Sunday, July 16, 2006

An Interview with Charles Dertinger (15th Congressional District)

The 15th congressional district consists of Northampton County, Lehigh County (minus a smidge), a small section of Berks county and two oddly shaped sections stretching into Montgomery County. (map link). Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton are all in the 15th district.

Currently the district is represented by freshman Republican Charlie Dent, who won the Republican primary in 2004 with 51.5% of the vote and the general election with 58.6% of the vote. It was an open seat in 2004 when three-term Republican Pat Toomey decided to run against Arlen Specter for the Republican Senate nomination.

Running against Dent is Charles Dertinger, currently serving on the Northampton County Council and chair of its Open Space Committee. He previously served on the Washington Township Planning Commission, the Northampton County Election Commission, and the executive board of the Northampton County. Democratic Committee.

Interview with Charles Dertinger

What would you like to see happen at the Bethlehem Steel site, both blue skies and realistic views?

I have the blue skies view of bringing alternative energy manufacturing of wind, solar or fuel cell technology or at least some sort of manufacturing back to this site. Unfortunately, this would take many years to populate the entire site and with the current climate and plans for slot parlors and entertainment my realistic views is to accept what is to come and to work at seeing that the jobs provided pay a living wage.

You served on an election commission – what can we do to increase participation in the electoral process, to get more people to vote?

First thing we should adopt would be early voting for people who may otherwise have a difficulty getting to their polling place for any reason. Another important step is giving people a government they can trust. A recent article noted that young people are both more informed and more cynical about politics than they’ve been before; some of that is because of (very funny) programs making fun of people like us, but some of it, particularly in Pennsylvania, is because many politicians have betrayed the public trust. I’m for accountable, open government – not taking money from Tom Delay, like my opponent.

In one article I read you mentioned attending church. Do you think the Democratic party needs to reach out to people of faith more or should candidates not discuss religion and religious beliefs?

For anyone who’s been brought up religious, our values are shaped by our beliefs – it’s impossible not to talk about them. Whenever we talk about right and wrong, we’re using principles we learned in Sunday school.

What we shouldn’t do is impose those beliefs on others where religion is their only justification. For instance, my religion teaches me to support the poor – but we need to do that for secular reasons too, so that businesses in low-income areas have customers who can afford to spend money, and because it’d be a moral obligation even if it wasn’t a religious one.

I agree with Barack Obama on this; Democrats should reach out to people of faith, because most Democrats are people of faith. It doesn’t mean sacrificing any particular policy, but it does mean being respectful of religious values and understanding that we agree more than we disagree.

The 15th congressional district includes very small pieces of Berks and Montgomery Counties. Aren’t those areas likely to be overlooked by whoever represents the district?

I would no more overlook Montgomery and Berks as the Congressman for the 15th District than I would overlook Portland, Walnutport, Hellertown or Williams Township as a Northampton County Councilman. Although they may seem to be geographically disconnected there is very little difference between driving out to meet with people from Telford, Emmaus or Albany.

You have criticized the current representative, Charlie Dent, for voting along the Republican party line. If elected, what percentage of the time do you think your votes would agree with the majority of the congressional Democrats?

I’ll vote with Democrats when I think they’re right – right on the merits, and right for the Fifteenth District. Charlie’s pro-choice, which means he’s not voting the Republican party line on abortion – but he votes with Tom Delay 91% of the time. Just imagine how high his percentage has to be on other issues. Sooner or later, I think you’re voting for Houston’s interests instead of Easton’s.

You raise hogs, work in New York, serve on the county council, are active in local party activities and other community work. How do you do all that and keep up with a young family, too?

I drink a lot of tea. Most days I’m up at four o’clock in the morning to go to work and back by five PM to do county business or community work. I’m blessed with a lovely family – my nine year old daughter, Rebecca, is probably a better politician than I am – and keeping up with them is always the best part of my day.

What advantage would your associate’s degree in labor studies give you in a Congress packed with lawyers?

We’re facing a crisis for working people in this country – the gap between rich and poor is getting wider and workers are getting squeezed out. My degree is one good illustration of the fact that, unlike the attorneys and big businessmen in Congress, my experiences and my perspective are those of working Americans. Outsourcing isn’t an academic question to me; it’s something my brothers on the Central Labor Council worry about every day.

Should employers such as Wal-Mart have to reimburse the state for the health insurance costs of their workers who are on state health plans?

Yes. But this isn’t a full solution to our health care problems – we need to start working to cover everyone, and start with the most vulnerable folks, like our children. This Administration has cut Medicare and Medicaid when we need to be expanding health care – especially in the Lehigh Valley, where our poor air quality (among the worst in the nation) is literally making us sick.

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

Well, the elephant in the room is pretty clearly money; I’m an insurgent candidate and I started late, and I’m running against a well-funded incumbent. I’ve also stood on principle and restricted my own sources of funding by pledging to refuse any oil money.

But people don’t know how blue the Fifteenth is; Democratic performance here is above 50%, and this is a district that we can win, together. It’s an incredibly important year; our soldiers, our seniors, and our working families who rely on public schools and worry about outsourcing are relying on us to take back the Congress. Together, we can take a big step towards taking America back for working people.


Dertinger, Charles, “Proud of record, proud of write-in candidacy,” Morning Call May 5, 2006

Hay, Bryan, “Campaign leads toward pigpen,” Morning Call October 27, 1999

Kraus, Scott, “Council race features ‘99 rematch,” Morning Call October 26, 2003

Muschick, Paul, County candidates weigh in on issues,” Morning Call October 26, 2005

Muschick, Paul, “Development agency’s fate unclear,” Morning Call June 4, 2006

Muschick, Paul, “Two faulted on open space,” Morning Call September 22, 2005

Muschick, Paul, “Were County Council appointments legal?” Morning Call February 7, 2006.

Nerl, Daryl, “Dertinger comes out firing at Dent,” Morning Call April 30, 2006

“Northampton County Council: An anti-cooperation resolution,” Morning Call April 25, 2006 (opinion)


Anonymous said...

Great interview, Jane. Races like this will really make the difference this fall.

AboveAvgJane said...

Hey, wow!, thanks! The interviews are a lot of work for me and even more work for the candidates but I like them and people read them long after they've been posted. Glad you enjoyed it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It was an interesting interview, just like an earlier interview you did w/ Russ Shade. Dertinger's a 10 to 1 underdog in the battle for the bucks.

AboveAvgJane said...

Thanks, Bernie. I know you have strong feelings on this race. It is lopsided money-wise but at least there are two names on the ballot. It's always good for people to have a choice.