After a hiatus of several years, Indiana County’s Republican faithful gathered Tuesday for a spring primary season banquet — a chance to hear from party leaders, hear a call for unity and generate some campaign funds, but not to listen to the traditional string of campaign speeches from candidates.
About 150 attended the event at Indiana Country Club, and in a twist from the usual agenda for such events, heard remarks from two keynote speakers before dinner, and listened to brief appeals for support after the meal.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who is unopposed on the ballot next Tuesday for nomination to a second term as running mate to Gov. Tom Corbett, took aim at the field of four Democratic candidates looking for their party’s nod in the race for governor in November.
[PHOTO: Republican candidates for the primary election gathered Tuesday at the Indiana County Republican Committee spring banquet at the Indiana Country Club. From left are Jesse Daniel, committee chairman; Patty Streams Warman, state committee; Cris Dush, House 66th District candidate; Congressman Bill Shuster, 9th District; state Rep. Dave Reed, 62nd District; Paul Corbin, House 66th District candidate; Art Halvorson, 9th District candidate; Travis Bieda, state committee; and Travis Schooley, 9th District candidate. (Kayla Grube/Gazette photos)]
Cawley said the numbers tell the story of Pennsylvania’s economic turnaround under GOP leadership following Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration.
The state’s deficit of $4.2 billion has been erased, Cawley said, and Corbett’s annual budget proposals have been balanced and approved before deadline the past three years. The budgets came in late the past eight years, he said.
“People said keep on spending at the same level, the economy will catch up and then we’ll be fine,” Cawley said. “We know now that $4.2 billion hole would be a lot deeper. Then there were those who said to ask Pennsylvanians to dig deeper into their pocket for more of their hard-earned tax dollars. The governor said that got us into trouble in the first place.
“We chose to take the third road, the one less traveled but the one that is making all the difference. We challenged state government to do what all of you do in your personal and professional life: We would only spend what we took in. We weren’t going to mortgage our children’s and grandchildren’s future anymore.”
Cawley said unemployment is at the lowest rate since the beginning of the recession, the workforce is growing and state tax rates have remained the same.
At those rates of change, Cawley said, the Democratic challengers’ proposals would halt progress.
“Do not buy their snake oil,” Cawley said.
“Invite those who would consider any one of those four options (candidates Rob McCord, Katie McGinty, Allyson Schwartz and Tom Wolf) to ask themselves some questions. Who among those four is going to stand up to the leader of their party and say ‘with all due respect, Mr. President, apologies are nice, but your Affordable Care Act is a disaster.
“‘It’s putting Pennsylvania’s health ... jobs … and economy in jeopardy, and the way you’re rolling it out, it’s putting the United States Constitution in jeopardy.’”
Cawley said the Democratic candidates would be unlikely to challenge the Obama administration policies on natural gas, coal and fossil fuels, which Cawley said are hurting Pennsylvania and jeopardizing national security.
“The answer, sadly, is not one of them would demonstrate that courage.”
Cawley’s appearance at the GOP banquet capped a full day of business in Indiana County. Earlier, he presented the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Academics to representatives of Indiana Area Junior High School and Indiana’s East Pike and Eisenhower elementary schools.
Cawley also appeared with other area dignitaries to announce state funding for work at Jimmy Stewart Airport and on area highway projects, and toured the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana.
[Alternate photo, click to view: Also in attendance at the dinner were, from left, Mike Baker, county commissioner; Jesse Daniel, committee chairman; Rod Ruddock, county commissioner; U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, guest speaker; Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, guest speaker; state Sen. Don White; House Speaker Sam Smith; Sandi Gillette, banquet chairwoman; and Randy Degenkolb, county prothonotary. (Kayla Grube/Gazette photos)]
A second guest speaker at the Republican banquet was Lou Barletta, who headlined the GOP dinner in 2007 while he was mayor of Hazleton in northeastern Pennsylvania and enjoying national attention for proposing legislation to crack down against illegal immigrants in his city.
Now, as a congressman representing Pennsylvania’s 11th District, Barletta is a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.
Barletta won election to the U.S. House on his third try, in 2010.
He said Tuesday that his committee work has helped to save more than $1 billion by ending many federal government agencies’ leases for spacious offices and moving them to smaller places with cheaper rent.
But he spoke with some level of pride in his work last year on behalf of a young constituent, a 10-year-old girl dying of cystic fibrosis, who had been denied a place on a lung-transplant waiting list.
Sarah Murnaghan, of Newtown Square, had been listed as a pediatric patient and “her chance of getting a donor wasn’t very high,” Barletta said. He said health officials as high as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had refused to place her on the adult list “because she was 10 years old, not 12.”
Barletta told of challenging Sebelius on the issue when she appeared at a congressional hearing on a different matter.
“I threw away the questions I was going to ask,” Barletta said. Instead, he coaxed Sebelius to say she wouldn’t deny someone a transplant based on their race or gender.
“Then I said why are you going to let a little girl die because she’s 10 years old, not 12?” Barletta said. “You could hear a pin drop in that hearing room. She paused and looked up and said, ‘Congressman, this is a terrible, agonizing situation where someone will live and someone will die.’
“That answer went viral across the country.”
Not long after that, a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled that the government could not discriminate against the girl because of her age. She received a transplant and now is doing fine, Barletta said.
“NBC News two weeks ago said that conversation was one of Kathleen Sebelius’ five worst moments as secretary, and I’m very proud of that,” Barletta said.
Barletta, who is campaigning for a third term in Congress, called for increased government spending on transportation and infrastructure, but warned that at present rates of increase, the entire federal budget will be consumed by interest on the federal debt and by entitlement spending by 2030.
“There won’t be one dollar left for anything else — medical research, highways, law enforcement, border security,” he said. “I know it’s a very uncomfortable situation, a topic for politicians to come home and talk about, but we have to do something about entitlement spending.”
County Republican Chairman Jesse Daniel recognized local candidates running for nominations in the election six days from now, but instead of allowing them time at the podium to ask for support, Daniel encouraged people at the banquet to personally meet and discuss issues with the candidates.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, of the 9th District, and his challengers, Art Halvorson and Travis Schooley, attended the banquet.
Daniel also recognized state Rep. Dave Reed, who is unopposed in the primary, and Paul Corbin, Cris Dush and Harry Bodenhorn, the Republicans running to replace state Rep. Sam Smith, who has decided not to run for re-election in the 66th District this year.
Daniel told the audience that he’s not a fan of hotly contested primary election campaigns, and put out a call for peace after the votes are totaled Tuesday night.
“There is more that unites us than divides us,” Daniel said.
The event also served also as an informal farewell party for Smith, of Punxsutawney, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, who has chosen to leave the house after 14 terms in office.
He first was elected in 1986.
Sandi Gillette, the Republicans’ banquet coordinator, said Smith is known among close friends for having excellent culinary skills, and presented an apron embroidered with the phrase “Chef Smith, Speaker of the Kitchen,” as a retirement gift.