In this Feb. 5, 2019 file photo, Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Pa. State and local government records that have been stolen or have otherwise ended up in private hands without authorization would be much easier to reclaim under legislation that could pass the Pennsylvania House in the coming days. A bill scheduled for a vote this week would give the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission the power to demand the return of records with historical value and to ask Commonwealth Court to order that they be turned over.
Alanna Elder is a Report for America corps member focusing on Latinos in central Pennsylvania and the 2020 elections, how the growing community will make its influence felt, what barriers to voting exist and how it might affect this battleground state. Previously, she was deputy editor and podcast producer for the Latin America News Dispatch while pursuing a master’s degree in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University. She has also worked for NPR member stations in Petersburg, Alaska and Laramie, Wyoming.
(Lebanon) — In less than two months, voters in Lebanon and parts of Dauphin and York counties will choose a replacement for late state Sen. Dave Arnold, who won the seat in a special election held last year.
Arnold died Jan. 17 from brain cancer. Local Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties nominated candidates for the May 18 primary, and a former state lawmaker gathered signatures to make it onto the ballot as an Independent. They have just a few months to campaign.
The GOP holds the advantage in the 48th district, with just over half of registered voters. By comparison, about 34% are registered Democrats and 15% make up the “other” category.
The special election is May 18, the same day as municipal primaries. Voters can register until May 3.
Here’s a look at the candidates.
Calvin Clements, Democrat
Coming off an unsuccessful run to represent the 101st district in the state House, Clements, who lives in Palmyra, had a campaign infrastructure ready to go. The retired veterinarian and cattle farmer is making a similar pitch this time around: that he will bypass divisive politics and disinformation to solve problems through dialogue and by following expert advice.
“My whole thing is that we can do this with civility, and we can do this with common sense. We don’t have to have this political divide and this political theater that’s going on,” he said.
One of the issues he is watching is pension debt among public school and state employees.
“We need to find new income streams, we need to find ways to pay this debt down, and we need to lower our costs by streamlining some of the programs we’re dumping tons of money into,” he said.
Other priorities he listed include reopening the state safely by boosting vaccinations, and protecting access to voting after an election in which turnout was “massive.”
“And it should be,” he said. “That’s the way we decide what voters really want.”
Clements grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York. After his father was in a car accident, he said the family received help from social programs. Clements connects the experience to challenges dairy farms in Pennsylvania are facing today.
“The family farm is being squeezed out of existence,” he said.
Clements said he would promote mechanisms to control prices and curb overproduction to help struggling farmers.
There were 1,149 farm operators in Lebanon County, which makes up most of the 48th district, as of the last agricultural census in 2017, a 6% decrease from 2012. The land in production – just over 100,000 acres – decreased by 11% in that time period.
Christopher Gebhard, Republican
Gebhard owns an insurance firm in Cornwall Township and plans to continue working with his company if elected. The Republican’s platform includes a rebuke of COVID-19 restrictions on schools and businesses. While he welcomes the loosening of those rules on Apr. 4, he said he would push for immediate reopening.
Gebhard’s and other candidates’ push to do away with public health guidelines comes amid increasing vaccination numbers — but also increasing COVID-19 infections — across Pennsylvania.
Another priority for Gebhard is challenging a proposal by Gov. Tom Wolf to increase taxes for wealthier Pennsylvanians by 46%. Gebhard said such a move would hurt businesses.
“I think it’s a recipe for disaster and a recipe for basically stunting any growth we hope to achieve in the coming years,” he said.
The candidate would join a group of Republican lawmakers calling for a repeal or amendment of Act 77, the election law that expanded mail-in voting in 2019 with near unanimous support from GOP legislators.
“If you gave me the magic wand and I can wave it I think repealing it would be the best process to go,” he said.
Gebhard took issue with court decisions that interpreted the law amid challenges from former president Donald Trump, including one that allowed voters to submit their ballots via drop boxes. The judge in that case said in his ruling there was no evidence to suggest that option would result in fraud.
Some counties offered drop boxes to keep up with a surge in mail-in ballots. No-excuse mail voting contributed to record voter turnout in Pennsylvania amid the pandemic and public health guidelines that recommended people avoid gathering in common spaces. Gebhard wrote in an email that he “would welcome a higher turnout from all registered voters and for future election cycles.”
The Republican said he believes there were “plenty of irregularities” in the voting process last year, despite there being no evidence to support claims that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election, nor evidence that would call the results into question.
Ed Krebs, Bring People Together
Ed Krebs, a former member of the General Assembly, is another candidate running with the area’s farming legacy in mind. He wants to keep farmland out of development.
Krebs, who lives in Campbelltown, represented the House’s 101st district from 1991 to 2002. He won the seat as a Democrat and later as a Republican. While in the assembly, Krebs said he and Patricia Carone Krebs, his wife, who is also a former lawmaker, tried to reduce the influence of caucus leaders and foster compromise. In 2002, he retired and the pair went on a multi-country cycling trip.
Now, he’s vying for the seat in the state senate as an independent to “Bring People Together,” which is his party affiliation in filing documents and the name of his website.
“My campaign is a message that you have to govern from the center,” he said. “And I’m only going to serve 18 months, and hopefully then the people can decide who they want to be in the position.”
Pennsylvania is redrawing state and Congressional districts this year, and Krebs said Senate 48 is one that needs to undergo changes for fairer representation. He compared it to a “dragon’s head with a really big, fat body” – the body being Lebanon County, which he said controls the district.
“The other two are afterthoughts,” he said of the sections of Dauphin and York counties that are attached on the current map.
Krebs wants to help address budget shortfalls for the state police and PennDot – though not by charging new tolls on bridges, a proposal he opposes.
In education, Kreb’s priorities include funding schools through the state’s equity formula, which he frames as a way to help struggling, rural districts that have lost income to declines in the mining industry. He also wants to support vocational programs.
Tim McMaster, Libertarian
Before the 48th Senate seat opened, McMaster was planning to run for supervisor position in Conewago Township in York County, where he lives. The information technology specialist and farmer echoes some of the priorities of his Republican counterpart, like eliminating social distancing rules and lowering taxes.
McMaster was a Republican in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but felt distant from the party’s social policies. His smaller-government platform extends to legalizing marijuana and enacting some policing reforms, such as an end to qualified immunity, a provision that makes it harder to sue law enforcement and other government employees for what they do while working.
“We don’t believe that because you enforce the law, you should be above the law,” he said.
McMaster also wants to end civil asset forfeiture, which is what happens when police take property they believe was involved in a crime, in some cases without charging the owner.
His campaign includes an appeal to small farmers and home manufacturers, who he said should face fewer zoning and other restrictions when selling goods.
“The barrier to entry for the small farmer or the small business person is entirely too high. There’s far too many regulations on what can and can’t happen on your property,” he said.
McMaster also supports of a push by Republican state Sen. Cris Dush to allow Pennsylvanians to carry concealed firearms without a permit.
On the topic of voting rights, McMaster said, as a third-party candidate, he generally supports policies that expand access to the vote, but said he is concerned about election security.
“I’m going to err on the side of more people voting and figure that before the next general election we can figure out the security a little better,” he said.
McMaster wrote in an email the only change he would make to current voting laws would be to end the practice of automatically sending out ballot applications to people on the mail-in voter list.
There were no indications of any security breakdowns or fraud in the 2020 election.
The Libertarian’s website says he supports efforts by the organization Fair Districts PA to reform the state’s legislative districts, including Senate 48.
McMaster challenged the other candidates to a debate, but it is unclear if one will happen.