HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -
It was a routine radio show appearance and the topic was unemployment in Pennsylvania.
Governor Tom Corbett kicked the topic around for three-and-a-half minutes without controversy. He mentioned intricacies of how unemployment statistics are calculated and noted that there are more people actually looking for work in Pennsylvania, which is a good thing.
Then came an ad-libbed, almost after-thought, that the governor tossed out there; the final eleven seconds that will live in infamy, or at the very least in controversy.
Here is the governor's direct quote: "There are many employers that say, 'We're looking for people, but we can't find anybody that has passed a drug test,' and that's a concern for me."
Critics, mostly Democrats, are pouncing on Corbett for suggesting that the unemployed can't get jobs because they can't pass drug tests.
"Of course unemployed workers should be insulted, I was insulted on their behalf," said Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), who is now a candidate for Congress. "I know hard working people who desperately want work, have worked hard all their lives, and can't find work because of the Corbett economy. Suddenly, they're accused of being drug addicts that can't pass a drug test. What kind of person is this?"
Leach's interpretation may be a bit exaggerated, but at Harrisburg's Career Link, which helps the unemployed find jobs, out-of-work midstaters disputed the governor's theory.
"One person may have a drug problem, but then that becomes the stigma of every person that's unemployed," Nicole Prunty of Steelton said. "I think that's a false stigma to place on unemployment."
"Unemployment doesn't have anything to do with drugs," Jacquelin Dudley of Harrisburg said. "Just because someone doesn't have a job or is unable to get a job, I don't think that speaks for everybody."
But the business community has rallied to support the governor.
"There is a drug problem. There continues to be a drug problem," said David Black, president of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber.
Black just happened to be at a statewide economic development conference held this week at the Harrisburg Hilton. After reading the governor's comments, Black did an informal poll during a panel discussion on the very topic.
"We asked folks in the room, 'how many of you have ever heard from companies you're working with that they're having trouble getting people that can pass drug tests? Well over half the people in the room put their hands up," Black said.
The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry issued a statement saying critics are overreacting to the governor's comment. The Chamber said it too has heard from employers who had difficulty filling jobs because of drug tests.
The governor's spokesman dismissed the controversy and said critics are pouncing on one small part of a much longer answer.
Senate minority leader Jay Costa said it's another example of how Corbett is out of touch with Pennsylvanians, and added it's not the first time the governor has made such gaffes.
"At the end of the day, whether it's the beginning of your statement, the middle, or the end, that's a reflection of what your mindset is," said Costa.
Costa pointed to Corbett's comments about required ultrasounds before abortions when he suggested women could just look away. He also brought up Corbett's comment on the campaign trail in 2010, when he suggested unemployed workers wouldn't look for work if unemployment compensation continued to be extended.