GOP candidates seek to replace longtime congressman

Written by Marie Cusick | Apr 12, 2016 4:00 AM

Two Republicans are slated to face off in Pennsylvania's April 26th primary, hoping to win the midstate seat held by longtime GOP Congressman Joe Pitts, who is retiring. The 16th district is historically a conservative stronghold. It covers most of Lancaster County, and parts of Chester and Berks counties.

At first glance, it's kind of hard to tell the difference between the two candidates: state Senator Lloyd Smucker (R- Lancaster) and businessman Chet Beiler.

Both graduated from the 1981 class at the Lancaster Mennonite School. Both come from families with Amish backgrounds, and since Lancaster County is a small place, they're actually second cousins. Both believe in free-market principles and want to cut government waste. They are pro-life, and want to do away with Obamacare. Both wore red neckties to a primary debate in Lititz last week. But if you looked closely, Smucker's tie had little flecks of blue in it. And that pretty much sums up the whole argument Beiler makes against him: the closer you look, the more blue you see. 

Smucker is a two-term state senator who argues Beiler has no track record of accomplishing anything in government.

"The charge that I'm not conservative is just bogus," says Smucker. "It's being put forward by someone who will do anything to hold an elected office."

Beiler lives in Manheim and says he wants to bring free-market principles to Congress. He'd like to do away with the federal departments of education, energy, housing and urban development, and commerce--which he sees as wasteful. 

He's made his money selling gazebos around the country.

"Would you believe that one of our strongest markets is in D.C. and its suburbs?" he told voters at debate. Beiler says that's because there is so much money pouring into lobbyists and special interests, they can afford large lawn ornaments.

"It's our tax dollars, and this drives up government spending. Budgets are out of control."

Both candidates also think more should be done to crack down on illegal immigration. But when it comes to some of the comments made by Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump about keeping Muslims out of the country, or calling Mexicans rapists, Smucker says that kind of language isn't appropriate for a public official. 

But Beiler thinks people have overreacted to Trump's rhetoric.

"Maybe we should be a little more assertive along those lines," he says. "We must put our security first."

Beiler has also knocked Smucker for sponsoring a Pennsylvania version of the DREAM Act, which would allow the young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to pay in-state college tuition rates.

"But if my cousin, from the foreign country of Delaware wants to go to Penn State, they've got to pay the full ride, right?" he asks.

Smucker defends the legislation by saying it gives immigrants a chance at more education, which means they'd ultimately earn more money and pay higher taxes.

"The DREAM Act itself is a conservative idea. There's not a dollar of state taxpayer money that is going to these kids," says Smucker. "They're earning their way through. But they should have access."

Smucker has also criticized Beiler's ability to be a leader. As the former chairman of the Lancaster Republican Party, Beiler mishandled payments to staffers collecting voter signatures. He wound up pleading no contest to a solicitation of registration charges and doing community service.

"I know from people that were there, that Chet received multiple inputs that he should carefully check the law," says Smucker. "When you're at the top of the organization, you're responsible."

Beiler says the whole thing is much ado about nothing--a technical complaint from the Democrats, which Smucker has latched onto. He says it reflects well on his leadership.

"Believe me, I could have blamed other people for that and I chose not to," says Beiler. "I was the volunteer chairman and I said, 'Hey, I'll just take the heat on this,' and I did.'"

Ultimately, it will be up to Republican voters later this month to decide whether that incident really matters, and who has the conservative credentials to potentially serve them in Washington. The winner of the Republican primary will face Lancaster nonprofit consultant Christina Hartman in the general election in November. She is running unopposed as a Democrat.


*This story has been corrected reflect Beiler pleaded no contest to solicitation of registration and not election fraud.

Published in News

Tagged under , , ,

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »