn State alumnus, Corman, along with then-state treasurer Rob McCord, filed suit against the NCAA in 2013 over sanctions the organization imposed on the school in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Corman ultimately reached a settlement with the NCAA in 2015 which voided the sanctions, including financial penalties and the vacating of football victories recorded under head coach Joe Paterno.
In August, he suggested Penn State could face problems with the GOP-controlled legislature in Harrisburg if the university were to impose a vaccine mandate.
The only candidate in the Republican field who has run statewide is Lou Barletta, a former four-term member of Congress who was the Republican nominee in his unsuccessful US Senate campaign in 2018.
Barletta is also a prominent loyalist of former President Donald Trump in a primary race that could hinge, in part, on loyalty to Trump.
Corman’s standing with Trump loyalists, however, is mixed, at best.
Over the summer, Trump and his allies in the baseless quest to prove that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election had held up Corman as an obstacle, before Corman embraced it.
That has thrust Corman into the spotlight to defend what the Senate GOP calls a “forensic investigation,” an undertaking that has stoked an intraparty fight and drawn legal challenges from Democrats.
Asked Monday if he believes Biden won legitimately, Corman said his job “is not to relitigate the last election.”
But, Corman said, his job as a legislator and, possibly, governor “is to make sure we have a process in place that people have faith in.”
On the campaign trail, Republican candidates are facing pressure to repeal the state’s mail-in voting law after Trump baselessly cast mail-in voting as rife with fraud.
Asked if he would sign a repeal of the law as governor, Corman said he would “rework the whole election code.”
That, he said, would mean to “make it easy to vote for people, but make sure it’s secure.”