Column: My take on the area legislative races

Is competency more important that ideology? I think so.

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
We had some internal discussions about doing our first endorsements as a publication this year, something I decided was probably not the right thing to do in 2010 or 2011. And while we were split — at the end we still decided that the negatives outweighed the positives.

It is a position we will revisit in 2013, hopefully with reader input.

That having been said, I — speaking for me, not the publication as a whole — do have some thoughts on Tuesday’s races.

Having gone through the process of going from journalist to politician to journalist (don’t try this at home, it stings), my perspective on who is better a choice for office has evolved over the years. In my (relative) youth, I was more fixated on ideology and specific issues.

Needless to say, my time inside the political game has altered my view some — and changed a lot of what I value. I may largely agree with an elected official on a wide range of issues and yet find him or her lacking in effort, commitment or just the ability to execute the job and serve constituents. Conversely, I may completely disagree with a candidate, but respect his or her work ethic and commitment to the public.

So, with that spirit (and a masochistic desire to annoy readers across the political spectrum), here’s who I’d vote for this Tuesday if they appeared on my ballot.

State Representative:

160th: This is the easiest one, as State Rep. Steve Barrar is running unopposed. As some of you might remember, I ran against Steve in 2004 and we disagree on virtually every issue you can think of — beyond our shared enjoyment of sailing boats and support for the military and first responders. I’ve given him grief in public on any number of positions, generally from his political left, but oddly, on occasion, as was the case with prevailing wage, from his right.

But here’s the thing: if I needed help with a PennDOT issue, or DEP or navigating any number of state departments or agencies, Steve and his staff would be there to help. When I have a question, he or his staff respond quickly and usually with an answer or where to find it. This same story has been repeated to me from various local elected officials.

I don’t agree with Steve Barrar on many, many issues, but he is one of the hardest-working members of the state legislature, constantly available to his (and neighboring) constituents.

At the end of the day, he does his job and deserves to return to Harrisburg. I will be voting for him on Tuesday.

158th: This, on the other hand, is the toughest one. I like Chris Ross a great deal personally. I think he’s smart and we probably agree on a lot of issues — with some exceptions such as public pensions and school funding. The problem is this: too many times in the last two years have the following words been said to me or during a public township or school board meeting: “I called Chris Ross’ office about this, but there was no response.”

I’ve known Susan Rzucidlo for a number of years and while there are certainly issues we disagree on, I find it hard to imagine that she would be anything other than relentless in working on her constituent’s behalf if elected. I think she’d shake things up in Harrisburg and likely would terrorize Democratic Party leaders every bit as much as Republicans. We could use more state house members like that.

If I lived in the 158th, I’d be voting for her.

155th: This is a battle of two candidates for an open seat, Democrat Josh Maxwell and Republican Becky Corbin, both of whom seek to replace retiring State Rep. Curt Schroder.

Maxwell is the Mayor of Downingtown and one of Chester County’s young rising political stars, while Corbin served on the staff of then State Rep. Jim Gerlach and then had the same role with Schroder.

Maxwell is a relentless cheerleader for his borough and has worked to hard to build relationships with various groups. Corbin, too, because of her role has deep relationships in the community, too. My concern is the sense that she’s almost been bequeathed the seat, rather than earning it. Maxwell, too, because of his DUI charge last year, gives one a bit of pause, although he has been upfront about it and not dodged responsibility for the incident.

This might be the toughest call in the county, to be honest, but at the end of the day, I’d vote for Maxwell, if only because new blood and new ideas are needed in Harrisburg.

26th: I was pretty sure that State Rep. Tim Hennessey would have gotten the wake-up call when he narrowly held off Fern Kauffman in 2008. But the last four years have shown that he has little proclivity toward improving his constituent service, or even stand up and fight for the majority of residents of his district. He’s been mute on too many issues in Coatesville and the surrounding area and failed to lead at a time when leadership — from any corner — could have made a difference.

Mike Hays seems like a bright, energetic young man who, thanks to his journalism background, has little problem communicating his thoughts and positions. I think he’d be a strong addition to the legislature.

13th: First-term State Rep. John Lawrence, a Republican, is trying to hold off an insurgent run by Democrat Eric Schott. Like many freshmen legislators, Lawrence has had trouble making his mark since knocking off State Rep. Tom Houghton in 2010. His sponsorship of what would appear to be an overly invasive law involving ultrasounds for women seeking abortion says more about his skills as a strategic thinker than his ideology, to be honest.

There were any number of issues for an ambitious first-term legislator to get out in front of — without immediately angering more than half of the Chester County electorate. One must draw the conclusion that Lawrence is either a rigid ideologue or just flat lacks the political skills to advance the interests of the citizens of the area. Combine this with middling, at best, reviews for his constituent services and his case for reelection is not strong.

Schott is a well-spoken guy and after years of teaching high school, knows a little something about educating people and solving problems. I don’t think there’s much doubt that he, too, represents an upgrade.

State Senate:

9th District: Another fairly easy one: Sen. Dominic Pileggi is a thoughtful, pragmatist who in his role as Senate Majority Leader often has been the voice of reason in Harrisburg, moderating the worst excesses of the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett.

We’re a little leery of his stated intention to float a bond issue to help with the state pension crisis, but Pileggi is one of the very few legislators who have even voiced a specific fix of any kind for the pension mess, so I give him credit for at least trying.

If the governor continues his path — one that seems destined for him being the first single-term governor in recent memory — Pileggi could, if he hasn’t already, emerge as the most powerful man in the state. While arguably we’d be better off with him as governor, it’s hard to find fault with sending him back to Harrisburg for another four years.

His opponent, Democrat Patricia Worrell seems like a nice person, but lacks the kind of experience that would allow her to make anywhere the kind of impact in Harrisburg Pileggi has in just six years.

I will be voting for Dominic Pileggi on Tuesday.

19th District: even thought its been a number of years since Andy Dinniman was a county commissioner, I sometimes feel like he’s always thinking about all of Chester County, whether it comes to his voting record or his constituent services. He’s been knocked pretty hard by members of his own party for some of his votes — but I think he sees himself as representing all of the voters of the 19th and votes accordingly.

That sort of independence is important and why I think voters should send him back to Harrisburg for another four years. Dinniman — like Pileggi — is a smart pragmatist who doesn’t see compromise as a dirty word in these highly polarized times. Harrisburg needs those sort of voices, regardless of the letter that follows his name.

His Republican challenger Chris Amentas is clearly a bright, talented public official — he’s currently a supervisor in East Fallowfield — and I no have doubt that he’ll be moving onto bigger things in the coming years, whether it be in county government or the state legislature, but as is the case in 9th, it’s tough to set aside one of the few effective legislators we have in the state for a new but promising candidate.

Tomorrow: I’ll offer my thoughts on the federal races.

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  1. steve says:

    MIke…I always enjoy reading your opinions, and this piece is no different. You represent the epitome of an informed voter…one we all should strive to be. Looking at all sides of an issue, a candidate, and choosing what you feel would be in the best interests of the people, and not just your personal views. I never have voted straight party in any election, and feel blind alligence to any party or idea is fanaticism…we put down fanatics in other areas of the world, but praise blinders-on support here as patriotic…go figure.
    Keep up the good work and keep your opinions coming.

  2. Ray Farrell says:

    My state senator Pileggi is the gate-keeper of the Harrisburg favor factory…period. He represents the labor unions and the lobbyists that roam the halls of the Capitol building….not the tax payer. He is thoughtful when it comes to the politically connected who give give him campaign cash donations. He is pragmatic when it comes to protecting labor union largesse such as the prevailing-wage laws that bankrupt our towns and school districts and the compulsory union membership laws that suppress and stifle business growth and violate our right to freedom-of-association. Pileggi taxes the unborn with his constant use of “bonding” schemes that kick the fiscal greed of special interests down the road for future (unborn) generations to pay back. Pileggi is a product of the same Delaware county political machine that has dominated Chester county and ruined our state since Prohibition. I will make one concession, he is probably better than the Democrat challenger. I won’t be voting for either one of them.

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