Monday, September 04, 2006

An Interview with Bryan Lentz (161st state house district)

Bryan Lentz is the Democratic candidate for the 161st state house district, running against incumbent Republican Tom Gannon. The 161st district is in Delaware County and contains Brookhaven, Rutledge and Swarthmore boroughs and parts of a number of townships (see map and description from the Committee of Seventy’s site here).

Born and raised in southeast Pennsylvania, he is a graduate of Wissahickon High School. Lentz earned his Associates degree from the Valley Forge Military Academy and won a full army scholarship to Georgetown University, where he played varsity football and earned his B.A. in philosophy in 1986. His law degree is from Temple University. After six years as a prosecutor with the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, Lentz is now in private practice.

A third generation Army veteran, Lentz served with distinction in the Iraq War and with peacekeeping missions in the Sinai Peninsula and Bosnia, where he oversaw millions of dollars in infrastructure development, including the first-ever Russian, Romanian, Muslim and Serbian joint bridge and road projects.

Recently he took the time to answer some interview questions. I have a few favorite quotes that I want to pull out and highlight. You will note that his answers are concise and straightforward, qualities you don’t always find in political candidates. When asked why he volunteered to go Iraq he said “The unit I had been in Bosnia with was activated to go, and they needed a company commander.” No long rationales or patriotic displays, no musing over lost income or dangerous duty, just “they needed a company commander” and so he went. The other quote I liked was on ethical guidelines for legislators. He said, in part, that he would pay for his own car and expenses. That’s a concrete promise. Constituents can easily check on the car allowance. I also liked his answer on the difference between being a prosecutor and being in private practice.

Read over the entire interview. He doesn’t use a lot of words but he does have a lot to say.

Your family seems very close and some of them worked the polls for you. You’ve also spoken about your parents teaching you that service matters. Did your interest in politics spring from family also?

Yes. I have a large extended family that is very close. We always ate dinner together at home and at least once a week at my grandparents. Politics were always discussed at the table. My mother’s father was a passionate FDR Democrat and a big Hubert Humphrey fan. His brother, Tom Minehart was the chairman of the State Democratic Party when JFK was nominated in 1960.

When you were a district attorney you were very tough, so much so that some judges declined to agree with the sentences you asked for. Is there anything you regret about your service there? (Source: Racher, Dave, “’Torn-up’ thief catches a break,” Philadelphia Daily News 4/17/96; Racher, Dave, “Judge jails family robbers,” Philadelphia Daily News 11/20/97)

I regret those occasions when a victim did not get justice.

You switched from being an assistant district attorney to private practice, defending people that you used to prosecute. What that a difficult change?

Very difficult at first. Until you lose the mantle of “The Commonwealth” you never realize how much a part of your credibility as an advocate comes from who you represent. On the other hand I think part of growing as a lawyer comes from appreciating our justice system as a whole. When developing nations are graded on their progress in human rights one of the most important indicators is the establishment of a vibrant justice system that includes a legal profession with defense lawyers. The best judges in our system are lawyers who worked both sides of the court room.

In private practice you work with your brother, who is a Republican. Do political differences cause problems there? Is it good training for bipartisan efforts in the House?

I think big families encourage bipartisan skills. I was the middle child of five so I have experience settling partisan disputes. My brother is a great guy who is mainly focused on work and his family.

What led to your decision to leave law, take a pay cut, and volunteer with civil affairs in the Iraq?

The unit I had been in Bosnia with was activated to go, and they needed a company commander. I was trained as a paratrooper, ranger and infantry officer and I had experience doing Civil Affairs in Bosnia. I knew I could make a difference in the unit’s training preparing soldiers for what they would face in carrying out our mission in Iraq.

In Iraq you were concerned about no-bid contracts, waste and fraud. Do you see similar problems state-side?

Absolutely. No-bid contracts are the result of government being too cozy with lobbyists and big industry. We should spend the public’s money in the most effective, efficient and fairest way possible.

You’ve had remarkable fundraising success. What do you attribute that to?

First and foremost generous friends and family but also an intense interest in electing new people to public office. People interested in change are willing to reach into their wallets to help make it happen. (by the way my website is for those who want to contribute; ha ha)

What is your relationship with the Delaware County Democratic Party? It has at times seemed contentious. (Source: Bender, William, “Weldon getting fund-raising race, too, from Lentz,” Delco Times 2/01/06)

The local party is supporting me. I think all Democrats have done a good job this year of putting aside their factional differences and focusing on winning in November. I believe I helped by agreeing to support Joe Sestak and run for the State House.

The 161st district includes 3 boroughs and parts of 8 townships. It is shaped like a jagged lightening bolt. How difficult will it be to represent such a hodge podge of local governments and constituents scattered over so many localities?

It will take hard work. I have knocked on over 11,000 doors to date. That kind of direct voter contact has to be part of governing and not just campaigning.

Tom Gannon voted for the pay raise, took unvouchered expenses and was excused on the repeal vote. When running against Curt Weldon you criticized his ethical lapses. Given that state legislators have access to per diems and vehicle allowances with little oversight and no lobbying disclosure rules, what can you tell your future constituents about your plans to be ethical? (Source: Lentz, Bryan, "It's time to clean house, Huffington Post 2/06/06)

I am going to follow the rules before they become rules. I am going to be an open book and I will pay for my own car and expenses. My only special interest will be the interest of my constituents and I will not be wined and dined by anyone other than my wife.

On your web site you talk about the importance of alternative energy sources. How do you see those fitting into the state’s economy? What geographic areas and specific technologies do you see as priorities?

I think we need to lead the rest of the nation into the future. Advances in energy technology will create jobs and attract innovative people and industries to our State. Clean coal and ethanol, if done right, can help economically strapped regions of our state and improve our environment while at the same time reducing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil. We need to expand on the Governor’s program to dedicate a portion of the State’s fleet of vehicles to run on alternative fuels so that industry has a dependable customer and thus an incentive to develop these alternatives. We also need to expand our capacity for wind as an energy source.

Your district includes a wide spectrum of higher education institutions, from Swarthmore to Delaware County Community College. What concerns do you have about higher education in the state and how would you represent the interests of these differing schools?

We need to get back to the business of helping the middle class attend college and make sure that government helps these institutions thrive. Higher education institutions are stable employers and contribute to our local economy and must be a priority for local leaders.

What is one question I didn’t ask that you would like to answer?

My favorite movie is “On the Waterfront” with Marlon Brando. A lone working man stands up against a corrupt machine and wins.

Thanks to Bryan Lentz for his willingness to participate in the interview process.

1 comment:

eRobin said...

Another great interview for your series! I hope he wins if only so I can see this in action:

I have knocked on over 11,000 doors to date. That kind of direct voter contact has to be part of governing and not just campaigning.

He's so right about that. And if a politician really walked that talk, s/he'd be forced into the kind of reasonable bi-partisanship that used to make sense.