Birmelin says goodbye, for now

| 29 Sep 2011 | 10:32

Honesdale - His tenure in Harrisburg is ending, but Jerry Birmelin’s next stop may be Washington. Wrapping up 22 years in the state House of Representatives last Thursday, the 57-year-old Republican reminisced a bit while the office staff prepared a going-away party. The region has grown and changed some. “It’s still a fairly conservative area. Many people tend to grow more conservative as they age,” he said. At the end of his term, Birmelin represented half the geographic area that the former Lake Ariel social studies teacher was first elected to serve in 1984. With the redistricting in 2000, he found he was serving 20,000 constituents over the 60,000 quota. He said many have come to invest in the friendly rural atmosphere, but a good number are also commuters, whose time at home is often limited to weekends. That makes a legislator’s job more complicated. “The isolation of these development communities is unfortunate, especially in Pike,” he said. The result is that many people have no idea about their township and county governments, Birmelin added. “It’s difficult to get to know them. You can’t get in without an invitation and when you do, many have no interest,” he said. One thing remains the same. “When they have a problem, they find me.” Birmelin sees no let up in the growth spurt, or in the social and infrastructure pressures that come with it. He says local governments, who have been resisting the idea for years, are going to have to organize regional police forces. “The state police were never intended to be a local police force,” he said. While traffic congestion grows in Pike, a state study commission recently found Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges to be “in crisis.” The commission recommended funding through the state’s real estate transfer tax. Birmelin disagrees. He says vehicle owners and drivers should be picking up the costs in use related taxes. “You pay for things as directly as possible,” he said. A fiscal conservative, Birmelin has also been a strong advocate for children and the right-to-life movement. That has admittedly made him a lightning rod for abortion advocates, and “That hasn’t bothered me one bit,” he said. The chairman of the House Children and Youth Committee said his most memorable legislative involvement was in the passage of the 1989 Abortion Control Act. “My name didn’t even appear on that bill,” he added. Birmelin said he’s always been more interested in “getting it done than taking credit for it ... You can get a lot done if you don’t worry about having your name on the bill.” He said he ran originally because he got tired of talking about the problems and decided to try and do something about them. He’s only had two opponents over his tenure, but he admits now that, “the position no longer interests me.” But, “I’m too young to retire,” he said, and Congress does interest him. After some time off for the family, Birmelin plans to begin introducing himself to Republican leaders around the 10th Congressional District. “You never know,” he said. In conclusion, he said, “I’ve loved serving the people I’ve represented. Ninety-eight percent of them are great and wonderful to work with. I live in a great area and I’m thankful. It’s been a great career. I’m leaving with good, positive feelings.”