San­to­rum not so strong with Penn­syl­va­nia folks

Spend­ing raises con­ser­va­tive doubts

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY RALPH Z. HAL­LOW

HOUS­TON | Af­ter a big win in Satur­day’s Kansas cau­cuses, Rick San­to­rum is rid­ing high al­most ev­ery­where but in his na­tive Penn­syl­va­nia.

While Chris­tian-right lead­ers such as James Dob­son, Tony Perkins, Tom Lefever, Re­becca Hagelin and Richard Viguerie were hold­ing a fundraiser in Texas for the for­mer se­na­tor Fri­day, some in his home­town of Pitts­burgh were ex­press­ing doubts about the can­di­date’s re­li­a­bil­ity as an ad­vo­cate of small gov­ern­ment and fis­cal in­tegrity.

“I guess you could say there’s a dis­con­nect be­tween Rick San­to­rum’s

claim to be a small-gov­ern­ment fis­cal con­ser­va­tive and the Pitts­burgh tun­nel project he pushed for as a U.S. se­na­tor,” said Jack Brooks, a for­mer top of­fi­cial in a pow­er­ful Penn­syl­va­nia trade union that backed Mr. San­to­rum’s failed Se­nate re-elec­tion bid in 2006.

Mr. San­to­rum, run­ning a shoe­string cam­paign to wrest the Re­pub­li­can nom­i­na­tion from front-run­ner Mitt Rom­ney, has claimed to be “the true con­ser­va­tive” in the GOP race. Not sur­pris­ingly, his ri­vals on the na­tional scene say he is any­thing but. A cam­paign ad by his ri­val, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, tags Mr. San­to­rum as a “fake fis­cal con­ser­va­tive.”

Newt Gin­grich, ap­pear­ing on Fox News on Sun­day, again ques­tioned Mr. San­to­rum’s con­ser­va­tive bona fides.

What’s gone largely un­no­ticed, though, is the deep skep­ti­cism about Mr. San­to­rum’s fis­cal and so­cial cre­den­tials on the right among those who know him well from his home­town of Pitts­burgh.

A staunchly pro-life Catholic with back­ing from Protes­tant evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers, he rep­re­sented Penn­syl­va­nia, first in the U.S. House and then in the Se­nate, be­fore los­ing to Demo­crat Robert P. Casey Jr. in 2006.

Mr. San­to­rum’s emer­gence as the main chal­lenger to Mr. Rom­ney is based in large part on his ap­pear­ance as one of the Re­pub­li­can Party’s most suc­cess­ful amal­gam­a­tors of so­cial and fis­cal con­ser­vatism.

Yet from Gov. Tom Corbett to U.S. Sen. Pa­trick J. Toomey, state GOP Chair­man Rob Glea­son and on down the po­lit­i­cal food chain, no ma­jor GOP politi­cian in the state has en­dorsed Mr. San­to­rum.

One com­plaint is that Mr. San­to­rum’s claim of be­ing the only truly small-gov­ern­ment con­ser­va­tive among the three top GOP nom­i­na­tion con­tenders is un­der­mined by his sup­port of big-gov­ern­ment spend­ing while in the Se­nate — es­pe­cially when it comes to the mile-long Pitts­burgh tun­nel project that was part of a deal with Mr. Brooks and his union.

In ex­change for help­ing push through fed­eral sup­port for the project, Mr. San­to­rum won the en­dorse­ment of the state’s build­ing and con­struc­tion trade unions — in­clud­ing Mr. Brooks’ 14,000mem­ber car­pen­ters union.

Even Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Re­pub­li­can from Penn­syl­va­nia, turned against the project when its over­runs climbed to $450 mil­lion and then hit $528 mil­lion.

“We had a deal with San­to­rum,” said Mr. Brooks, whose Greater Penn­syl­va­nia Re­gional Coun­cil of Car­pen­ters, along with other ma­jor build­ing and con­struc­tion trade unions, en­dorsed Mr. San­to­rum af­ter the se­na­tor went to bat in Washington for con­struc­tion of the tun­nel un­der the Al­legheny River. The tun­nel’s only stop is at the two tax­payer­funded sports sta­di­ums built with Mr. San­to­rum’s sup­port.

“Very sel­dom are you go­ing to have a union en­dorse a Re­pub­li­can,” said Mr. Brooks. “But the project cre­ated 4,000 jobs” — even if they were tem­po­rary — for work­ers in the con­struc­tion and build­ing trades.

Crit­ics, in­clud­ing Mr. Specter, say the tun­nel’s gar­gan­tuan costs far ex­ceed its pro­jected ben­e­fits to western Penn­syl­va­nia.

“San­to­rum makes a big deal out of ear­marks and he par­tic­i­pated in one of the big­gest of all time, twice as big as ‘the bridge to nowhere’ in Alaska, which cost tax­pay­ers $240 mil­lion and was never built,” said David O’lough­lin, a Pitts­burgh de­vel­oper and con­tem­po­rary of Mr. San­to­rum’s.

Proud of hav­ing brought the ba­con back to the state he rep­re­sented, Mr. San­to­rum has de­fended ear­marks but more re­cently has said law­mak­ers went over­board with the prac­tice.

While Mr. San­to­rum has been forced to de­fend his Se­nate votes on spend­ing be­cause of at­tacks by Mr. Rom­ney, Mr. Gin­grich and Mr. Paul, his re­li­gious and so­cial tra­di­tion­al­ism have gone un­chal­lenged — for the most part.

“Rick is def­i­nitely a so­cial con­ser­va­tive and is very true to the pro-life move­ment, but fis­cally he sup­ported the big­gov­ern­ment po­si­tion,” said Larry Dunn, who was the Re­pub­li­can Al­legheny County Com­mis­sion chair­man.

Ken­neth Behrend, a Pitts­burgh lawyer and for­mer GOP of­fi­cial who has known Mr. San­to­rum since their days in the Young Repub­li­cans, said the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date wasn’t al­ways so sure of his stand on abor­tion.

Mr. Behrend said that be­fore Mr. San­to­rum first ran for Congress in 1990, he “tried out a speech with all of us in Young Repub­li­cans” and “didn’t men­tion the pro-life is­sue.”

“Af­ter­ward, I asked him where he stood, and he said, ‘I haven’t made up my mind. I don’t have an an­swer right now.’

“Then when he took a pro-life po­si­tion, he sud­denly had all kinds of vol­un­teers help­ing him run for Congress,” said Mr. Behrend, who de­scribed him­self as a “pop­ulist Re­pub­li­can” who switched to the Demo­cratic Party when he saw the GOP “back­ing big gov­ern­ment” and “op­pos­ing in­di­vid­ual rights.”

“I’m not sure I fit in ei­ther party now,” he added.

Mr. O’lough­lin said he thinks Penn­syl­va­nia vot­ers be­came dis­en­chanted with Mr. San­to­rum in part be­cause the soar­ing price tag of the tun­nel project in­creased not only fed­eral costs, but state and county tax­pay­ers’ costs as well.

“State and county tax­pay­ers were on the hook for 20 per­cent,” he said. “That money had to be sub­tracted from much­needed bridge and road projects in western Penn­syl­va­nia. The point is that money was taken from good in­fra­struc­ture and di­rected to bad, in what was clearly be­com­ing an over­funded boon­dog­gle.”

Mr. O’lough­lin blames “San­to­rum’s po­lit­i­cal agenda, with lit­tle or no re­gard to the con­se­quences to the tax­pay­ers, com­mu­nity eco­nomic ben­e­fit or safety of the bridges, roads or other in­fra­struc­ture. On a lo­cal level, the se­na­tor’s de­ci­sions were very hurt­ful; on a na­tional level, they would be calami­tous.”

The 53-year-old pres­i­den­tial con­tender’s role in sup­port­ing public fi­nanc­ing of new sta­di­ums for the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers and Pi­rates and the tun­nel project still sticks in the craw of friends back home.

“It was dis­con­cert­ing to see Rick take a public po­si­tion in fa­vor of tak­ing public money to pay for sta­di­ums in­stead of hav­ing the teams’ own­ers pay for those sta­di­ums,” said Mr. Behrend. “Typ­i­cally, which­ever in­ter­est helped sup­port his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, that’s the one he sup­ported.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen. Rick San­to­rum lis­tens to his wife, Karen, as he is in­tro­duced dur­ing the Cape County Re­pub­li­can Women’s Lin­coln Day Din­ner on Satur­day in Cape Gi­radeau, Mo. He won the Kansas cau­cuses Satur­day.

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