Republican candidates trying to win their party’s nomination for the U.S. House, 13th district, fielded questions Monday night. The 13th district stretches across southcentral Pennsylvania, including Blair and Huntingdon counties.
The forum by Blair County Republicans drew a full house to the American Legion in Hollidaysburg.
States’ rights, smaller government and experience getting results were some of the themes covered during the forum.
John Eichelberger, a state Senator from Blair County, struck a pragmatic tone on many questions. He said there is a commitment to Social Security, but the age of eligibility for future retirees will need to be increased.
And, he said, meeting with lobbyists isn’t inherently bad.
“If people here don’t like lobbyists, then they wouldn’t like the gun lobby to come in," Eichelberger said. "The NRA comes and meets with us. The local libraries come in and meet with us. The YMCA comes in and meets with us… So you have to have the principles to draw the line and make sure you’re not being taken advantage of and doing the right thing for the folks back home.”
The responses were timed, with a bell ringing when the time was up.
There is no incumbent running in the primary. And, the district is rated strongly Republican, making it a unique opportunity for the party’s nominee.
Art Halvorson, a retired Coast Guard pilot from Bedford County, took credit for incumbent Bill Shuster not running for reelection.
“This is possible because one guy stood up in 2016 and went against the giant in the arena,” Halvorson said. He lost his race against Shuster by a slim margin.
The candidates answered questions about taking federal government out of local schools and getting rid of federal mandates on states, school districts and municipalities.
Halvorson said the federal Department of Education needs to be dissolved. Congress, he said, increased its funding despite President Trump’s efforts to cut it.
“We’ve got a Congress that’s out of control," he said. "We’ve got representatives who don’t understand conservative principles. We don’t need duplication in education at the federal level. It has actually resulted in lower scores for Americans across the board.”
Doug Mastriano, a retired Army colonel from Franklin County, said the country has a nanny state, going back to the New Deal and perpetuated even by Republicans.
“It’s a fight about bringing down the power of this powerful corrupt government that’s oppressing us.," Mastriano said. "Remember the oppression of the Christians — how you felt under Obama. That’s what we’ve become. It’s very Orwellian. We need to fight up and stand and say No. You send Mastriano down there and I will fight against this tyranny we have.”
Bernie Washabaugh II, a real estate developer from Chambersburg, highlighted his experience in business. He said mandates and regulation are stifling small businesses.
“The more local we can make regulation and these demands from the federal government, the better off we’re going to be,” Washabaugh said.
The candidates came out in support of term limits for politicians, with some differences in the best way to do it. John Joyce, a dermatologist from Altoona, said he signed the term-limit pledge, but wants to take it beyond that.
“Twenty-five, 30, 35-year bureaucrats who slow down our government and have their own agendas — many of them trying to stop President Trump — they also should be term limited,” Joyce said.
On the question of how to handle Social Security and whether opting out or raising taxes should be an option, Steve Bloom said he signed a pledge not to raise taxes. Bloom currently sits in the state House of Representatives.
“For the last eight years, I never have voted for a tax increase," Bloom said. "I fought the tax increases that were tried to be pushed upon us by Governor Wolf. And even when Governor Corbett, our fellow Republican, tried to get us to push a gasoline tax increase on us, I fought that to the bitter end.”
While the candidates had similar positions on many issues, there were a few where they parted ways.
On a question about the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws, several of the candidates said it should up to the states.
Ben Hornberger, a Marine veteran from Shippensburg, said he was for total legalization. At 24, he’s the youngest of the candidates. He pointed to the need to help treat veterans and fight opioids.
“Marijuana has never been known to kill anybody," he said. "Hungry, happy, sleepy are the three effects of marijuana. There’s no deaths related to marijuana from directly using it.”
That answer drew some applause along with some shaking their heads in disagreement.
Mastriano said the nature of the question shows how impaired the nation is morally.
“I say, No. It’s time to draw a line in the stand," Mastriano said. "There’s right and wrong. States, if you’re in a gray area, I say, No, get on the Lord’s side, not on your own side.”
Candidate Travis Schooley did not attend the event.