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Republican candidates face off in 101st House District

Written by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News | Apr 8, 2016 1:30 PM
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Casey Long, Lebanon County Republican Chairman, (second from right) introduces Pier Hess, Jeff Griffith and Frank Ryan as the Lebanon County Young Republicans hosted a debate between the three Republican candidates running for the 101st house seat on Thursday, April 7, 2016. (Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News)

(Lebanon) -- Republican candidates running for the state House of Representative's 101st Legislative District seat did their best to convince a standing-room-only crowd that they are the best candidate during an hour-long debate Thursday night at the Lebanon County Republican Committee headquarters in Lebanon.

The seat is being vacated by popular Republican Mauree Gingrich, who has served in it since 2002 and has decided to retire.

Hoping to take Gingrich's place and seeking the Republican nomination in the April 26 primary election are Senior Deputy District Attorney Pier Hess, Lebanon Christian Academy teacher Jeff Griffith and Cornwall accountant Frank Ryan.

For those keeping score, there were many things that Griffith, Hess and Ryan agree on, like each claiming to be a political outsider and hot button issues like the legalization of gay marriage, abortion rights, and raising the minimum wage, which they all oppose.

They even agreed on property tax reform. Each expressing support for Senate Bill 76 -- The Property Tax Independence Act -- which would increase sales and income tax to replace property taxes to fund public education.

If there was a shade of difference in their views on that issue, it came from Hess and Ryan, who both cautioned that sales tax revenues can fluctuate and the formula must ensure adequate funding.

When it came to pension reform, all agree it is a priority issue. But as an accountant who specializes in counseling distressed businesses facing bankruptcy, Ryan tried to lay claim to the issue.

The three candidates all also support the state's new medical marijuana law, watch Fox News to be informed, and would refuse legislative perks, such as health benefits, per diems and a pension.

They even all supported the same NFL team, but only one spelled it.

"E-A-G-L-E-S," shouted Griffith to laughter and applause.

Those questions all came in a rapid-fire question round from moderator Herman Weimer that provided some levity to the evening.

The rapid-fire questions also elicited different responses when it came to the issue of who they support for president, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or John Kasich.

Griffith and Ryan both said they supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but in a different manner.

After joking that he was pleading the Fifth Amendment, Griffith said, "I have no problem in answering that question because I believe in what I believe and I'm not ashamed of what I believe in. And I believe Ted Cruz will be the next great president of the United States.

Ryan was less enthusiastic in his support, stating his favored candidate, whom he did not name, was out of the race.

"I can guarantee you if we are down to this three, it will be Ted Cruz," he said.

Hess said she hasn't made up her mind.

"I really haven't decided yet," she said. "Every single day something comes out in the news and it's dynamic. And it's at times over the top -- thank you Donald Trump. And I want to hear what these people have to say to me in my home state."

Another rapid-fire question that differentiated Hess from Ryan and Griffith was about term limits. The latter two favor them, while Hess said elections already serve that function.

When asked if they own a gun, Hess was the only one to say no, while Ryan said yes, and Griffith said he owns more than one.

Another significant difference in opinion, which again put Hess on the opposite side of Ryan and Griffith, was support for a gas and oil extraction tax.

Griffith and Ryan were vehemently opposed to the tax, stating that it would just add another tax on a heavily taxed industry.

But Hess said the state needs revenue, and an extraction tax would be a way to obtain it without raising taxes on the public. Where she would spend the money, however, she couldn't say.

There were also some "gotcha" questions designed for each candidate.

When asked why she has a spotty voting record, Hess, 32, said she didn't vote when she was younger because she was concentrating on her academics when studying for her bachelor's degree at Temple University and her law degree at Duquesne University.

"When I was gone at school, my focus was school, and frankly doing very well," she said. "That was my focus. I did not vote absentee and I never changed my voter registration because I was living in apartments and I was changing cities."

When pigeon-holed about his openly religious views, Griffith, 49, an administrative pastor at Open Door Baptist Church in North Lebanon Township, said it would not interfere with his governing everybody.

"My desire to serve as your full-time state representative would require that I represent the voices of all the people in the district," he said. "But I will also have to represent them without sacrificing or compromising my principles, and I can do that because the principles I hold to are what will make life better for all of us."

Ryan, 64, a resident of Cornwall Borough, was put on the spot about his support of Cornwall's 80 percent tax increase, and whether voters could expect him to support Gov. Tom Wolf's call for higher taxes. He defended his opinion, noting that Cornwall was struggling with fallout from the Lebanon County Earned Income Tax controversy and other decisions made by previous boards.

"The irresponsible decisions that get made over decades put us in a position where things have to be done. When you look at the current members of the county commissioners and the current Cornwall Borough and other areas, their option is to go bankrupt or to deal with reality," he said.

A fourth Republican candidate, John Dissinger, dropped out of the race last week and did not appear at the forum.

The winner of the Republican nomination will face Democrat Lorraine Scudder, of Palmyra, who is running unopposed. The 101st District represents the City of Lebanon; the boroughs of Mt. Gretna, Cornwall and Palmyra; and North Cornwall, North Londonderry, South Annville, South Londonderry and West Cornwall townships.

The debate was sponsored by the Lebanon County Young Republicans.

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF. For more photos of this event, visit the Lebanon Daily News

Published in Lebanon, News

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