This Year’s Smarties Awards

Posted by By at 7 December, at 11 : 05 AM Print

I admit it – I am a sentimentalist and a sucker for tradition. So, it pains me greatly that budget cuts have forced a hiatus for TV Smart Talk this December which precludes me from hosting the annual Smarties Awards. Given each December, the Smarties recognize the high and low achievements of our elected officials and Pennsylvania luminaries over the past year. It is witf’s version of the EGOT – the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards all rolled into one.

Eric Epstein, attired in his Smarties’ trademark red Izod cardigan, is a perennial judge on the telecast. He has graciously offered me the opportunity to submit my entries this year instead to the RTC website.

So, here goes. And, feel free to add your own nominees.

And I hope you will see more of Smart Talk on witf TV in 2012. Be sure to tell us what you think of the people and issues making news. You can email us at, check us out on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter @nabom.

May your holiday be bright and have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.



Story of the Year


Abom: The Penn State Child Sex Abuse Scandal.

The allegations contained in the grand jury report are shocking, heart-breaking and profoundly disturbing. Everything we thought we knew about Penn State has been shattered by these accusations. And the fallout from the revelations has been seismic. I cannot recall another Pennsylvania-based story that has so thoroughly confounded and saddened everyone. It is my hope and strong belief those future generations of children will be better protected and nurtured by the lessons we learn from this tragedy.

Epstein : Sandusky Sex Abuse Presentment.

Allegations of sexual abuse in the locker room of PSU’s football program, and in former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s basement, shook the nation and set off a media hydrogen bomb the vaporized the stellar career of Joe Paterno and critically damaged the Penn State brand.


Smartest Move of the Year


Abom: Firing Joe Paterno.

As a university that prided itself on integrity and in the wake of the worst scandal ever to hit major college football, the Penn State Board of Trustees had no choice but to show the legendary head football coach the door. The trials – criminal and civil – must run their course, but Joe Paterno had lost the moral authority needed to remain the face of Penn State on and off the field.

Epstein: Marcellus Shale Collation’s multi-million dollar investment in Tom Corbett.

Despite sitting on a vast reserve of natural gas, Governor Corbett prefers to slash and burn public education rather than assess a severance tax on a gas industry exploding with profits.

Put another way, “Pennsylvania is the only mineral-rich state without a severance tax of any kind. All 14 states with more gas production than Pennsylvania have a natural gas severance tax or fee. Thirty-five states levy some kind of severance or extraction tax on removal of natural resources. (The Altoona Mirror, May 2, 2011)


Not-So-Smartest Move of the Year


Abom: Hiring Joe Amendola.

Every defendant is guaranteed the right to counsel and the presumption of innocence. Jerry Sandusky is no exception. But, the hiring of criminal defense attorney Joe Amendola to represent him appears to be one of the stupidest moves of all time. From Amendola’s decision to allow Sandusky to be interviewed on national television to Amendola’s belittling comments towards Sandusky’s alleged victims, he has earned the disdain of most Americans. Good luck picking that jury pool. (A close second – State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi’s attempt to change Pennsylvania’s system of allotting electoral votes.)

Epstein:Pileggi Electoral College debacle.

Senator Dominic Pileggi (R) proposed to disenfranchise voters by changing Pennsylvania’s method of allocating electoral votes from a “winner-take-all method” to a Gerrymandered system of allocating one electoral vote per congressional district with the remaining two votes going to the statewide winner.

Mr. Pileggi’s proposal would diminish the state’s electoral clout, discriminate against voters based on demography, geography and the arbitrary contours of congressional districts.

Pileggi’s nuclear option would also erode what influence Pennsylvania has left at the federal level, and give the state the political punching power of Guam.




Abom: State Representative Eugene DePasquale.

Yes, DePasquale has been in the House since 2007, but he’s running for statewide office now as Auditor General and so he earns the “newcomer” status of this award. I have been impressed with DePasquale’s energy, his focus on issues that actually matter, his use of social media, and his easy accessibility to journalists. He seems to understand that it is the people’s money … not government’s money … to invest. That’s an important principle to espouse if one were to become the chief auditor of Pennsylvania’s fiscal affairs. York hasn’t been a power base in statewide politics. It will be a heavy lift to win the nomination, let alone the race. But Democrat DePasquale just might be the man to put York on the political map.

Epstein: Barry Schoch, Secretary of Transportation.

Mr. Schoch is grounded, smart, experienced and presented a forward thinking program to address Pennsylvania’s transportation challenges that includes a commons sense balance of lifting the cap on wholesale gasoline taxes and raising vehicle fees.


Person of the Year


Abom: Mike McQueary.

If Penn State receivers’ coach Mike McQueary had not told state investigators about what he allegedly witnessed as a grad assistant in the Penn State locker room shower in 2002, the PSU child sex abuse scandal likely would not have been revealed. To many diehard Penn Staters, McQueary no doubt is Persona Non Gratis 2011. His pivotal testimony has fundamentally changed Pennsylvania history and the lives of many children.

(A close second here is Grover Norquist for singlehandedly grinding to a halt much of the Pennsylvania legislative agenda over the semantics of the word “tax.”)

Epstein: Tom Corbett.

Mr. Corbett is ranked at the bottom of the freshman Republican Gubernatorial class of 2010 for good reason. Unlike his colleagues, Corbett has not enacted a single reform, taken no action to reduce the state’s pension obligations, and has yet to announce a plan to reduce property taxes, eliminate waste or fund infrastructure and transportation upgrades.


The Pay Raise Has Legs


Abom: The inability of the Republican-led legislature to pass a meaningful shale impact fee.

Although the GOP controls the Governor’s Office and both chambers of the General Assembly, and despite the fact that leaders vowed to “get it done,” lawmakers have been unable to agree on the parameters of a fee on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. (For that matter, they haven’t been able to pass school vouchers or liquor store privatization either.) The pay raise fiasco continues to embolden rank-and-file members who will not accept dictates-from-on-high. Infighting about priorities among House and Senate GOP leaders adds to the confusion and their ineffectiveness. The fallout from the pay raise put many of these leaders into power and its legs just keep running.

Epstein: The House finally makes health care contributions.

The Pennsylvania Constitution does not provide for pensions, perks or health care. Legislators can suck up additional income per member anywhere from $11,000 to $46,000 annually. This year the House and its staff finally began making contributions to their Cadillac health care program: On July 1, 2011 – they began to contribute 1% of of their salaries – or approximately $800 a year – towards their health care premiums.


Story of the Year 2012


Abom: The presidential race.

My crystal ball tells me national politics will trump all things parochial next year. Barack Obama faces a daunting re-election fight and Pennsylvania remains a battleground state (despite Dom Pileggi’s efforts to dim our luster.) President Obama needs to carry the Keystone State and right now his approval numbers are underwater. So, expect to see a lot of the Commander-in-Chief, Vice President and Scranton-native Joe Biden, and their GOP rivals in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Scranton and Central PA over the coming 11 months.

Epstein Obama wins reelection; R’s control Congress.

Despite formidable obstacles to his reelection, the President will benefit from a American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, modest economic gains, a “do nothing” Congress and a Republican nominee that will either enjoy luke warm support from the hard core or a candidate with more personal baggage than Zsa Zsa Gabor.

However, due to the Democrats relative lack of spine and inert direction, the Republicans will remain in firm control of the House and could topple Democratic control of the Senate.

Photo by allenmock


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Nell McCormack Abom is an award-winning broadcast journalist who for the last ten years has hosted Central Pennsylvania's only live, primetime weekly broadcast public affairs program, Smart Talk. The Pennsylvania Associated Press Broadcasters Association has honored Smart Talk with awards in each of the last six seasons. Ms. McCormack Abom and Smart Talk have been honored with Emmy nominations from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In addition to Smart Talk, Ms. McCormack Abom hosts Talk to the Governor and Issues PA on the Pennsylvania Public Television Network. Prior to joining the program, Ms. McCormack Abom helped direct media relations for Pennsylvania Governors Tom Ridge (R) and Bob Casey (D). Under Ridge, Governing magazine described it as "Pennsylvania's masterful P.R. machine." Among her many accomplishments are co-producing the award-winning live broadcast and webcast of the historic Safe Schools Summit; directing and producing Pennsylvania's first-ever, multi-live shot, interactive state budget address in 1998; and collaborating on the 1995 Emmy-winning documentary, "Fighting Back: Pennsylvania's Special Session on Crime." Ms. McCormack Abom also has worked as a field producer/writer for KYW-TV in Philadelphia, as State Capitol Correspondent for WITF-TV, and has reported for television stations in Baltimore, Charleston, West Virginia and Duluth, Minnesota. She has won numerous awards for her reporting and public relations work. Ms. McCormack Abom has a degree in Television and Radio Communications from Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York. - Email Nell McCormack Abom

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