Paul Gordon Collier- We at the Tioga Freedomist have been following the race for the PA 68th District’s State House Seat between Matt Baker (R), the incumbent, and Jon Ruth (D), the challenger. We thought we’d provide a recap for you through the questionnaire both men answered for us, as well as through two opinions by readers, one for Ruth and one for Baker.
In our conversations with our readers, the issues that seem to be the most concerning (this is not a scientific poll, mind you) are education funding, fracking, gun ownership and abortion. Perhaps we could add the gay marriage debate to that issue, or, more specifically, the issue of whether PA should follow the example of other states and pass laws designed to protect homosexuals from discrimination.
Education funding was a major issue for the Ruth campaign, who seems to be running on an education reform platform. According to Ruth, his most important issue is this: “I am running to focus on education. Our state government needs the representation of a parent and a teacher who knows first-hand what is going on in our schools in the Northern Tier.”
“We need to reinstate funding in education, and we need to work with local districts to know their needs. Just throwing money at the problem is not the answer. Providing equitable education from the state level is attainable.”
The keyphrase in this response is “we need to reinstate funding in education.” According to Ruth, Baker supports the Corbett budgets that, by Ruth’s assessment cut education spending by over $1 billion over 3 years. This issue of whether Corbett cut $1 billion or not was addressed by us in this article, Education Cutter or Education Spender? At the end of the day, it boils down to this, interpretation. If you count the spike in spending under Rendel just before Corbett came to office, a spike that was actually due to using Federal Stimulus dollars for the Education budget (while PA dollars actually went down under Rendel), then Corbett cut spending by $1 billion.
The counter narrative is that if you remove the Federal Stimulus dollars from the equation, Corbett, compared to Rendel, actually raised spending by $1 billion. A point could be made here that the Federal Stimulus dollars were meant to help states get through a troubling economic crisis in 2009, that after the crisis had passed, it should have been expected that the overall funding level of PA Education should have continued. A point could also be made that the then Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, specifically warned the states to assign the funding dollars to temporary projects, not apply to yearly budget allotments (see our article).
As is often the case with statistics, depending on your perspective, the numbers can be interpreted to favor a pre-supposed view. The underlying issues, often avoided in such discourse, are principles. What is ultimately at question here is the degree to which governments should be involved in educating our children, and to what degree the national, state and local governments should determine that education and be held responsible for funding (and then, by extension, how these agents gather the funds to meet that responsibility).
Based on their responses in our questionnaire on the question of common core, I would assess that Jon Ruth sees a stronger role in education, both in terms of design, implementation and funding, at the state level. Matt Baker seems to also have some role for the state, but suggests a favorability towards more local involvement. Baker said this about PA Common Core: “Pennsylvania has been very careful not to repeat many of the mistakes and problems of implementing the Federal Common Core standards that other states such as NYS did when they rolled out their program so quickly they had very little time to prepare or adopt that became such a mess.
They are now modifying and changing through trial and error and it is hoped Pennsylvania. will continue to be independent and responsive to their individual and local school district needs with maximum flexibility as much as possible.”
Based on Jon Ruth’s response, it seems he is not far apart from Baker. Jon Ruth responded, in part with this statement: “There are also a lot of misconceptions floating around about “national curriculum” that actually has no part of common core. As state representative, I intend to meet with administrators, teachers, and parents in my school districts regularly to find out how we as a state government can work with them to offer a better education to our kids.
Continued focus on testing has not made our schools better. Empowering teachers and communities to meet the needs of our kids is the solution”
Neither Baker nor Ruth seemed to have an issue with Pennsylvania being the main driver of the curriculum for our local school districts. Both seem to offer some caveats about making PA Common Core better.
On fracking, the issue has come down to this question:
Do you support a 5% severance tax on the gas industry which would provide the money to the state for use in the state budget or would you retain the impact fee structure which provides that 65% of current revenue, based on production and market value, are provided to local communities? (Note: there is a trigger in the Impact Fee law which would repeal the Impact Fee system if a severance tax was imposed)?
Matt Baker answered it this way:
Yes. I strongly support the production of safely produced and clean burning locally produced natural gas that has created millions of dollars in impact fees for our local municipalities to provide for the needs of their township, borough and county citizens.
I authored the omnibus amendment to Act 13 that provided both the impact revenue and improved and enhanced environmental standards and protections that was supported by nearly every environmental association in Pennsylvania. Please also see above.
Before natural gas production started in my district the unemployment rates were double digit and economic prosperity was only a dream. Now it is a reality for some as thousands of good paying family sustaining jobs have been created. I have a list of how this has not only been a game changer for our area but also for the state of Pennsylvania.
Jon Ruth answered it this way:
I believe that we need better oversight and a fairer tax system. First of all, the trigger in the Impact Fee law is a scare tactic being promoted by Representative Baker – I would ensure that any new tax system (and I support a reasonable severance tax similar to those used in WV and TX) would not only send money to local communities (as the Impact Fee currently does) but also allow the state government to reinstate funding to education at the state level, thus allowing local communities to lower property taxes. Natural gas is an important bridge to the future of energy, reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We need to work with the gas companies to be sure our water supplies and natural resources are protected, and that our communities benefit from the profits (without unreasonably high taxes that will drive out the gas industry.)
The issue over the Impact fees is this- who collects the money and where does the money go? The current system allows for the localities to collect taxes directly. The proposed changed by Ruth and his fellow democrats is that the State would collect the money, but, the State Legislature would assure that the fees go to the local areas they should go to. Again, the issue is the same as education- who should manage the affairs, how should the funds be collected, and who should distribute those funds? Here, we have a clear difference. Matt Baker favors more local sovereignty where Jon Ruth favors more State Sovereignty.
On gun ownership, we have a more clear divide as evidenced by our question, Do you believe that counties or municipalities should have the ability to ban or limit gun ownership on their own or do you believe gun ownership is an absolute right according to the Second Amendment which should not be limited at the local level?
This is actually an issue of the degree to which localities can interpret the 2nd amendment. In the case of education and fracking, the issue was in managing programs, collecting funds and distributing funds. In this case, the issue is in addressing a ‘right’, one of the rights enumerated in the 2nd amendment- the ‘right to bear arms.’
While both candidates affirm our right to bear arms, their views on the degree to which localities can interpret the 2nd amendment are sharply different. Ruth answered the question this way:
Again, I believe that all citizens have a right to bear arms.
That said, the vast majority of sportsmen and gun-owners I know firmly believe that gun ownership is a responsibility and that gun owners must adhere to standards of safety. I personally would rather see restrictions set at a local level, using standards set by the local community. Too often regulations are proposed, or opposed, at too high a level to accurately reflect the wishes and wisdom of the local community.
Here is how Matt Baker answered the question:
Pennsylvania. is fortunate that we are second only to Texas in the number of law abiding gun owners who believe strongly in 2nd amendment protections that allow them to own and carry for both self-defense and sporting activities and should not be limited at the local level so I believe in state primacy on this issue.
On the issue of abortion, we have two men who both attest to being pro-life. While it is true that a Planned Parenthood Voter Guide listed Ruth as being Pro-Choice (that voter guide was taken down shortly after it came out), it appears that Planned Parenthood’s voter guide was in error. The degree to which the legislature should be used to stop abortions (since both are pro-life) does offer some noticeable differences between the two candidates.
Here is how Matt Baker addressed the abortion issue: I have led the debate and authored legislation that led the state to regulate abortion clinics to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers that became law that my opponent opposes.
The Pennsylvania. Pro-Life Federation honored me for this legislation that ensures that abortion facilities follow the same standards of outpatient surgery centers that has led to 6 abortion clinics closing because they could not or would not abide to these basic safety standards. I have also led the fight to ensure that no taxpayer funding of abortion occurs in the health insurance exchange created in Pennsylvania. under Obamacare.
I have also been instrumental in securing sufficient funding for Pennsylvania’s ground-breaking alternatives to abortion program, which is called Real Alternatives.
Here is Jon Ruth’s response (in part):
I describe myself as a Pro-Life Democrat, but to be honest, I dislike the either/or labels that people are forced to choose between. Yes, I value life, and I truly believe that we, as a society, should strive to give life every chance we can.
I believe that life begins at conception, and I would always do what I could legislatively to see less abortion happening in Pennsylvania.
But I also do not like the idea that protecting life means taking away a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, or when so-called “pro-life” laws simply serve to deny women of needed healthcare services that have nothing to do with abortion.
I don’t like the idea of government coming between a woman and her Doctor.
I think the proper role for government is to actively ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, that every woman has access to birth control so that she can choose when she gets pregnant.””
…..I also do not feel that simply trying to change laws is the best way to reduce abortion in this country. We need to address the perceived need for abortion.
Pro-life Republicans in our state have a reputation for caring for kids before they are born, but working against them after, taking every opportunity to cut funding to early childhood education, K-12 public education, and a range of social services that benefit kids.
If abortion were eliminated, many more “unwanted” kids would be added to an already under-resourced foster care system.
This statement by Ruth, “.I also do not feel that simply trying to change laws is the best way to reduce abortion in this country. We need to address the perceived need for abortion.” offers the greatest difference between the two. Jon Ruth believes offering services to meet the needs of ‘unwanted kids’ is the best way to reduce abortions. Matt Baker, while he also supports efforts to meet the needs of ‘unwanted kids’, places more of an urgency on changing law to stop abortions.
We should note this:
PA Family Council (Voters Guide- 2014 General Election- included in our PDF) asks candidates 12 yes or no questions. Question number 11 asks the candidates this question- Should the state regulate abortion clinics to the same standards as ambulatory surgical facilities? You can find the questions and the answers in the PDF we have assembled. On this question, the guide lists Jon Ruth’s response as NO while it lists Matt Baker’s response as YES.
So, while both are professed Pro-life, their approaches are different.
The most stark difference between the two candidates may be seen in how they answered our question on gay marriage and the PA HR 300 Bill (a pro-gay anti-discrimination bill). Here is what we asked these two candidates:
The PA ban on Gay Marriage was disallowed by the US Court of Appeals. Do you support this decision or not?
Do you support PA House Bill 300 which its authors state would protect “LGBT individuals” from encountering discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodation? If so, would you support suing individuals or businesses who refuse to participate in a gay wedding or private home owners who refuse to rent a room to a gay couple?
Here is how Jon Ruth answered, in part:
Absolutely. Discrimination is bad for everyone. It hurts our communities, our workplaces and our state.
No one should be denied equal protection under law, denied a home or a job or a voice in their community just because of who they are, and that is true for race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We certainly have the right to disagree with each other; we do not have the right to discriminate…..
….taking positions on moral grounds should never include refusing to treat those you disagree with as less than a human being and citizen.
I can understand a pastor or priest declining to perform a same-sex marriage based on their understanding of God’s commandments. I cannot understand refusing to sell a cake on the same grounds. Discrimination is, to my mind, an immoral act, and our Constitution forbids anything less than equal treatment under the law.
Here is how Matt Baker answered:
No. I do not support this decision as it circumvents the expressed will and desire of the citizens who elected our members of the House and Senate to Pennsylvania’s the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
One federal judge decided to throw away our law that was supported by the vast majority of citizens of Pennsylvania. That federal judge should be removed from the bench for undermining the fundamental precepts of representative government of, for and by the people.
What is the point of having elected governmental represents if what they achieve on behalf of the people ca be struck down by one judge. Judges should interpret and abide by the rule of law not make their own law through their personal bias and hubris.
Both men share the Christian view that marriage is between a man and woman. Ruth asserts that homosexual marriage is a Constitutional issue, while Baker asserts that is not a constitutional issue, it is one to be decided by the people. Beyond the marriage issue, Ruth supports anti-discrimination legislation, the same type that has led to Christian businesses facing penalties for declining to serve Homosexual weddings. Baker is opposed to such legislation.
We do not endorse candidates for office so we do not offer our opinion on which person is best for the 68th district of PA. It is clear, at least to me, that we have two men who have different views of the role of the Federal and State government in our lives. On issues to do with Rights enumerated in the Constitution, Baker favors a more national approach, while Ruth allows for more local interpretation. On issues to do with non-rights, such as education and managing fracking, Ruth leans more toward State control over local control.
If you believe that State government should be more trusted to manage non-rights issues than local governments, then Jon Ruth would be your man. If you believe that a strict interpretation of the Original Spirit and Intent of the Constitution should be more trusted to interpret and enforce ‘rights issues’, then Matt Baker would be your man. If you believe that local governments should be more trusted to manage non-rights issues than state government, then Matt Baker would be your man. If you believe that local governments should have more power to interpret the nuances of ‘rights issues’ than a nationally-applied standard then Jon Ruth is your man.
Sometimes, we get lost in the weeds when we analyze policies based on statistics and the degree to which they ‘will work’ or they ‘won’t work.’ Behind every policy choice is an underlying principle that cannot be hidden. We will not speak for you as to which principle is best. We have two principles at play here- the principle that larger scale systems designed by professionals is the best way to manage our affairs or the principle that local sovereignty is always the preferred path that helps us manage our affairs best . Matt Baker most closely represents the latter view while Jon Ruth most closely represents the former view. It is up to you to decide the principles you would most like to see represented by the state government.
Here are two takes on this election, from two contrasting views:
I found the opinion response to the 68th District 2014 Election Questionnaire from Garrett Carr quite interesting. Mr. Carr’s commentary provided the reader with a clear view of his own take on the responses from Rep. Baker. I would offer the following in retort.
First of all, the assertion that Rep. Baker’s 22 year career in which he averaged total compensation of $45k annually (Per Carr’s figures) is somehow a slight against him puzzles me. $45k per year is not a substantial level of compensation in any economic environment for an educated competent professional. This in no way makes Rep. Baker “part of the problem” as Carr asserts.
From Charlie Bourque- read his full response here.
Baker’s answers, predictably, are a line-by-line argument for why we need fewer career politicians and more “citizen legislators” in government. Matt Baker talks to us like he is the solution to the problems in the 68th Matt Baker has been there for 22 years, and collected over $1,000,000 in salary and benefits from the taxpayers. He is part of the problem.
From Garrett Carr– read his full response here.