I had lunch with Charlie Dent on Monday.
Well, actually I had lunch a table away from the good Congressman. The reason we were in the same room was the annual Tri-Chamber legislative lunch. Every year members of the three independent Chambers of Commerce gather for lunch and conversation with the area's State Legislatures, County Executive and the Member of Congress.
It’s a mixed crowd of local movers, shakers, small business owners, corporate representatives, lawyers, labor leaders, non-profit organizers and community activists. Each office holder was given about 10-15 minutes to discuss what he/she has been working on. Each speaker was introduced in very glowing terms by a chamber member. I suspect these introductions were written by the biggest ass kissing staff person. I thought I was in the company of the one true savior each time one of these politicians was introduced.
First up was Congressman Charlie Dent. He expressed his disappointment at the failure the Super Committee and hoped that progress could be made and basically blamed all of our fiscal woes on Medicare and the Affordable Health Care Act. He then went off after regulations and their job crushing effects and he all but accused the EPA and the NLRB of having a vendetta against American business interests. These were themes he repeated ad nauseum throughout the question and answer period. He certainly was well prepared, very confident in his rightness and completely on point with the message he wanted to give. He also seemed kind surly, grumpy and lacking humor. When Don Cunningham made a few pithy quips he just stood there and glowered.
To end the afternoon event host Frank De Rosa asked about why things don’t work anymore and if anyone had any ideas as to why our politics is so completely broken. Congressman Dent was about to blame the Democrats, he mentioned that it was tough to get things done when only one side comes to the table with ideas. He then paused as he if he realized that there may be some Democrats in the room; in fact there were the President of the local Labor Council was sitting front and center. He returned to his main talking points of anti-regulation, anti-health care reform and curtailing entitlement programs. He never addressed Mr. De Rosa question.
As they opened the floor to questions a young aide to Congressman Dent who I have gotten to know recently and is none too pleased with some of my comments about her boss looked at me with horror about what I would ask her boss. I assured the eager aide that I am always proper and polite at these types of events. I may not like Congressman Dent’s votes but I have too much respect for his office, the unbelievable pressures he must find himself under and how hard I know he does work.
Sen. Boscola was represented by her very capable District Chief Kurt Derr. Kurt apologized for Lisa not being there and discussed some of the things she and the Senate were focused on. He did a fine job and it is never easy to represent someone else in these types of forums. The attendees wanted to hear from the Senator herself.
Rep. Joe Brennan spoke about regionalism and the expected changes that will come with redistricting. He had a previous engagement so he left early but assured attendees the Rep. Julie Harhart would do a fine job in answering any questions.
The best of the afternoon was Rep. Marcia Hahn. She was organized, focused and informative about the issues she is working on. She mentioned one by one each of the committees she was on and what the most important issue that each committee was dealing with. She discussed all sides of the issues. She was very informative, detailed and we had a better understanding of what Rep. Hahn is spending her time on.
Unfortunately for Rep. Harhart she had to follow Ms. Hahn. She rambled through some of the things going on in Harrisburg it appeared she was not really prepared for her remarks and just leaped from topic to topic.
The one thing that did impress me was that all the State folks mentioned the importance of the Lehigh Valley delegation putting politics aside and working together to represent the needs of the valley and bring home the bacon for the area.
Next up was Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham. He explained the role of counties in our lives and he also brought a more global view based on his variety of governmental experiences. He understands all the various levels of government and how they are all interrelated. He was a Mayor, Cabinet Officer and now County Executive. He was also very funny, self effacing and brutally honest. At one point after hearing all the Republicans talk about not raising taxes he called them on their dishonesty by pointing out that we can’t have police, fireman, bridges, prisons, street light etc without taxes; everyone wants these things and much more but no one seems willing to pay for them. Congressman Dent was clearly put out by Mr. Cunningham’s comments; he crossed his arms and gave his best Mr. Burns on the Simpson’s look.
The final speaker was Northampton County Executive John Stoffa who was his usual low key self. He discussed the Gracedale issues, accepted the will of the people and hinted that he was not sad Ron Angle was leaving County Council. He did say how much respect he has for Mr. Angle’s commitment to the county and how hard he worked as a Councilman. His report mirrored Cunningham’s about the role of counties. He also mentioned that the county has gained 40,000 new residents in the last 10 years which is a huge amount of growth for a largely rural county.
Both Executives discussed the need for regionalism and predicted that in the not too distant future the roles of the small town / township governments would begin to fade; they won’t be able to support the services required. The Executive’s predicted county police, fire and EMT departments.
It was a good afternoon I learned some things and even though I find my views drifting further and further away from Charlie Dent’s I was very impressed with his knowledge, ability to communicate his views and his confidence.