Sestak: We didn’t get the message across

CLARION — Joe Sestak, the recently defeated candidate for a U.S. Senate seat, visited DuBois and Clarion Tuesday as part of a state-wide tour.

The purpose of the tour, Sestak said, was to thank those who supported him. In doing so, though, he answered questions and addressed issues of concern for his constituency.

“This is my thank-you tour,” he said. “And a chance to say, ‘Yes, we can do this. We came so close in a year when every other Democratic candidate in Pennsylvania was getting smoked.’”

Sestak lost in his bid for U.S. Senate to Republican Pat Toomey. He said the victories the Republican party realized were, in part, due to a lack of communication with voters.

“The Democratic party has to look at itself,” Sestak said. “The establishment truly didn’t get it. They didn’t know what it was like for the people on the street, the people on the back roads of Potter County.

“When the voters gave us (the Democrats) a majority in 2008, they were giving us a mandate of communicating and explaining what we were trying to do and how we were doing it,” he said. “We had better start doing that as a party.”

Sestak said he was nearly an exception in the Republican-dominated election because he took the time to listen to people and to explain his goals clearly and concisely.

“What the people want to know: Do you know what I’m going through? Do you know who I am?” he said.

The disconnect between voters and Congress could be seen with the health care reform bill, passed earlier this year.

“We’d talk to the representatives, and two-thirds of them didn’t even know the bill,” Sestak said. “Some of them act in an eco-chamber, and there is no talking or explaining.”

That lack of communication, he said, caused the failure of the public option and the repeal of insurance company anti-trust exception status. The Democratic party conceding those measures represented a compromise in principle.

The public option, he said, would have created a more competitive insurance-pricing environment because it would have given citizens an alternative to insurance companies that work together to fix prices.

That price-fixing is allowed to exist because most insurance companies are exempt from anti-trust laws, which means they can communicate to establish prices and create monopoly areas, Sestak said.

“We have to do principal compromise, not compromise of principal,” Sestak said.

Another example of compromise exists in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus bill, which, he said, was not extensive enough, which is why a full-scale economic recovery was not realized.

“Sometimes, the establishment will not do the right thing because of political appearances,” Sestak said. “Our ship was leaking, and we knew that we needed $1 trillion in caulking. We only purchased $800 billion in caulking, so the hemorrhaging continued.”

The additional $200 billion, he said, would have included mostly tax cuts to small businesses. Such cuts would have included benefits for expansion resulting in an increased workforce.

Incentives to small businesses, Sestak said, would have provided more benefit than tax cuts to large corporations, of which only about one out of three pay federal taxes.

“In my mind, small business is where recovery occurs,” he said. “They account of 80 percent of all jobs.”

Sestak used the struggles of Pennsylvania to illustrate the importance of small businesses.

“We have the second-oldest population in the nation,” he said. “It is not because we have less babies. It is because the kids do not stay here. Pennsylvania has half of the net small businesses created over the last 30 years than the rest of the nation. So the kids have gone elsewhere, where there are double the job opportunities.”

Finally, Sestak said more communication would help better define the role of government. Such a definition would eliminate election results such as this past November, when voters chose to “neutralize” government, he said.

“In the last election, voters looked at government and said, ‘You didn’t protect me in this economy, and now you want to touch my health care. We are just going to neutralize you,’” he said.

Despite the critiques directed toward his own party, Sestak said those who voted for him should be encouraged by the results because the race was so close in an election that was unkind to state-Democratic candidates.

“Look at the results,” he said. “We almost did it. It is nobody’s fault but mine that I didn’t get across the finish line. We just have to get out there and touch the pulses of the people.”