By Nick HIldebrand
Herald News Editor/Weekends
NORTHWEST PA. —
The race for Pennsylvania’s Third District congressional seat pits incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly against Democrat Missa Eaton and independent candidate Steven Porter, three candidates who offer voters a stark choice on Tuesday.
The Third District includes all of Mercer County and all or parts of Lawrence, Crawford, Erie, Butler, Armstrong and Clarion counties. This is the first election since it was redrawn after the 2010 census and while Democrats retain a slight registration edge, past voting patterns indicate the district leans Republican.
Kelly, 64, of Butler is seeking his second term. He owns a GM, Kia and Hyundai dealership in Butler and says he’s in congress for a “cause, not a career.”
Kelly is a fierce critic of big government, with a focus on regulations he says are like “a boot on the neck” of business, holding them back from expanding and hiring. A former school board member and city councilor, Kelly says he was inspired to run for Congress after the federal government bailed out General Motors and the company tried to take away his Cadillac dealership.
Kelly opposes tax and spending policies that he says have the government “picking winners and losers” and believes that government debt and deficit spending is unsustainable.
“All we’ve done is grow our debt grow our debt grow our debt and nobody’s worried about the payback,” he said.
He backs Republican plans to cut spending and revamp Medicare as a way to get the nation’s fiscal house in order. When asked, he won’t specify where spending should be cut but draws the line on any reduction in defense spending.
In his first term Kelly has voted in near lockstep with the Republican party, including casting 33 votes to repeal Obamacare, which he says fails to address the rising cost of health care and will destroy jobs. After drawing an initial hard line against raising the country’s debt ceiling in 2011, he voted for the bill that set mandatory cuts in domestic and defense spending that are set to go into effect at the end of the year.
A Roman Catholic and staunch abortion foe, Kelly has been on the front lines of the so-called “war on religion.”
Earlier this year he created a stir when he likened the provision of the health care law that requires employer-provided health insurance to cover contraception to Sept. 11 and Pearl Harbor. Kelly says the provision violates the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom.
Eaton, 49, of Sharon, is a former Penn State Shenango psychology professor who gave up her position to run for Congress. She said she believes that government has a role to play in the economy and should be an active partner in reviving manufacturing on brownfields sites in western Pennsylvania, supporting new industries, and expanding educational opportunities so people are ready for the new jobs.
Eaton describes herself as a moderate Democrat and says that the pendulum swing to the right that put Kelly and other tea party Republicans in office is swinging back. She says she’ll seek out other moderates to work together to come up solutions that the current Congress hasn’t been able to because of partisan grandstanding.
“Mr. Kelly is very far to the right in his ideology and he doesn’t want to budge a bit … Moderate voices need to be heard, too,” she said.
Eaton is adamant about making sure Medicare doesn’t become a voucher program, Social Security remains solvent, and the energy industry isn’t allowed to run roughshod over regulations intended to protect the environment and public health. She’s flexible on Obamacare, which she said needs to be fixed to address the concerns of small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Given the chance to do it all over again, she says she’d support a Medicare for all style plan.
At the heart of her campaign is a “one of us” argument. Eaton says she’s worked minimum wage jobs, been a single mom working and going to school at the same time, sold real estate, worked in a stock car racetrack, lost a job and helped start a business.
“I’ve been those places,” she said.
Porter, 69, of Wattsburg, is the wild card in the race. He’s run for the seat twice before as the Democratic candidate, but has soured on the two-party system and politics as usual.
He doesn’t want to work within the system, but blow it up. To hear Porter tell it, both Republicans and Democrats have been bought off by campaign contributions from special interests that he calls “legalized bribery.” That allows the financial elite to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and leads to bad policy designed more to benefit favored industries than the masses.
The billions that flow from wealthy contributors ensure that “the only ideas that are represented are those of the people who buy off the politicians,” he said.
While Porter has a platform that addresses jobs, taxes, Social Security, energy and health care, which “press on us every day,” he said the real problem is the corruption of those in power.
“The integrity of the democracy is in more than trouble, it has been lost and we really don’t have a democracy anymore” he said.