Corbett, 167th battle highlights of largely quiet convention
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
WEST GOSHEN — Although most of Wednesday night’s endorsement votes during the Chester County Republican Committee convention were no-drama affairs, and the the two local races turned into fairly lopsided affairs.
Only one race in the county, in the 167th — where a challenger is taking on State Rep. Duane Milne — did the party fail to reach a decision on endorsements.
In the two local battles, Reading resident Christopher Gant seeks to challenge long-time U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, but got no support from Chester County committee members — while in the 158th State Representative race, East Marlborough’s Cuyler Walker outpolled Roger Howard 31-11 to earn the official party endorsement.
In a generally orderly evening — highlighted by a visit from Gov. Tom Corbett asking for support for his reelection campaign — only three races were contested, and two ended up with fairly lopsided votes to endorse.
Insurgent Ted Leisenring of Willistown fell just one committee person vote short of gaining the official party endorsement over incumbent State Rep. Duane Milne for the 167th District seat.
Although Leisenring said afterward he hoped to get the endorsement — which would have made it difficult for Milne to run in the primary, he was excited to get so much support from the committee people of the 167th District.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” he said afterward. “I think this really demonstrates the dissatisfaction with Duane Milne.”
Milne, though, for his part said he wasn’t surprised, but said he was pleased that in the coming months between now and the primary, he will get the chance to make his case to his constituents.
“I know I had some critics,” he said. “But you can’t agree with everyone in this process.”
Although other issues are in play, Leisenring, a former Great Valley board of education member, is focusing on pension reform and Milne’s alleged inaction — and lack of a strong position, the challenger claims — as his main motivating factor in mounting the challenge. The growing public pension crisis — which has resulted in large increases yearly from school districts to pay into underfunded education pension plans — he said will threaten taxpayers and students if not action is taken.
“I don’t think people realize how this is going to trickle down to the local level,” he said, saying that he sees Chester County school districts being forced to cut teachers and programs in the coming years if nothing is done.
He said he strongly favors moving new public employees into a 401K-style defined contribution retirement plan instead of the current defined benefit system, but allowed he would consider supporting a hybrid plan that would continue to feed the pension system with funds as workers are transitioned over a period of decades into a 401K-style system. He also said that he probably could support bonding some portion of the underfunding, in part to cut overall costs and provide cost certainty to the state and school districts.
For his part, Milne said that he has been supportive of some of the various plans for pension reform — roughly a dozen proposals have been put forward in the state legislature over the past two years — and agrees for the need to transition public workers to a 401K-style plan.
Elsewhere, there was little drama as the rest of the GOP slate was quickly endorsed, including County Commissioner Ryan Costello, who is seeking to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach in the 6th Congressional District.
Upon getting his endorsement, Costello — who will face the winner of a primary battle between Democrats Manan Trivedi or Mike Parrish in the November election — expressed his thanks to the committee, noting that the endorsement was “humbling.”
Along with Pitts and Costello, U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan was endorsed for reelection in the 7th Congressional District.
In the state Senate races, State Sen. John Rafferty, a two-term incumbent in the 44th District was endorsed, as was Tom McGarrigle, who is seeking to replace the retiring Ted Erickson in the 26th Senate District.
Most of the county’s state house races were unopposed and quickly endorsed: State Rep. John Lawrence in the 13th, State Rep. Tim Hennessey in the the 26th, Harry Lewis in the 74th State Rep. Becky Corbin, in the 155th, State Rep. Dan Truitt in the 156th, State Rep. Warren Kampf in the 157th and State Rep. Steve Barrar in the 160th all got the nod.