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The Trickle - Gubernatorial visit

December 12, 2012 - Brian Ferry
The Times Observer was one of five Pennsylvania publications invited to send two members of their editorial boards to Harrisburg Monday for a meeting with Gov. Tom Corbett.

Most of the folks there were publishers and editors.

The 10 of us sat around a U-shaped setup of tables in the "state dining room" which is not really that, for the briefing on the state of the state pensions.

After hearing from Pete Tartline for most of the first hour, I learned his title is executive deputy secretary of the governor's office of the budget. That seems fitting. He knew an awful lot about the state budget and the pension situation in particular.

Gov. Corbett joined us about one hour into the two-hour meeting, as we had been told he would.

It was a "high-level briefing." The information was pretty straight-forward. The numbers were pretty scary.

After hearing about that for most of two hours, it was a treat to go on a tour of the Governor's Mansion led by the governor himself.

I didn't take to calling Gov. Corbett by the nickname used by some of his staff - Guv.

The meeting room was the site of one of the governor's early faux pas as resident. He was given a "You're in Steelers Country" banner. He wanted to hang it somewhere prominent, so he tied it to two heavy candelabra. He was quickly approached by his wife that the banner could not stay there and that the staff was quite nervous. The chain of command, in terms of governor's residence decoration, flows from the staff to the First Lady's chief of staff to the First Lady to the governor. The banner was removed from the candelabra and hung nearby, but in a manner that met the staff's expectations.

We went from the large meeting/dining room to an attached room (fancy sliding wall) in which the largest of the many Christmas trees was on display. It featured flags from many different countries. I'm confident the governor was not exaggerating when he said "all nations."

In front of and around the tree was a railroad display from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. The display included large model trains (I'd guess the engines and cars are eight inches tall), two gondola-style ski-lifts, and a short, white picket fence. The fence, according to Corbett, helps keep the Corbett family airedales out of the display. We didn't see the dogs on tour, he said they keep them in the family areas of the mansion.

The airedales are represented throughout the lower, public floor in the form of two decorations on each of the Christmas trees.

I may skip some, but I remember the all-nations tree, an Italian tree, an African tree, a Slovak tree, and a Hispanic tree. The trees (like the rest of the house) are decorated by the Governor's Residence Preservation Committee - not state general fund dollars.

Another unique decorating feature the governor shared was the presence of static stickers of a mouse and mouse-hole in each of the rooms. I only saw two, but I forgot to look in most of the few rooms we visited after he told us about those.

There were a number of fancy rooms I would describe as "sitting rooms." I didn't 'get' the decor in some of them. No shock there. I'm not a decor specialist. The room I liked the best was the one with the most local name - the Erie Room. It featured a Brig Niagara in the stone of the fireplace, a fancy $20,000 carpet (Preservation Committee), and a beautiful antique secretary. The antiques and art on display are, for the most part, on loan.

There were several other tours going on at the same time as ours. None of them had the governor leading them and we heard one visitor ask how they could get on that list. The first group we ran into on tour applauded when they recognized the governor. Most of the tourguides stopped their charges outside of the rooms that were roped off. Corbett had no such reservations. I made sure I stayed more than a foot away from anything that looked expensive (with the exception of carpets/flooring, not much I could do there).

The governor's office is a very tall room with a full-height, built-in, rich brown book case behind the desk. There are a number of knick-knacks and awards on the lower shelves. The books (without a ladder I can't believe anyone could reach the highest shelves) represent some of the favorites of past governors as well as Corbett's personal additions. The fireplace across the room (it's not a big room, except in height) is staffed by "fire fairies" according to Corbett. Any time the fireplace is used, the next morning it will be clean and looking exactly the same as it had the day before. A statue of an elephant that Corbett had tried to move to a more prominent location several times kept appearing on a shelf behind him. He asked the staff and was told the position he was trying to move it was "too high profile."

The formal dining room (not to be confused with the "state dining room") is not frequently used. When the governor and his wife, Sue, take a meal together at home, they typically do so in the breakfast room, Corbett said.

The mansion sits on three acres near the Susquehanna River in downtown Harrisburg. The governor suggested we return sometime to get a look at the gardens. The whole place is fenced and gated. State troopers guard the premises as well as the governor.

Asked if anyone has ever broken into the premises, Corbett had a ready answer. Someone once robbed a gas station across the road and decided that climbing the fence and hiding out on the grounds of the governor's place would be a good idea. He didn't know that troopers on governor detail would almost certainly be the closest law-enforcement agents to the scene of the crime. As this clever criminal started to think about getting up after his fall from the top of the iron fence, he was told, at gunpoint, not to bother.

As we passed the restrooms, the governor pointed them out. He also preemptively answered a question. Those who visit the restrooms ask if they can have paper towels with the state seal. That's fine, according to Corbett. I didn't take any of those. I had already snagged some of the beverage napkins that featured the words "The Governor's Residence" on them.

The bad news about the whole thing? Other than the dire state of the state pensions, my camera was in the car.


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