STROUDSBURG, Pa. — Until recently, I didn’t know there was a local “Tea Party” organization. But when a local television station reported the “Founders Tea Party” had invited Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta to speak, I decided to attend. Having won the Pennsylvania 11th District primary for the 3rd time, Barletta is the Republican candidate who will oppose incumbent Rep. Paul Kanjorski in the 2010 race for the House seat.
Barletta attracted national media attention several years ago when the issue of illegal immigration exploded into headlines. In July 2006, the Hazleton City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal for landlords and employers to knowingly hire or rent to illegal aliens. As Hazleton’s mayor, Barletta supported the ordinance and resisted the additional financial burdens imposed upon municipal and social service budgets by the influx of illegal immigrants. When the ordinance was tested in federal court, Judge James Munley ruled that the ordinance violated due process laws.
During his appearance before the Tea Party group in Delaware Water Gap, Barletta praised the contributions of legal immigrants but spoke of the impact of illegal immigration on jobs and social services during tough economic times. It was a message applauded by the estimated 150 people who turned out to hear Barletta in the midst of a summer heat wave.
Barletta described opponent Kanjorski as a “good man” but one aloof and “remote from the problems people face in today’s economy of lost jobs.” Barletta took Kanjorski to task for supporting a finance bill that he’d helped to write, a bill which excluded Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from additional regulation.
I asked Barletta how he planned to counter Rep. Paul Kanjorski and an incumbency which began in 1985. Barletta said he had requested five one-hour debates with Kanjorski. If past is prologue, Kanjorski will spurn the request for five debates, as he did in 2008, when he debated Barletta just once. On July 16, Pennsylvanians for Kanjorski announced their candidate had accepted a WVIA invitation to a single televised debate with Barletta on Oct. 28 at 7:00 p.m.
What Paul Kanjorski has going for him is experience and an established program of constituent services. What he has against him is a strong affiliation with a President who is losing ground in popularity polls and a recent statement in which he used the term “minorities” and “defectives” in the same sentence and with a parity of connotation. It was a comment more provincial than racist, yet many felt Kanjorski’s appeal was addressed to white liberal voters at the expense of minorities. Kanjorski’s remarks were later defended by black Philadelphia congressman, Chaka Fattah.
As Congressional Rep. of Pennsylvania’s 11th district, Paul Kanjorski has fully utilized the advantages of incumbency. It’s hardly possible to drive the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre highway system without bumping into a Kanjorski infrastructure project.
Rep. Kanjorski is appreciated by many for getting federal money into his district, but has angered others. Kanjorski has been criticized in the past for steering lucrative contracts to relatives, an accusation addressed on his Pennsylvania for Kanjorski website.
While denying that the Kanjorski campaign will be hurt by ongoing and conspicuous high-level Northeast Pennsylvania corruption scandals, Kanjorski also disparages the allegations of wrongdoing in the Cornerstone Technologies bankruptcy, in which a multi-million dollar federal contract was awarded to a company headed by Kanjorski’s daughter. Kanjorski points out that he was never charged in the matter.
“Don’t you think (that) with a Republican president and administration that I was checked out thoroughly? And they found nothing wrong,” Kanjorski is quoted on the Pennsylvanians for Kanjorski web site.
Kanjorski’s greatest strength may be his grasp of economic matters and frequent high-profile interviews on business news channels like CNBC. It will be difficult for challenger Barletta to argue the finer points of economics with Kanjorski, senior member of the Financial Services Committee, and chairman of a sub-committee on Capital Markets. It’s likely that Barletta’s strongest arguments will lie outside the WVIA studios where the Obama economic program shows signs of failure-record unemployment, massive deficits, and the threat of a double-dip recession.