Candidates stumped for the recently vacated seat of former State Senator Mike Folmer Sunday evening in the Lincoln GOP Club auditorium on South Ninth Street in Lebanon.
Folmer represented the 48th District, which includes all of Lebanon County and portions of Dauphin and York counties, since 2007. In September, he was arrested on charges of possessing child pornography and later that month, he resigned.
The event provided a chance for all the candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the 48th State Senatorial District special election to address the 41 conferees from Lebanon County, and answer their questions, as well.
The conferees are business leaders, teachers, party supporters, and members of the community.
This was the second recent event where conferees could meet and decide on their next candidate, said Casey Long, Chairman of the Lebanon County Republican Committee.
Asking for support from the 40 or so conferees were eight men—make that seven, as candidate Paul Vranesic pulled out of the race as he was giving his speech to the audience
Vranesic, previously a Cornwall Borough Council member and legislative assistant to State Representative Pete Zug, said he’s ready to throw his support behind the candidate who he feels the party wants to send to Harrisburg, widely assumed to be a reference to Lebanon County’s District Attorney, Dave Arnold.
“It’s pretty clear there’s a preferred candidate,” Vranesic said. “I’ll still be here and still be committed to helping the community.”
Former Lebanon Mayor Betty Eiceman was one of the conferees.
“This is a real responsibility and I hope we make the right decision,” Eiceman said. “We have to listen to what they say and make sure we know who we want.”
The hopefuls were each given a few minutes to present their case and take questions from conferees.
Arnold was the first up, and told the conferees he has served as the county’s district attorney for the past 14 years.
“The last few weeks have been challenging for all of us, as this seat became available through unfortunate circumstances,” Arnold said. “[Folmer] stole our dignity from us and from the GOP around the nation.
“The harm done to those children is unspeakable and we must put our children first above anything else.”
Arnold said he has spent nearly two decades fighting for the community, fighting for victims’ rights, and fighting for people who can’t stand up for themselves.
“Do the right thing for the right reasons, for Lebanon County, for the 48th, and for everybody in Pennsylvania,” Arnold said. “Elect someone who will get our dignity back.”
Arnold said he is pro-life, and is also concerned about protecting the Second Amendment for gun rights.
Arnold wants to eliminate property taxes, but said he won’t do that by burdening senior citizens by taxing their retirement income.
Lebanon resident and businessman Nathan Brightbill said politicians begin with good intentions, but after getting elected, those good intentions fall by the wayside.
“If they just go along to get along, then nothing gets done,” Brightbill said. “Conservatism means you get things done.”
Brightbill said he supports the idea of having school officials or teachers be allowed to carry arms inside the school.
“With the proper education, have a teacher or administrator walking around with a hand gun in school, so that everybody would know someone in the school is armed,” Brightbill said.
Brightbill was also concerned about the fiscal problems he sees in government.
Pennsylvania has the highest gasoline tax in the nation, Brightbill said, and every year, turnpike tolls increase.
A new tax called the “storm water feed” is really a tax on rain, Brightbill said.
“We need to reduce the size of the government in order to reduce government waste,” Brightbill said. “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”
Brightbill said he would also like to start a Tea Party or Freedom Caucus to help working class people.
Anabaptist Jack Hamlett brought along a four-foot-high photograph of a fetus that had been aborted in the second trimester. Some in the audience gasped upon seeing Hamlett bloody picture.
Saying he is inspired by Abraham Lincoln, Hamlett said the chief issue that is eroding our society today is abortion.
“Right now, 60 million babies are killed in the United States every year,” Hamlett said. “Thank God that more people are getting a conscience and working to abolish abortion.
“Slavery was the law of the land – did that make it right? Roe vs. Wade is a political opinion, but it’s not the law of the land. The issue of abortion lies with the people, so it’s the people who must bring this evil to an end.”
Local businessman Randy Hoffman said he can bring a unique skill set to the state Senate position.
Hoffman ran for Lebanon City Council when he was 28 and managed his own campaign, he said. He has served as a city councilman and as chairman of the North Cornwall Township Board of Supervisors.
“You need someone willing to commit their time and resources and be tenacious,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman also said he was disappointed in the conferee process by which the senate seat was being chosen. “This is one of the most important decisions this party is going to make in the next 10 years; how can anyone decide if I’m a more suitable candidate than the next guy?” Hoffman asked.
“What I see here is a railroading designed to get Arnold elected.”
Arnold has no experience with the legislative process, Hoffman said.
Steven Roth, a teacher from Steelton in Dauphin County, said he doesn’t usually get involved with politics.
“But there are issues facing the state and property tax is a big one,” Roth said. “When you look at property taxes, any legislation we pass, no matter how good we think it is, is going to hurt somebody.”
Tom Ryan, a businessman from York County, said the party needs someone with initiative, an analytical grasp of the issues, and a creative mind to find answers.
Ryan also addressed the need for property tax reform.
“Property taxes are eating us alive,” Ryan said. “Only 60 percent of those taxes goes to educating our kids; 30 percent goes to teachers’ retirement benefits.
“Let’s introduce accountability and freeze benefit plans for those still teaching; they’re not losing anything,” Ryan said, adding that General Electric recently followed the same path for their employees.
Property taxes can be changed to help low and fixed-income state residents, Ryan said.
“I can get things done,” Ryan told the crowd.
Matt Brouillette, a former history teacher, sports coach, and entrepreneur, said his party deserves someone with real integrity.
“I have a proven track record of fighting for people and fighting for the average tax payer,” Brouillette said. “Tax payers are treated like cash cows by the government.”
Brouillette said he’ll be a threat to lobbyists who only care about money and don’t care who they hurt.
“Choose me to unify the party in Lebanon and to drain the swamp in Harrisburg,” Brouillette said.
Brouillette also said the five-minute block given to the candidates to assess their merits was a “sham.”
Russ Diamond, who represents the 102nd Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, said he is determined to serve with dignity.
“You know me; I’m pro-gun, 100 percent pro-life, and a financial conservative,” Diamond said. “All of my record is public and you can go and examine it.”
The state’s income tax, sales tax, and property tax systems are fragmented, broken, and dysfunctional, Diamond said.
“You can’t fix the property tax unless you can fix the sales and income taxes,” Diamond said. “Government spending has increased at twice the rate of inflation and that cannot work.
“You know what I stand for and I would remain as accessible, transparent, and responsible for you as I’ve been for the past five years as your Representative,” Diamond said. “When I get to Harrisburg, I’m not saying ‘I’m here to take part,’ I’m going to say ‘I’m here to take over.’ “
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This article has been updated to clarify that candidates took questions from conferees, not the general audience. We have also clarified that candidate Paul Vranesic did not mention another candidate by name when stating that he would support whichever candidate the party selected. This article has also been updated to correct the name of candidate Jack Hamlett.