REYNOLDSVILLE — Republican party members and candidates held their annual banquet Wednesday evening at the Bellamauro in Reynoldsville.
Candidates in attendance were those contending for the Jefferson County Commission, sheriff, auditor and Brookville magisterial district judge posts.
Also present were state House Speaker Sam Smith and representatives for state Sen. Joe Scarnati and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson.
Party Chairman Troy Harper began by thanking county residents for heavy turnout in last fall’s elections.
“We had a great election cycle last fall,” he said. “Jefferson County delivered very strong in the voting booths and helped put Pat Toomey in the (U.S.) Senate, Tom Corbett as the governor and Glenn Thompson back to Congress.”
Harper also reflected on the honor of having two county residents — Smith and Scarnati — named to top positions in the state government: Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro-Tempore, respectively.
“There are 67 counties in the state with many people in each county,” Harper said. “For both of those seats to be filled by Jefferson County men is truly, truly an honor. It speaks volumes about the respect peers have for them and the integrity that they have.”
To the candidates, Harper said, “Thank you for running. It is a tough job, and one that you will be browbeat for at the grocery store and criticized when you have to make difficult decisions.”
Following Harper’s introduction, candidates seeking county-level seats introduced themselves and gave reasons why they would be the correct choice in the May 10 primary.
Five county commissioner candidates were present, including incumbents Paul Corbin and James McIntyre and challengers David Black, Ira Sunderland and Paul Bishop.
• Bishop, a retired co-owner of a Punxsutawney area business, said he was running for office because he believes government should have a limited role in citizens’ lives, which he doesn’t see happening right now.
“Ronald Reagan once said the government cannot be the solution to problems because it is the problem,” he said. “I believe this, and that is why I’m running.”
Bishop emphasized his experience in business, in which he operated a lumber company for 36 years, and his community services. He volunteered as a baseball coach for more than 20 years with Punxsutawney Groundhog Little League, as a counselor for a local youth Christian program and actively supports 4-H and Make-A-Wish.
Quoting former French President Charles de Gaulle, he said, “Government is too serious for politicians, and I am no politician. I will be the common-sense candidate for the county.”
That common sense approach involves three objectives: Governing people with common sense; responsibly managing finances of the county; and attracting new businesses.
“Governing with common sense means governing in a way that people find reasonable,” Bishop said. “When cuts have to be made, they should be made across the board, with the salaries of the commissioners being cut first.”
Bishop said also he would ensure a balanced budget every year, would lower property taxes to attract new businesses and allow established businesses to expand.
• Black said he is “eight years into a beautiful retirement” following a previous term as Jefferson County commissioner. He said he decided to run again because he was concerned with the current commission’s fiscal decisions.
“I don’t agree with the financial policies of the current administration,” he said. “In the past seven years, the county’s budget has increased more than at any time in the county’s history.”
He said over time, county debt increased 358 percent, and property taxes increased 46 percent.
“This is growth that I don’t think we can sustain,” Black said. “I can assure you that if I were commissioner, I would have taken a different approach.”
Black said some of the tax increases were needed to fund services that he was not sure the county should offer.
“If the benefits of the program do not outweigh the costs, then that service has outlived its use, because we must cut costs like the state and federal governments,” he said.
• Corbin thanked county voters for giving him a chance to serve as commissioner for the past eight years, and said it was an honor. Despite that honor, he said the current administration was responsible for a lot of “clean-up” when it took office.
“You hear of a clean-up hitter in baseball, and boy, did we have a lot of clean-up to do,” he said. “We were faced with a whole host of problems. The county was deeply in debt. We didn’t know to what extent that debt was, but somebody in the previous administration did.”
Corbin asked voters to review the information available, and said he and McIntrye would gladly speak with county residents about financial decisions.
“Come into our office,” he said. “We will lay out the minute books and the audit reports, and you can see for yourself.”
Corbin said his father told him the most important thing in one’s life is his or her good name.
“I am not going to defame my name for your vote,” he said. “If you feel I have done the job well, then I ask that you vote for me again.”
• McIntyre, like Corbin, thanked county voters for electing him as commissioner each of the past two elections.
“I swore that we would come with a team approach, and we have done just that on a daily, full-time basis,” he said.
McIntyre discussed the current commission’s accomplishments over the past eight years. He said the county had a deficit in the yearly operating budget when he came on board, and this year, there will be a budget surplus that was possible without a tax increase.
“We have increased manufacturing jobs,” he said. “We attracted Schlumberger, which will employ many local workers with family sustaining wages. We’ve effectively delivered human services and resolved a sound fiscal management plan.”
McIntyre said the plan was adopted in 2006, and since then, a $2.4 million deficit has been eliminated.
Additionally, McIntyre said he has served as a representative of seniors on the Area Agency on Aging board of directors.
• “I am proud to be here and proud to run again,” Sunderland said. “I think we have some serious problems in Jefferson County, and maybe I can help provide new ideas.”
Sunderland said he believes the county is “moving in a direction that will lead to financial devastation,” citing the tax increases and budget growth that has occurred the past eight years.
“This liberal destructive practice must be stopped,” he said.
Sunderland said he knows how to attract new jobs, and did so as a commissioner prior to the current administration.
“That will create new revenue to sustain the county in a way we need to go,” he said. “We need to stop borrowing, especially to balance the budget. You just cannot do that.”
At one point, Sunderland said he would work to see that the Just For Jesus Homeless Outreach group home in Brockway would be held to the same oversight regulations as other personal care homes in the state.
• Carl Gotwald Sr., who has served as sheriff for the past four years, said he is able to serve well because he served as a deputy for years under Thomas Demko.
“Whatever I asked people to do, there was a more than likely chance that I had done it before,” Gotwald said.
He said the sheriff’s office transports 1,000 prisoners annually from county jail to court appointments, serves nearly 150 warrants and extradites 15 to 20 criminals from out of state.
Also, he said he was able to obtain outside funding to purchase computers for every work station and TASERs as a less-than-lethal weapon for courthouse disturbances.
• Jim Wicker, a Punxsutawney resident, said he would be the county’s “Constitutional sheriff.”
“I keep hearing people say that we need to get our country back, and I agree,” he said. “I keep hearing people say that we need to get back to the Constitution, and I agree. The best way to do that is to know the Constitution and to follow it.”
Wicker said he has more than 1,000 hours of Constitutional study.
“When you learn it, you realize how far away we are from it,” he said.
Wicker said current government officials do not follow the Constitution, which should serve as the authority over those officials. He said it is the job of the sheriff to enforce Constitutional violations within the county.
“It is supposed to tell officials what they can and cannot do,” Wicker said. “Without knowing it, it is hard to recognize when it is violated. The job of the sheriff is to protect citizens from anything that is unconstitutional.”
Wicker said he would carry a pocket copy of the Constitution on him, and would require deputies to do the same.
• Incumbents Roger Richards and Maxime Zimmerman are running unopposed on the Republican primary ticket.
Richards said if elected, he would work, as he has since 2005, to diligently examine the county budget and make sure that there are no discrepancies.
Zimmerman said she enjoyed the soon-to-expire term and appreciates support from county voters.
• Incumbent Diane Maihle Kiehl, running unopposed on the Republican ticket, thanked the leadership present, including state officials.
She also thanked those who supported her, and said she looks forward to serving another four years.