GOP eyes county’s only blue Se­nate seat

Repub­li­can Jack Lon­don is chal­leng­ing Demo­cratic state Sen. Andy Din­ni­man

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lu­cas Rodgers lrodgers@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Lu­casMRodgers on Twit­ter

This year’s elec­tion sea­son has been noth­ing if not un­usual, and the cli­mate of un­rest and frus­tra­tion in the elec­torate has been ev­i­denced by po­lit­i­cal out­sider Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory in the Repub­li­can pri­mary, and self-pro­claimed demo­cratic so­cial­ist Bernie San­ders’ un­ex­pect­edly com­pet­i­tive cam­paign against Hil­lary Clin­ton in the Demo­cratic pri­mary. This at­mos­phere that seems to fa­vor out­siders over es­tab­lish­ment

politi­cians could even have more lo­cal reper­cus­sions in elec­tions at the state level.

Repub­li­cans in Penn­syl­va­nia are tar­get­ing a seat in the state Se­nate that has been held for the past decade by the only Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tor in Ch­ester County, and the Repub­li­can chal­lenger is a man with no prior po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Ch­ester County Repub­li­can Party held a re­cep­tion in sup­port of state Se­nate can­di­date Jack Lon­don at the Down­ing­town Coun­try Club Wed­nes­day evening. Other state sen­a­tors who at­tended the fundraiser in­clude: Lisa Baker, R-20, of Luzerne County; Cam­era Bar­tolotta, R-46, of Washington County; Michele Brooks, R-50, of Mercer County; Pat Browne, R-16, of Le­high County; Bob Men­sch, R-24, of Marl­bor­ough Town­ship, Mont­gomery County; Tom McGar­rigle, R-26, of Spring­field, Delaware County; and Kim Ward, R-39, of West­more­land County. County Repub­li­cans – Com­mis­sioner Ter­ence Far­rell, Dis­trict At­tor­ney Tom Hogan and

Sher­iff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh – also at­tended the fundraiser.

Lon­don, a small busi­ness owner and for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer who lives in Avon­dale, is run­ning against Demo­cratic state Sen. An­drew “Andy” Din­ni­man of West White­land in the 19th Sen­a­to­rial Dis­trict. Din­ni­man has held this Se­nate seat since he won an up­set vic­tory over his Repub­li­can op­po­nent, then county Com­mis­sioner Carol Aichele, in a spe­cial elec­tion in the sum­mer of 2006, fol­low­ing the death of Repub­li­can state Sen. Robert Thomp­son. Din­ni­man was a county com­mis­sioner for 15 years prior to the elec­tion, mak­ing him the long­est-serv­ing com­mis­sioner in the county’s his­tory. His vic­tory marked the first time in more than a cen­tury that vot­ers in Ch­ester County chose to send a Demo­crat to rep­re­sent them in the state Se­nate. How­ever, some Repub­li­cans be­lieve this could be the year they’ll fi­nally re­claim the 19th Dis­trict seat.

Lon­don, along with state Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Jake Cor­man, R-34, of Cen­tre County, spoke with the Daily Lo­cal News Wed­nes­day evening about some of the is­sues they be­lieve Penn­syl­va­nia’s leg­is­la­tors need to ad­dress.

Cor­man said some of the most pro­found is­sues fac­ing Penn­syl­va­nia right now are pub­lic pen­sions and school fund­ing. He said these are com­plex is­sues that can’t be solved with one bill, but the Se­nate needs peo­ple who are will­ing to en­gage with their com­mu­ni­ties and put in the time and ef­fort to find so­lu­tions. He said Lon­don has the ex­pe­ri­ence, dis­ci­pline and work ethic needed to help meet

these goals in the Se­nate.

Lon­don said is­sues with fund­ing pen­sions are con­nected to other as­pects of the state bud­get be­cause about 70 per­cent of the bud­get goes to­ward un­funded li­a­bil­i­ties and debt is­sues, and it’s suck­ing money away that could be used for ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing. He said he is con­cerned about fund­ing for pub­lic schools, par­tially be­cause he has a daugh­ter who at­tends Avon Grove High School, and she’ll prob­a­bly go on to at­tend one of the pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties in the state.

Cor­man said the to­tal amount of an­nual con­tri­bu­tions for the State Em­ploy­ees’ Re­tire­ment Sys­tem (SERS) and the Pub­lic School Em­ploy­ees’ Re­tire­ment Sys­tem (PSERS) has gone from about $600 mil­lion in 2006 to more than $2.5 bil­lion this past fis­cal year. He said risk is the big­gest is­sue that needs to be re­duced in the pen­sion sys­tem be­cause the risk held by the state has be­come a multi-bil­lion dol­lar is­sue. Cor­man said the Leg­is­la­ture has pro­posed bills to im­ple­ment a hy­brid sys­tem where new em­ploy­ees would be el­i­gi­ble for a mix of a pen­sion and a 401k plan, which could help re­duce

the risk.

Lon­don said the 401k plan pushes the onus onto the em­ployee. He said he’s not against pub­lic em­ploy­ees, but the pen­sion sys­tem in un­sus­tain­able, and he’s afraid the pen­sions might not be there in the fu­ture. “You can’t kick the can down the road,” he said. “There has to be a give and take.”

Lon­don said his ex­pe­ri­ence in the pri­vate sec­tor would en­able him to get things done in the Se­nate. “I want to go to Har­ris­burg and shake things up with a new per­spec­tive,” he said.

In a phone in­ter­view with the Daily Lo­cal News Thurs­day, Din­ni­man said that based on his vot­ing record, he’s the most in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tor in Har­ris­burg in terms of vot­ing for the in­ter­ests of his con­stituents. “I am, and have been since my days as a county com­mis­sioner, an in­de­pen­dent voice,” Din­ni­man said. “Some­times I vote with my party; of­ten I vote against it.”

He said the pub­lic is fed up with par­ti­san grid­lock and peo­ple just vot­ing with party lines, so it’s im­por­tant to have an in­de­pen­dent voice. Din­ni­man said he voted in fa­vor of pen­sion re­form, and he sup­ports the plan for a hy­brid sys­tem for new em­ploy­ees, but it would go against the Penn­syl­va­nia Con­sti­tu­tion to al­ter the pen­sions of em­ploy­ees who have al­ready earned them. He said there are pen­sion re­form bills in both the Se­nate and House, and he sup­ports the Se­nate bill, but ul­ti­mately the two chambers of the Leg­is­la­ture will have to agree on a com­pro­mise.

State sen­a­tors in odd­num­bered districts, and all state rep­re­sen­ta­tives are up for re-elec­tion this year on Nov. 8.

“The rea­son I get elected in a Repub­li­can county is be­cause peo­ple look at me not as a Repub­li­can or a Demo­crat but as an in­de­pen­dent voice and my vot­ing record re­flects this,” Din­ni­man said.

How­ever, Lon­don is not a typ­i­cal po­lit­i­cal can­di­date ei­ther. As an award­win­ning body­builder, he’s no stranger to tough com­pe­ti­tions.

Fol­low Dig­i­tal First Me­dia staff writer Lu­cas M. Rodgers on Twit­ter @Lu­casMRodgers and on Face­book at www.face­book.com/ lu­casmrodgers.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Jack Lon­don, Repub­li­can can­di­date for Penn­syl­va­nia’s 19th Sen­a­to­rial Dis­trict.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

State Sen. Andy Din­ni­man will try to de­fend his 19th Dis­trict seat against a chal­lenge from Repub­li­can Jack Lon­don.

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