Michael Paston is the Democratic candidate for the 152nd Pennsylvania state house seat, which includes Hatboro and Bryn Athyn, Upper and Lower Moreland townships, parts of Upper Dublin and Horsham townships, all of Montgomery County, and the Philmont Heights section of Northeast Philadelphia. While this is not exactly an open seat, there is no incumbent. Thomas Murt defeated the current representative, Sue Cornell, in the Republican primary. Mike Paston and Tom Murt will face off on the November ballot.
Paston's website provides a biographical background:
Mike was born and raised in Upper Dublin, and graduated from Upper Dublin High School. Mike attended Penn State University and Temple University School of Law, earning degrees in Accounting and Law. Mike was a state and local tax consultant for Price Waterhouse, and later practiced law in Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey with emphasis on business litigation, taxation, municipal court and family law. Mike is currently the owner of a respected printing company, Jaguar Press (Formerly Minuteman Press of Fort Washington). Mike is also a member of the Eastern Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Fort Washington Business Alliance. Mike is currently the Vice-President and serves as the finance committee chairman of the Upper Dublin Board of School Directors.
I’ve heard Paston speak twice. He is a good speaker and presents himself well. He's also a snappy dresser and has a somewhat formal demeanor. He is willing to take time to talk with people and shows a familiarity with his district and the issues, as you can see from his answers to the following interview questions:
You have changed parties a number of times (Democrat in New Jersey, GOP in PA, then back to Democrat). Does that represent philosophic shifts on your part, or by the parties, or a pragmatic response to the political atmosphere of where you were living at the time?
I have always been a democrat philosophically. When I moved back to Montgomery County I made the wrong assumption that it was still GOP dominated like it was back when I was growing up. I had lived in Burlington County, NJ which remains GOP controlled and was very frustrated. Thinking I did not want to fight more uphill battles I became a Republican when I first registered. And at the time the local Republicans were very welcoming. Very quickly I realized I was out of place in the Republican party and switched back. Although I ran for School Board as a Republican I was never involved in the Republican party like I have been in the Democratic party. For all but 5 of my 42 years I have been a Democrat and I will be a Democrat forever.
The most recent party shift was in Feb. of 2006 after the local Republican organization’s early endorsement of incumbent Rep. Sue Cornell. Why the sudden shift and how were you able to get the Democratic endorsement in such short order?
I had planned to quietly switch back this summer in anticipation of my school board reelection in 2007. I did not want it to be very public because my switch was going to change School Board control from 5-4 Republican to 5-4 Democrat. Most people do not care, but the party insiders would have taken notice. I went to the Republican endorsement of Cornell. I spoke to the committee people and told them they were making a mistake. I warned them that this seat was vulnerable and sticking with Cornell was not going to help them keep the seat. My appearance at that meeting was in the newspaper. Soon after I received a call from an Upper Dublin Democrat who was not impressed with the only announced Democratic candidate at the time and asked if I would consider switching parties and running. I consulted some people in the Democratic party and jumped into the race. After that another candidate entered the race and all three of us worked hard for the endorsement. I ran a campaign to get the votes needed for the endorsement. The Democratic committee is a group of hard working dedicated people who want their towns, county, state and country to be a better place. The majority of committee persons were convinced I was a good philosophical fit as their candidate and had the best chance to win in November. One candidate stayed in the primary and I won with 65% of the vote.
You are on the Upper Dublin School Board and served on the school board in Mount Laurel, NJ. Why the interest in school boards?
Education is very important to me. I feel very strongly that a quality education is the best way to make sure our children are productive members of society and this country stays great. I first ran in Mount Laurel, NJ because I had three young children and the direction of the Board was troubling. Soon after I moved back to Upper Dublin I recognized that I could be a valuable member of the School Board and I ran. I am now Vice President and have been chair of finance since first taking office.
Why did you decide to stop practicing law?
I practiced law in Philadelphia and New Jersey for 12 years. In 2000 the opportunity to take over the family printing business became available and the idea interested me. After discussing it with my wife I closed my law practice and switched careers. I enjoyed practicing law and had some very interesting cases. The printing business is different and presents different challenges, and I enjoy the work. My father built a successful business that is part of the community and I have just tried to not mess that up.
You are currently working in a family owned business. What would you like to see the state do to encourage small businesses?
The State needs to examine the tax structure and health care. I try to provide health care to my employees but it is very difficult.
Would you be a full-time legislator or continue to work in your current position also?
I will be a full-time legislator with an eye on the business. I have ten wonderful employees at Jaguar Press. My manager will continue to run the business and hold everything together. I expect that when we are in session I will check in once a week to make sure everything is under control and see what I need to do to help. Many of our employees have been with Jaguar for over 20 years, and only one less then five, and they take great pride in their work, so I have no concerns that the business will be successful even when I am in Harrisburg.
You’ve been involved in politics for several years, running for office in NJ as early as 1998 and had a floor pass to the National Democratic Convention in 1996. How did you become interested in politics and do you have ambitions for higher office?
I do not have ambitions for higher office. I am only running for this seat because I was not happy with the job the current State Representative was doing. I first became interested in politics during high school. At the time the Upper Dublin Board of School Directors had voted to close the high school and turn the middle school (Three Tuns) into the high school. It was very controversial and eventually two candidates ran and won as write-in's on the ballot. It was an amazing exercise in democracy. The previous decision was overturned and Three Tuns was sold. Now that decision haunts the district three decades later. In my senior year in high school I spent a week in Washington D.C. as part of the Presidential Classroom program. It was a wonderful eye opening experience.
You’ve criticized Rep. Cornell’s newsletters and press releases. What you would you to keep in touch with your constituents?
First I would have an office staff that responds to constituents needs. Even if the problem is not a state problem we will work to get the person to the right person so they can be helped. I am in the printing business and thus and very aware of how important printed communication, usually mailings, is to keep people informed. I will regularly communicate with the residents of the district, not just in the months before an election. I also plan to occasionally walk and knock on doors just as I have been doing during the campaign. I will pick a street and see what people are thinking about. One gentleman in Huntingdon Valley said when I came to his door that I am only knocking because it is election time and I want his vote. He said he has never seen a politician any other time. I promised him that I will knock on his door the day after the election so we can talk about his concerns without the "vote for me" message. In addition I would like to have quarterly meetings with groups of community members to discuss pending legislation and get feedback.
When should the religious affiliations or business interests of an elected official be considered a conflict of interest?
When they interfere with the elected officials ability to represent the people in their district. We are all shaped by our religion, education, profession, family, environment, etc. They should be part of a persons make-up not dictate their votes.
How important is reliable reasonably priced public transit to your district? Are you in favor of dedicated funding for SEPTA and regional rail?
I am in favor of dedicated funding for SEPTA and regional rail. Reasonably priced public transportation is very important. But just as important is easy to use and access public transportation. More parking spaces at train stations and more convenient train schedules will increase riders and decrease traffic and pollution as much as lower prices.
How would you balance the need for regional planning efforts against solely local decisions?
We need to plan regionally to the end result to be effective. My job as a State Representative is to bring different groups and local elected officials to the table to make decisions that help everyone in the region and then secure the finances they will need to implement the plan.
What would you like to see happen to the old Fox Chase to Newton railroad line?
I need to do some research before providing an answer to the question.
How would you describe Bryn Athyn to someone visiting from another region or country?
Bryn Athyn is a very proud self sufficient community in the heart of the Philadelphia suburbs.
What would you like to see happen to the Willow Grove Naval Air Station?
If the WGNAS is going to close we should seize the opportunity for a planned community. Rarely does such a large piece of land become available all at one time. Professional planners need to work with local officials to make sure the development of the property is good for the community. However I do not think the fight to keep the WGNAS is over.
What would you like to see happen with the retail areas (strip malls) in the district or are you happy with them as they are? I am thinking of areas like the 611 and 263 intersection and the scattered shopping areas along those highways to the north.
Local governments have some ability through zoning to improve the look of the area. I would encourage a joint effort to work towards vibrant retail districts that are safe and aesthetically pleasing while encouraging a mix of large national retail chains and local businesses.
What question didn’t I ask that you would like to answer?
What is the biggest issue facing Pennsylvania and the 152nd district and how can it be addressed? The answer is the same it has been for 30 years-property taxes. I will be announcing a property tax plan that will allow senior citizens to not be taxed out of their homes and will not cost other taxpayers any additional money. Stay tuned!
My thanks to Mike Paston for participating in this series of interviews with candidates from the suburban Philadelphia area.