By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
Harrisburg – Government watchdog Gene Stilp, best known for his activism against the 2005 legislative pay raise, announced his candidacy for Congress in the newly-drawn 11th congressional district Monday.
In an impromptu press conference at the top of the Pa. Capitol steps, Stilp said the campaign would be about, “jobs, jobs, and more jobs.” The Dauphin County Democrat emphasized his commitment to keeping open major defense installations like the Carlisle Army War College and the U.S. Army’s base at Fort Indiantown Gap.
“I don’t back down from fights in the state government as a citizen, so I won’t back down from fighting for the people in this seat in Washington, DC,” he said.
“People asked me, will I take the pig to Washington. It’s obvious that I’m going to need a much larger pig,” he quipped.
Stilp isn’t new to the political scene. His pig-shaped school bus has been seen around Harrisburg for years, most famously during the 2005 midnight pay raise controversy. His successful charge to have the raise repealed earned him the distinction of “Citizen of the Year” from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In 2010, Stilp ran for Pa. House and came within 314 votes of unseating incumbent Rep. Sue Helm, in a district that leans Republican (HD-104). In 2006 he garnered a mere 6.7 percent of the four-way primary vote for Pa. Lieutenant Governor. Katherine Baker Knoll won that race with over 61 percent.
He – or any Democrat – will have an uphill challenge against Barletta. Once among the most vulnerable Republican incumbents, Barletta’s district became much more Republican in the newly redistricted map. He’s now among the safest GOP incumbents, on paper.
Though he criticized the recent maps as “heavily gerrymandered,” and noted that the 11th district now stretches almost from the New York to Maryland border, Stilp said his was not intended to be a protest candidacy. He noted his roots in the northern part of this districts, including the fact that he was raised in Luzerne County and attended college at Kings.
Stilp declined to attack Barletta, saying he first wanted to collect enough signatures to make the ballot. 1,000 petition signatures are required to make the congressional ballot, plus another thousand as insurance against possible challenges.
He took the unusual step of asking other possible candidates to throw their hats in the ring as well.
“We have a lot of talent in the 11th congressional district,” he said, “so I’m encouraging other people, Democrats, Republicans and even Independents, to go out an apply for this job.”
“Have confidence in yourself and if you need a job and you’re very talented, apply for this job. Apply to the people of the 11th district.”
Wilkes-Barre attorney Bill Vinsko, who announced his candidacy against Barletta before the new map was unveiled, is remaining in the race. His house is now a few hundred yards outside the district, and the law does not require a candidate for congress to be a resident of his or her district.
He recently earned the support (political and financial) of IBEW local 163 in Wilkes-Barre.
Update: Barletta’s campaign manager Lance Stange had the following response.
“Anyone who meets both the ballot access requirements and the minimum qualifications spelled out in the United States Constitution is able to seek the office of representative. Because of his work to improve opportunities for America’s workers and job creators, make the federal government more efficient and responsive to the people, and fight against illegal immigration, Lou Barletta continues to receive overwhelming support from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in both the current and future 11th District. He is grateful for that support, and he looks forward to the 2012 election.”