Incumbent Steve Barrar faces challenge from Democrat Nick DiGregory and independent Dave Cleary in Nov. election
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
Unlike two years ago, voters in the 160th District will have a choice when it comes to voting for a state representative. While seven-term incumbent Steve Barrar (R-Upper Chichester) ran unopposed in 2008, he faces not one, but two opponents in the 2010 election: Democrat Nick DiGregory and independent Dave Cleary.
The three have diverse points of view — Barrar is a fairly conservative Republican, Cleary describes himself as moderate, although fiscally conservative, while DiGregory doesn’t fit easily into any one category.
Both Cleary and DiGregory acknowledge that beating Barrar at the polls in any year is a tough sell — and with what appears to be a prevailing Republican wind, it’s a rugged, uphill battle.
DiGregory said he thought it was important for people to look closely at Barrar’s record — he first won election in 1996 — before deciding to send him back to Harrisburg.
“Is this really what you expect from your legislator?” he asks. DiGregory brings up the 2001 pension vote, the 2005 midnight pay raise vote, running through a list of Barrar’s votes during his seven terms that some have criticized. “He came in and pledged ‘no new taxes’ and then voted for them in 2001 in (then Gov. Thomas) Ridge’s budget — but when it’s a Democratic budget, like this year, he votes no.”
For the record, Barrar did support Gov. Ed Rendell’s 2004 budget.
Cleary, meanwhile suggests that both parties are part of the problem, not the solution.
“A lot of people are excited (about having an independent option),” Cleary said. “They want someone a little more accessible, someone who is more responsive to their needs and interests. And they’re not happy with all of this two-party rhetoric.”
Barrar hears all the reform talk and points out he’s fighting for it the trenches right now. His vote — one of just six — in the state house against the school teacher pension reform bill is a prime example.
“It didn’t go nearly far enough,” he said. “All it does is kick the problem down the road. So, I voted against it.” He said that bill as passed didn’t address the issue of defined benefit pensions, but he said he is hopeful that the version that comes back from the state senate is a better fix for the problem.
Cleary agrees that major structural changes are needed in the state pension fund — and that defined benefits probably should only be for those likely to be injured or disabled in the line of duty.
“This is a math problem,” he said. “Obviously, it needs to be solved, instead just being pushed down the road. Unfortunately, it tends to obscure all of the other issues we’re facing in education right now.”
Cleary said that he thinks changes are needed in the entire state pension fund — and that only employees likely to be injured or disabled in the line of duty, like police and fire personnel, should get guaranteed benefit pensions. Most other public workers — including he notes, members of the state legislature, which Barrar says he agrees with — should get something more like 401K matches, as is typical in the private sector. He doesn’t buy the argument that the retirements for existing teachers can’t be changed, either, noting that that retirement packages changed regularly for military officers and enlisted personnel during his time in the Navy.
DiGregory counters that the best way cut costs in the legislator is not to restrict pensions, but cut the number of legislators.
“We should redistrict and cut down the size of the legislature,” he said. “If we’re going to make cuts, symbolically, it should start with the legislature. We also ought to get these guys off their “Cadillac” health care plans and make them have the same coverage as state workers.”
There’s similar disagreement over the issue of school funding. Barrar suggests that as currently constituted, the state funding formula is unfair — and cites Unionville-Chadds Ford School District as a prime example.