Lebanon County Commissioner Chairman Robert Phillips, who announced on Nov. 23 his intention to seek a fourth term in office, announced Wednesday that he’s running a joint election campaign with a local businessman.
Phillips and Bill Bering Jr. officially launched their joint campaign as Republican candidates in hopes of representing Lebanon County on its Board of Commissioners beginning in 2024 following the May primary election and general election next November.
Phillips said the announcement is not a reflection on the job performance of Commissioner Mike Kuhn, who was appointed to replace Commissioner Bill Ames following his sudden death on Dec. 28, 2021, due to complications from COVID-19.
Kuhn was appointed by the county’s Board of Judges on Feb. 18 to fill the remaining portion of Ames’ term. Bering was one of 24 individuals, along with Kuhn, who had applied to fill the vacant seat.
“I have a 40-year friendship with Mike and that is not at issue here,” said Phillips. “No one saw Bill passing, and, subsequently, Mike was given the unexpired term.”
The commitment to Bering, who owns a Palmyra-based real estate company, had occurred prior to last December, added Phillips.
“I would normally run by myself to get the endorsement of the party but that changed after Bill Ames told me that he had planned not to run again, so that’s when Bill Bering and I had talked about running together,” said Phillips. “Billy is barely 40, and I am turning 70, so this was part of a mentoring plan for the future.”
The fact that Kuhn recently told Phillips that he is planning to run for his first full elected term as a commissioner did not deter the Phillips/Bering collaboration from moving forward.
“I had no idea that Mike was actually going to run until last week because it’s kind of early and he hadn’t said anything about it for several months – not that that would have changed my course but at least it would have been a head’s-up for him,” said Phillips.
Kuhn said that the first person he officially told that he was running was Phillips because he wanted to ask him if he would run as a team.
“He declined and I don’t know what or who influenced his decision to go in another direction, so I can’t speak for him,” said Kuhn. “I hope to come out with an official statement for it (his campaign) in the next week or two.”
Kuhn noted that candidates from the same party running as a team for an office like commissioner that has multiple open seats has happened in the past in Lebanon County politics. Kuhn noted he first became involved in county politics in the late 1980s when Bill Carpenter ran for the office of commissioner.
“I’d say it’s a mixture of candidates running as a team,” said Kuhn, “ though incumbents would tend to be more likely to run together.”
Phillips said he ran with Ames when they both were seeking a second term in office but not during the campaign for a third term, which is the one that’s set to expire at the end of 2023.
Matt Shirk, who had accused Ames of nepotism in published reports, received the other party endorsement as a first-time candidate during that election cycle. Shirk, who is an information architect at Armstrong Flooring, had also applied in February for the seat vacated by Ames.
“We did run unopposed as partners in the second term but the third term, as you may recall, Bill and I both went for the (party’s) endorsement and I got the endorsement and stayed with the endorsement process and Bill didn’t get the endorsement, so he went out as an independent candidate and ran on his own without an endorsement,” said Phillips.
In a statement sent to the press, Bering listed economic and workforce development as two areas he’d like to enhance in Lebanon County if elected as a commissioner.
“Lebanon County has a bright future, and I am focusing on maximizing its potential. Working with Commissioner Phillips, I am confident we can attract new industries and opportunities to our county. We also must focus on bolstering current businesses within the county by enhancing workforce development. Our goal must always be a stronger, more prosperous Lebanon County for our residents. By promoting responsible growth, we can make our county an even better place to live, work and raise our families.”
In the statement he had issued in February when he applied for the vacant commissioner seat, Bering cited the creation of opportunity zones in conjunction with private industry and enhanced tourism – given the county’s “a stone’s throw away from Harrisburg and Hershey and a short drive to Philadelphia” – as his top two priorities.
A Lebanon County native, Bering graduated from Lebanon High School in 2001 and Penn State University with a bachelor’ of science’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science in 2005. After graduating college, he obtained an auctioneering license to sell automobiles and real estate. He works as a car auctioneer and now sells for Manheim and Adesa Auto Auctions. In 2015, Bering and his brother Bob started the Bering Real Estate Co., which currently has 28 real estate agents.
Bering also currently serves as one of three supervisors in Swatara Township, where he also resides with his wife, Mollie, and two daughters, Avery Jean and Hollis Quinn, and a third child due in March.
Bering is a member of the board of directors for the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce and Lebanon Rescue Mission and a committee member for his church, Our Lady of Fatima in Jonestown.
Phillips said his fourth term – if he wins – will be his last since the plan is to mentor Bering if both are voted into office.
“It helps that age is a factor and other things as well, so at this point that is my thinking – subject to change at any time,” said Phillips. “We’re five years out from thinking about that – but that is my intention in planning now. That’s why it makes sense to me not to have somebody else close to my age perhaps running and then having two open seats at the end of the next term. Those are some of the factors in determining what’s best for the county.”
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Editor’s Note: This article was updated to fix a typo in one of the quotes.