Pike County Democrats give town hall meant for Marino and Toomey

GOP officials stay away, Dems are happy to take the microphone

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  • Have audience, will travel: Citizens turn out for Toomey and Marino but listen to candidates from across the aisle. (Photo by Marilyn Rosenthal)

  • A cardboard figure of the president joined cardboard Toomey and Marino figures (Photo by Marilyn Rosenthal)

"Campaigns are very costly to run and the DNC (Democratic National Committee) is not supporting you. So who are your supporters? Who are you beholden to?"
Diana Weiner of Milford

By Marilyn Rosenthal

— About 200 people filled the Best Western meeting room — some excited, some angry, some defiant — to listen to a town hall meeting about the future of the 10th Congressional District.

The meeting was arranged by the Delaware Valley Democratic Committee, moderated by Tracey Vitchers, and streamed live on Facebook. Congressman Marino and Senator Toomey were both invited, but each claimed scheduling conflicts. As with many other town halls across the country since the election, Republican officials are staying away, giving Democratic candidates, even those from other regions, a shot at their constituencies.

Marino's phone was answered by someone named Michael, who refused to give me his last name. Was the Congressman planning to attend the town hall?

"It is not on his schedule," Michael replied.

Has the Congressman has ever gone to a Democratic town hall?

"Have and nice day," he said, and promptly hung up.

Toomey's Allentown office was much more courteous. Steve Kelly answered the phone and explained that Toomey had a long-standing obligation on that day, and that he had informed the organizers about this.

Over the past six years, Kelly said, "Senator Toomey has conducted more than 60 town halls, of all varieties. Further, that Toomey has also hosted meetings this year with protesters in five cities across Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Scranton, and Allentown) and one in Washington."

Nevertheless, the town hall meeting had fully dressed cardboard figures as Marino and Toomey stand-ins, along with a life-like sculpture of Donald Trump.

From near and farThe 10th Congressional District is very large, and some of the attendees, candidates included, drove for hours to attend the meeting. The District is 6,557.85 square miles with a population of 646,0534, according to the last Census, 55 percent rural and 45 percent urban. The medium income is $35,966 (Source: Wikipedia).

There were essentially two candidates at the meeting: Scott Brion, from Liberty, Pa., a very rural area. He is a real estate developer who ran unsuccessfully against Marino in 2014. Judy Herschel, a drug and alcohol counselor from Susquehanna County, Pa., also attended.

A third candidate, Donna Iannone, a commissioner from Sullivan County, Pa., Iannone didn't arrive until the end of the meeting because she had to take care of county business back home. It was a three-hour drive, but there wasn't time for her to state her position on issues or to answer more than one question.

The candidates covered many topics, including the environment, the federal budget, education, health care, planned parenthood, addiction, and gun control. Brion and Herschel cited traditional Democratic positions on these topics and largely agreed with one another. One interesting point: both come from "gun families." And while they both have guns in their households, they feel that we need to expand background checks on firearms sales.

Several interesting questions came from the audience. One stood out.

"Campaigns are very costly to run and the DNC (Democratic National Committee) is not supporting you," said Diana Weiner of Milford. "So who are your supporters? Who are you beholden to?"

Judy Herschel said, "I will not take money from big companies. I have a lot of community support and Internet support."

Scott Brion said, "I will take money from anyone who wants to give it to me. I will ask you for a campaign contribution!"

The room erupted in laughter.

The candidates speak

The Environment:
Brion: Deeply concerned about Marcellus Shale. The longer he investigates, the more concerned he becomes about how it could affect citizens.
Herschel: There's lots of fracking in her community. Gas companies need to be closely monitored for safety, she said, but they have contributed a lot to the economy of the community.
Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accord
Brion: It is tragic, but he is mostly concerned about the U.S. abdicating its leadership role.
Herschel: Our environment needs to be protected at all costs. “We owe it to our children and to our future.”
The budget
Brion: The current budget is a horrific starting point: “Republicans believe in investing in companies. Democrats invest in people. At the end of the day, Trump wants to take money from working class families and give it to the wealthy."
Herschel: Flibuster the current budget, which hits the most vulnerable in our country: “We need to increase the minimum wage, and addiction funding. Seniors will be without meds, children without food. There’s not one person here that won’t be affected.”
Brion: “Charter schools don’t work in our area. We need to stand up for one system. Charter schools and home schooling are killing the entire system.”
Herschel: Opposes vouchers and tax credits for charter schools: “They need to be held to the same standards as public schools.

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