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Pa. Senate approves Cortes as secretary of Commonwealth

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Pedro A. Cortes is secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

HARRISBURG — The state Senate on Tuesday approved Pedro Cortes for secretary of the Commonwealth, despite questions about his claims he knew nothing about a “house of horrors” run by a Philadelphia abortion clinic doctor convicted of murder.

The Republican-controlled chamber voted 31-18 for the Cabinet nominee of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

“We’re obviously very pleased he was confirmed,” said Jeffrey Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman. “He is very qualified and experienced, and fully able to run the department.”

Cortes served in the post under former Gov. Ed Rendell. The agency oversees elections, campaign finance reports, lobbyist registration, corporate filings and 29 state licensing boards for professionals.

At his confirmation hearing last month, Cortes told senators he had no knowledge of former Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s criminal activities when Cortes was secretary of the Department of State from 2003 to 2010 under Rendell. The department oversees the medical board that licenses doctors.

The Department of Health regulates clinics.

A drug raid in 2010 uncovered the clinic that authorities described as filthy, with untrained staff. Evidence showed Gosnell liberally doled out prescriptions for painkillers. A grand jury found the state Health Department last inspected the clinic in 1992.

“It’s very rare I don’t vote to confirm a nominee of any party,” said Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Altoona. But he said of Cortes, “I am very concerned about his ability to lead and his ability to manage.”

But Sen. Ron Teplitz, D-Harrisburg, described Cortes as “a distinguished public servant” who is “the most experienced person who could be considered for this position.”

Cortes said he interpreted a court ruling as holding that even the secretary could not know about pending medical board investigations or cases that weren’t acted upon.

“We have a very different view than he does” on that issue, Eichelberger said.

He said that appeared to be an “excuse he’s using to deflect responsibility on the Gosnell matter.”

Former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, fired staffers of the Department of State and Department of Health when the Gosnell grand jury released its report in 2011.

The Senate State Government Committee last month took the unusual step of voting “no recommendation” after Cortes’ hearing, but the panel decided to let the full Senate vote rather than block his nomination.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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