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In a polarized Pennsylvania, Smucker, King have divergent visions for 11th district

Written by Marie Cusick | Oct 31, 2018 8:32 PM
Smucker and King.jpg

 Democrat Jess King and Republican Lloyd Smucker at an October debate in Millersville.

(Lancaster) -- As he wraps up his first term in Congress, Republican Lloyd Smucker hails the GOP tax cut package and a regulatory rollback as driving force behind the country's robust economic picture and the reason why voters should send him back to Washington.

Promises kept

"The promises I've made to people in this district, I've been able to keep and I'm very proud of that record," he said.

Born into an Amish family, Smucker frequently cites his heritage as prioritizing a strong work ethic and family values. He served two terms in the state Senate before winning the seat held by longtime GOP congressman Joe Pitts two years ago.

He says he's a conservative representing a conservative area, and believes less government is better.

The newly-redrawn 11th District covers all of Lancaster County and part of York County. When the congressional maps changed earlier this year, the shift was widely viewed as a boon to Democrats across the state, but Smucker's seat is now considered safer for the GOP than two years ago.

His Democratic opponent, Jess King got into the race before the maps changed, but said she just decided to "dig in deeper" after the shift. She's is on leave from her job as executive director of ASSETS, a nonprofit based in Lancaster City that encourages entrepreneurship.

She says she felt like she and others working to address poverty were merely putting a "band-aid on a broken system"--which harbors racial, economic, and gender disparity.

"We're in a moment where Pennsylvania has no women representing us in our delegation to Congress," said King. "That's not okay in our representative democracy."

Both candidates say healthcare is one of the top concerns they hear from voters. King supports a "Medicare-for-all" approach, also known as a single-payer system.

"I believe in the richest country in the world healthcare should be a right and not a privilege," she said. "You should not go bankrupt if you get sick."

Smucker voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act--an effort which ultimately didn't advance in the Senate.  He says the law, also known as Obamacare, has not been working -- citing his experience as a small business owner as a reason there ought to be more market-based competition in healthcare.

"When we were competing [with other businesses], it made us better. We provided better products at a better price, and I think the same is true with healthcare."

Smucker's Republican primary opponent Chet Beiler and Jess King have both criticized him for not being more publicly accessible.

"He's been in office for almost two years and hasn't had any public townhall meetings to come out and talk to people, in an open environment and hear their questions," said King. "People are frustrated with that."

Smucker says he's had hundreds of meetings with constituents but feels an open public forum would become a "spectacle."

He points to a progressive group called Lancaster Stands Up, which formed after the 2016 election and has endorsed King. To him, their intent is on disrupting his public events.

During a debate at Millersville University earlier this month, Smucker was at times booed by the mostly pro-King crowd.  He cites it as a reason he can't do more public events.

'A government that looks more like us'

King has made the rare decision to take a salary from her campaign--a move Smucker has criticized.

"I was amazed to learn you can pay yourself a salary," he said. "And line your own pockets with campaign dollars."

King says she's not wealthy and could not otherwise afford to run full time.  She points to the wealth of many politicians. The median net worth of someone in Congress is over half a million dollars.

King has also shunned corporate PAC donations and says she wants to work to get big money out of politics.

"If we want to see a government that looks more like us and reflects the values and the priorities of working families, I think we need to make sure more working families step up can run for office."

She and Smucker have also repeatedly clashed on their views over immigration.

Smucker believes it's a broken system, saying the country needs to secure its southern border.

At a debate Tuesday he brought up the group of central American migrants traveling north toward the U.S. saying nothing "speaks more clearly for a need for a wall."

King believes immigration is being used to stoke fear among voters ahead of the elections--and cited her and Smucker's family heritage.

"We're distantly related," she told him "Our ancestors were religious refugees to this country a couple hundred years ago. We have experienced this, we know who we are a community and playing into this fear is un-American."

She said despite the country's polarization, she believes people have more in common than they may realize, and contentious issues such as gun control and healthcare are too often driven by monied special interests, rather than what citizens want.

Smucker touted the nearly 50-year low unemployment rate and high consumer confidence. He said people are better off than they were two years ago.

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