Sunday, September 10, 2006

An Interview with Mike Paston (152nd State House District)

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.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interesting interview. It appears that Mr. Paston will say or be anything to get elected. One day he is a Republican, the next he's a Democrat. Gee, was he dishonest when he ran as a Republican or is he being dishonest now? I wonder what he would do if actually elected. How do the people who he mislead in his preveious races feel about his oportunisitic ways.

AboveAvgJane said...

A number of candidates I have followed have changed parties one or more times. With some, like Andy Warren, I found it opportunistic but didn't get that impression about Paston. If anything you would have to wonder about the party apparatus that would be so eager for him to switch. I have known of other officials that seemed out of place in their party of record and of constituents who wanted to keep the official but have them change parties. Each case is different. While researching Mr. Paston I didn't find a lot of partisan rhetoric and he seems to have been willing to work civilly with whoever it took to get the job done, while maintaining ethical standards. I didn't find any scandal or public argruments. Where something in his background look curious or unusual I asked about it and he answered.

Eric J. Zygmont said...

Dear Anonymous,

While I normally do not respond to anonymous posts I found your’s very interesting. It is not immoral, illegal, or un-ethical for a person to change parties. In fact thousands of people across our fair state change their party every year. A change in a person’s political association does not constitute a change in their core values or beliefs, and is more likely to be dissatisfaction with political party bosses who are leading our towns, states, and countries in the wrong direction. I have personally changed my political affiliation in the past 3 years, but still have the same beliefs.

If you are following the election in the 152nd district then I would urge you to research both candidates. Mr. Murt was at one time a democrat who ran against former State Representative Roy Cornell. I urge all voters to research the candidates, and vote based on a candidate’s platform.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jane:

I enjoy your blog. You are intelligent and reasonable and passionate about ethics and accountability in government.

It is in that vein that I'm wondering if Mike Paston may have broken his promise to his opponent and the 152nd district by distributing campaign literature and publishing a newspaper letter recently that are so negative that I'm really really beginning to question his integrity.

I remember that you commented back during the Spring primary how professional and respectful Paston and Murt were toward each other. You labelled the voters of the 152nd "lucky" because we have such great people vying to represent us. And then I saw Paston and Murt in a newspaper photograph shaking hands -- Paston apparently went to Murt's house the night of the primary to congratulate him and they promised one another to run clean campaigns.

What happened? Did Paston forget? Breaking promises is not the way to earn trust. I don't give a flying fig if he switched parties. And I don't care that he's a dapper dresser, as you noted in a previous post. What matters isn't the party or the suit, but the integrity of the candidate wearing the suit.

And I'm sorry to say that the integrity of Mike Paston is in serious question for me right now.

- G. N.

AboveAvgJane said...

GN,

Thank you for your comment and for your kind words. It is clear that you are familiar with the blog and that is very flattering. Can you give details on what Paston said that concerned you? I have not seen any of that materials and letters to the editor are often not included in the online versions of newspapers. All that I have heard is that Paston has pointed out Murt's attendance record at some meetings. If there is more I'd like to hear about it.

I do think the voters of that district are fortunate to have two good candidates to choose from. This is the first I have heard of any negativity on the part of either.

However, you are not the only one to have such concerns. L.R. left a comment on a post at A Smoke-Filled Room that is eerily similar to yours, except the details about my blog are missing and details about that one included. Unfortunately L.R. left the comment on a blog post that doesn't mention the 152nd but does link to a post I wrote on the 151st. Must be something in the air??....

http://asmokefilledroom.blogspot.com/2006/10/cranky-friday-round-up.html#comments

Anonymous said...

Jane:

Thank you for responding. My husband (the Smoke Filled Room haiku poster you referenced) and I are in a mixed marriage, in that I am a Democrat and he is an Independent with conservative leanings. We, too, admire both candidates in the 152nd, but were dismayed when we saw something in the mail from Paston that depicted what was supposed to be Murt's office with a "gone fishing" sign on it. Then there was something about him being for guns or violence in public buildings, or some such nonsense (can't quote them as we trashed the fliers/paper). This struck as as contrary to what we know about Murt (who strikes us as the exact opposite of a gun-toting slacker, if his previous public service means anything)and also contrary to the nature of Paston (who strikes us a gentleman with good motives). So, why the departure from clean campaigning? Why would Paston resort to besmirching the name of a neighbor when both candidates will be seeing each other around town long after one goes to Harrisburg? We decided to write to our favorite bloggers (you and the Smoke Filled Room) who had noted on their blogs the classy behavior on the part of both these candidates.

I know that people who live together can become eerily similar, but my husband and I have more than a few differing political views. We do share a theory: in today's world the most important thing that both political parties stand for is winning at any cost. It's a sad commentary on a great political system. But it's true -- the push for red states and blue states and clean sweeps -- these are all devices to advance party politics, not elect the most qualified individuals.

With all the negative campaigning that's going on, it was refreshing to see the Paston/Murt race taking the high road. Now it looks like that has changed. Has Paston shown us his true colors, or is he being pressured by his party to win at any cost? Will Murt's party do the same? (Why wouldn't they? It's the name of the game.) When this is all over, will they be able to look one another in the eye and extend hands in friendship as they had before?

Or will the good intentions of good men be trumped by a political climate that takes no prisoners?

-G.N.

AboveAvgJane said...

G.N.,

Thank you for the clarification. I can understand your reaction to such a mailing. If you receive anything similar look for the fine print to see who paid for it. If it is paid for by the candidates campaign there is no doubt who is behind it. If you see a note that it is paid for by a state party campaign committee, it is possible that the candidate did not know or was not consulted. However, a reputable candidate will ask the party to stop sending out such materials. One of my former elected officials told me that the state party did that in a race but when the official asked them to stop they did.

I cant answer your questions about the candidates. You would have a better chance of getting an answer directing your question to the candidates themselves. If the voters in the district insist on a clean campaign they are more likely to get it than if they keep their opinions to themselves.

Eric J. Zygmont said...

Jane-
There will be a candidate forum with both Paston and Murt this Wednseday, 7 PM @ Crooked Billet Elementary School in Hatboro. The candidate forum is being sponsered by both the Grater Hatboro Chamber of Commerce, and the league of women voters. There will be questions asked by a moderator, and then questions written by concerned citizens. The address of Crooked Billet Elem. School is:

70 Meadowbrook Ave.
Hatboro, PA 19040
7Pm - 8:15Pm

As far as i know Mr. Murt has refused to do any other candidate forum's so this may be the only one.

Thanks,
EJZ

Anonymous said...

Mike Paston recently sent a hand addressed fundraiser letter to every teacher in the Upper Dublin School District. Obviously as a member of the board of education of Upper Dublin, he has access to this information, but why is he allowed to use that information for his own political gain? Surely this reflects upon his moral and ethical character. This was an invasion of privacy and misuse of power and comes upon the heels of the shoddy and disrespectful treatment the board of education exhibited towards the teachers during their recent contract negotiations.

AboveAvgJane said...

Anonymous,

I tend to be wary of statements that use "every" or "always." How do you know that each and every teacher in the district received a hand addressed letter? Have you seen them all? Have you spoken to every teacher in the district? Have you seen a hand addressed letter to anyone who address is not available to anyone who will look? I can get the names of every teacher in my children's school disrict off the district's website. That and a phone book or google will get you the address of many of them. I've done exactly this kind of look up work as a volunteer on campaigns in the past. Hand addressed has no significance. Maybe he addressed them. Maybe a number of volunteers did. Maybe it means he wanted it to look personalized. Maybe it means they weren't input into a database.

I am unfamiliar with the school district's contract negotiations so I cannot either agree or disagree with your classification of them. You are entitled to your opinion but you aren't backing it up with anything.