The Republican Party in Lebanon County is divided with the Lebanon County GOP’s move last week to endorse Matt Shirk over incumbent Bill Ames for County Commissioner.

The full slate of primary endorsements was announced last Wednesday night following a meeting of the Lebanon County Republican Committee in which Ames received the fewest number of votes. According to Lebanon County GOP Chairman Casey Long, the other incumbent Republican Commissioner, Bob Phillips, received 109 votes, Shirk 95, and Ames 33.

In an interview with LebTown, Long said this was a “clear statement” from committee members that they wanted to see change with the county commissioners. “I think what it came down to was really leadership style and how Commissioner Ames has conducted himself,” said Long. “Matt Shirk represented a positive vision and a fresh voice as far as the future of our county, and the committee members really appreciate that and we think the voters will, too.”

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Acknowledging the very similar voting record of Ames and Phillips, Long pointed to some voting differences involving a tax incentive plan in Lebanon County (paywall). Commissioner Ames noted that he and Phillips have voted differently on these so-called LERTA’s on occasion, but that he has always supported the tax exemptions on a specific basis: Whether they involve family sustaining jobs.

LERTA, or Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, allows local governments to extend tax-free periods on real estate improvements to encourage economic development and community growth.

“A warehouse that has 8 or 10 people with a $10 or $12 wage is not family sustaining,” said Ames. “I don’t think the hardship that a LERTA puts on the other taxpayers in the county is worth it if it’s not going to create those jobs.”

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Ames said he felt that some on the leadership committee team had turned their back on him for personal reasons, and that the LERTA votes were picked up because they just happened to be one of the few voting differences that exists.

The all committee vote followed eight regional district meetings where candidates presented to the committee members present. Non-binding straw votes were taken at those meetings before the full committee meeting last week. Proxy votes were able to be used at both types of meetings, with up to 2 proxies allowed to be voted by each attendee at the full committee meetings.

Despite the GOP committee endorsement, Lebanon County’s other elected officials are standing by Ames.

Prior to the committee meeting, the endorsement letter below was signed by State Sen. Mike Folmer, State Rep. Russ Diamond, and State Rep. Frank Ryan, all of whom confirmed to LebTown today that they still support Ames for re-election.

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“I wholeheartedly support Bill Ames,” said State Rep. Ryan in an email. “He has done a tremendous job under difficult circumstances.”

In an otherwise placid Lebanon County primary season, Ames has been a singular target, the subject of an aggressive attack ad published by the Hummelstown Sun in its February 14 edition, in addition to being singled out by Shirk earlier in his run for alleged nepotism.

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The ad was run by Better PA PAC, a committee which has an official address that happens to be the offices of Long & Nyquist, where Casey’s father and former Lebanon County Republican Committee chairman Michael Long is a founding partner. The ad uses a referral letter by District Attorney Dave Arnold to suggest that Ames is under investigation for “alleged illegal taxpayer funded campaign activity.” DA Arnold confirmed the legitimacy of the letter to LebTown but noted that he is unable to share the original complaint and that his office has previously denied a Right-to-Know request relating to this matter. Ames has also not reviewed the complaint himself, and so while a referral did take place, it’s not clear what allegations were referred, nor what level of merit they may have.

Long would not directly address his relationship with the PAC, but said that he was not behind the ad and that he did not organize the committee, and additionally noted that there was no direct coordination with candidates. Long said that the committee chose the candidates with the best chance of being elected.

In the Recorder of Deeds race, the party decided not to endorse a candidate, pitting incumbent Dan Bost, appointed last year, against Dawn Blauch. Long said that Blauch requested an open primary and the committee consented.

The party also endorsed four additional unopposed offices:

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  • Barb Smith for Prothonotary/Clerk of Courts
  • Bob Mettley for Controller
  • Sallie Neuin for Treasurer
  • Dr. Jeffrey Yocum for Coroner

See the full primary ballot here. The primary election will be held May 21.