I confess: I’m a political junkie and the presidential and 5th congressional district races are sucking me in. At the same time, I’m registered Green because I don’t feel that either major party represents my interests well, and I think the two-party system is terribly anti-democratic. So I enjoy watching from the sidelines, analyzing tactics and chances, promoting voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, talking with friends about what the rhetoric means and what the impact of proposals and policies is on real people.
I attended the Pennsylvania 5th congressional district candidate forum sponsored by the Tioga County Development Corp. at Wellsboro High School April 7. Here are some of my notes:
First, all the Republican candidates said they are “pro-life” and “pro-gun” and “pro-family.” I’m not sure who might consider themselves anti-family, but that’s the rhetoric used to signal to voters that the candidate is against equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. (Equal marriage rights would legitimize and support the families headed by same-sex couples that already exist and will continue to form.) Most of the candidates mentioned that they would like to build more nuclear power plants but didn’t mention how they plan to handle the waste, nor did they address safety concerns. Each candidate also mentioned his opposition to tolls on Interstate 80.
Matt Shaner, 28 of State College, is a right-wing ideologue who hasn’t been elected to anything and really shouldn’t be until he learns to at least pay lip service to cooperation. He’s got lots of money and seems to be buying the election, although I read that he has some competition from Derek Walker and Jeff Stroehmann in the advertising realm. He was the first to trigger the Millionaire Amendment, soon followed by Derek Walker. [Note: I haven't seen any of the campaigns' television ads - not only do I live in Blossburg where we have our own little cable company that doesn't insert local ads, but I also don't watch tv in general.] He ended his 10 minutes by giving a Republican laundry list of stances on issues: anti “Death Tax”, would work to keep the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, pro-balanced budget amendment, pro-ANWR drilling, anti-environmental regulation, etc. etc.
According to the Centre Daily Times (re: Shaner, Walker:
“The Millionaires’ Amendment refers to a federal campaign law provision that requires congressional candidates to tell the Federal Election Commission and their opponents when they spend more than $350,000 of their own money.
Tripping the threshold allows opposing candidates to accept contributions from individuals up to $6,900, three times the typical limit, as a way to help level the playing field.”
Derek Walker, 32 of Clearfield County, was represented at the forum by supporter Chad Horner, who didn’t do a very good job of explaining Derek’s positions or why we should support him. Walker has garnered an endorsement from powerful state Sen. Joseph Scarnati (R – 25), and as mentioned above, is spending lots of his own and others’ money to buy the race, spending $731,000 of his own compared to $1.2 million that Shaner has spent. Walker seems to want to bring back the days of strip mining our mountains to get more coal for electric generation (and ignores the environmental devastation that has wreaked havoc on our streams). He also considers exploiting our timber and natural gas resources to be great options for renewing the rural 5th district’s economy, which they might be but his proposals are not balanced by a necessary concern for health and safety of our residents or our environment. In the past few days, Walker has been charged with felony counts of burglary and criminal trespass relating to an incident at his ex-girlfriend’s house last year. It smells of political maneuvering.
I want to spend a few moments looking at one of the less well known candidates – Chris Exarchos. Although he’s unlikely to win the nomination given Shaner and Walker’s spending, of the Republicans he seemed the most down-to-earth and practical about cooperation and effective leadership. His campaign brochure includes a photo of him at a booth run by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture wearing a “Buy Fresh Buy Local” apron, which wins him big points from me. He’s also the best educated of the group, with a Ph.D. from Penn State in geochemistry, and has substantial experience in elected office as a Centre County commissioner and a township supervisor.
Of the remaining field, Jeff Stroehmann has great name recognition and his campaign signs use a style very similar to the old red & yellow Stroehmann bread brand identity. He’s spent a lot of money, but current poll results say he’s not in the same bracket as Walker and Shaner. He would like to see more investment in rail for long distance commercial hauling saying that building a mile of new highway cost about the same as 10 miles of railroad. Overall, I got the impression he should be running for a state house or senate term because his ideas would be much more effectively implemented on the state level.
Quickly on the other candidates:
John Krupa – I liked his emphasis on listening to constituents, but there wasn’t much other substance to his comments. He was a Pine Creek Township supervisor for a long time and doesn’t like unfunded federal mandates.
Glenn Thompson – Thompson received the endorsement of outgoing U.S. Rep. John E. Peterson (R – Pa. 5). He provided a very nice demonstration of black & white thinking, which I don’t consider a useful attribute of a lawmaker.
Keith Richardson – A former lawyer turned Baptist preacher, Richardson read the second and tenth Constitutional amendments to the audience and gave a short lecture on their current relevance.
Lou Radkowski – Radkowski seemed like a very nice, reasonable, thoughtful and intelligent man. His 10 minutes at the forum was filled with concrete issues and ideas, particularly economic issues that are hitting the 5th district – the loss of young people to good jobs elsewhere, the loss of manufacturing jobs, inaccessibility of health care. He’s a funeral director and coroner of Elk County, and his speaking voice reflects the solemnity of his job.
John Stroup – Mayor of Clarion, hospital foundation administrator, Dept. of Defense budget analyst… eh. He doesn’t even have a real website.
My recommendation for thoughtful Republicans: vote Exarchos or Radkowski, but please stay away from Shaner.
There are three strong Democratic candidates with serious political experience. They’re all opposed to tolling I-80 and are pro guns, but they all had much less to say about “gonadal politics,” as Ralph Nader once described abortion rights and gay rights issues. They emphasized their bipartisan working styles and commitment to collaboration on solutions. Unlike any of the Republican candidates, they each at least touched on foreign policy.
Rick Vilello, 42, mayor of Lock Haven, has been endorsed by Gov. Ed Rendell. He’s done some remarkable community and economic development work in Lock Haven.
Bill Cahir (pronounced Care) couldn’t attend the forum due to his military reserve duties and was represented by a startled Emily Rizzo of Millerton. Although I haven’t seen Cahir in person, I’m attracted to his military service record – two tours in Iraq – his commitment to veterans, and his commitment to stabilizing then withdrawing from Iraq. He’s been a journalist and political staffer in Washington and Harrisburg, which gives him a solid understanding how how things work. He seems highly electable for a Democrat in the 5th district.
Mark McCracken also has serious political experience as a Clearfield County commissioner and Clearfield County school board member, with attention to fiscal responsibility and environmentally responsible economic development. He seemed the least electable of the three Democratic candidates
For more information
The Centre Daily Times based in State College has excellent campaign coverage. They asked each candidate to respond to a set of questions that help get an idea of his perspective. Here are the candidates’ responses to “What special problems and/or opportunities does [the unusally large size of the district] present to the district’s representative in Congress?”
Penn State’s public broadcasting service also has good coverage of the campaign, including video interviews with each candidate.
For readers in Blossburg – see you Tuesday at the fire hall! I’ll be helping voters use the touch-screen voting machines in my role as minority inspector. Voting hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Got questions about the process? Candidates? Feel free to email me.