Gov. Corbett, under fire for remarks in a radio interview that seemed to link unemployment to drug use, defended himself Thursday, saying Democratic rivals had twisted his words beyond recognition for political gain.
He did not blame high unemployment on large numbers of Pennsylvanians failing mandatory drug tests, as was widely reported after his Monday radio interview with PaMatters.com, Corbett told an afternoon audience in Malvern.
"I did not say that. I did not say that," the Republican governor said. "Let's make sure that when people say what I said, they know what I said. . . . You know, some Democrats out there want to be governor, and what they did was make something up out of whole cloth."
Corbett read aloud from a transcript of the interview, emphasizing his last answer, in which he voiced "serious concern" that many employers had said they "can't find anybody that has passed a drug test."
He said that referred to difficulties some Marcellus Shale drilling firms have had finding applicants who can pass drug tests required to enter training programs for skilled jobs. "Where am I talking about unemployment?" Corbett asked, flourishing the transcript.
His remarks Thursday, to about 250 business and community leaders during a forum at the Chester Valley Golf Club, were Corbett's first detailed public comments on the controversy - nearly 48 hours after it erupted, fanned by Democrats who quickly distributed a video of the interview as well as blog posts and social-media mentions.
Corbett was asked about it Thursday by 6ABC journalist Nydia Han, who was moderating a discussion with him on economic-development, transportation-funding, and fiscal issues. The event was sponsored by the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry; the Transportation Management Association of Chester County; and the county economic development agency.
The administration's efforts to defend the drug-test remark also included sending a transcript of the Monday interview to reporters late Wednesday, along with a paragraph labeled "analysis" of Corbett's answers.
"Obviously, the clear reference here is to the hands-on drilling work for which employers, out of safety concern, require proof that an employee is drug-free," spokeswoman Christine Cronkright wrote.
Corbett's drug-use comment reminded some - especially Democrats hoping to make him a one-term governor - of his remark as a candidate in 2010 that he had heard employers complain of people who did not want to work until their unemployment benefits ran out.
Corbett "is trying to defend the indefensible," state Democratic Party spokesman Marc Eisenstein said in a statement. "The governor insulted unemployed Pennsylvanians as a candidate and has now done it as a governor."
In his Malvern appearance, Corbett also discussed the future of several major initiatives. He said the administration would introduce its long-awaited proposal to lower the costs of public employees' pension plans next week, and described himself as optimistic that two other priorities - a plan to fund transportation improvements via increased auto fees and a gas franchise tax, and a push to privatize the liquor system - would make it through the legislature in some fashion.
He allowed that the General Assembly might make revisions along the way.
"One of the greatest lessons that I have had in Harrisburg . . . is about legislation, and what gets introduced isn't necessarily what comes out at the back end," Corbett said, drawing laughter. "And you can take that any way you want."
What He Said, What They Say He Meant
An aide to Gov. Corbett issued this transcript and "analysis" late Wednesday to Inquirer reporters.
What the Governor Said
PaMatters radio interview, Monday, April 28, 2013
[Interviewer] Matt Paul: When you are saying that the labor force is growing lately because people are seeing the economy start to turn around and they have more confidence in getting back into a job - do you share that same confidence right now?
Gov. Corbett: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Paul: Why? Why is that?
Corbett: Well - well, because I do see that the jobs are growing. Where we really - really could grow tremendously is if we got more people trained over into the trades, because I know - particularly in the gas fields - the need for people like welders and trades people is growing there tremendously. We need to get people who have been trained and worked in other areas - and particularly in those types of jobs might be disappearing - and get them trained for the jobs of the 21st century and not the 20th century. That takes a while to get done. But we're in the process. There are many of the community colleges now that are adapting. I believe Mansfield, in the State System of Higher Education, is adapting to get more certificate-type programs. So there is a need. The other areas - there are many employers that say we're looking for people, but we can't find anybody that has passed a drug test in a lot of them. That's a serious concern for me, 'cause we're having a serious problem with that.
Analysis: The governor was responding to a question about job growth. From there, he mentioned the potential of the Marcellus drilling fields and their potential for job growth if community colleges and other institutions adapt to providing the training. He mentions - in that context - the problem some employers have relayed about finding workers who can pass a drug test. Obviously, the clear reference here is to the hands-on drilling work for which employers, out of safety concern, require proof that an employee is drug-free.
We have a published article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 20, 2013, that backs up what the governor said.
The statement offered link to the Post-Gazette article, which cites failed drug tests as a frequent problem for Marcellus Shale job applicants.
Inquirer staff writer Amy Worden contributed to this article.