Cumberland Co Primary Could Be Showdown Between Labor, Democratic Party
Recently, contested nominations for Cumberland County Commissioner have been a Republican phenomenon, like in 2007 when the county party endorsed incumbent Bruce Barclay but snubbed incumbent Gary Eichelberger. (Which turned out to be a very bad decision.)
But it seems Democrats have a fight of their own this year, possibly pitting the county committee against organized labor. Two long-time public servants in the county are facing off against a relative newcomer with strong ties to organized labor.
Sitting Democratic Commissioner Rick Rovegno announced yesterday that he will not seek a third term. Instead, Rovegno endorsed the two-man team of Carlisle Borough Council President Sean Shultz and East Pennsboro Township Commissioner Jim Hertzler.
Shultz has served for 7 years on Carlisle’s Borough Council and is the Solicitor for Upper Mifflin Township. He is President of the local American Literacy Corporation which works to promote literacy among grade school children.
Hertzler is a 27-year veteran of local government, including service as a commissioner of East Pennsboro Township and the local school board. He has served as President of the Central Pennsylvania Association of Township Commissioners. He has worked in the state Senate and, since 2002, served as an executive assistant to the recently deceased Senator Mike O’Pake of Berks County.
“We need to reassess the reassessment. The current system adds tax burden that’s avoidable, especially in such a difficult economic time,” says Shultz, who favors property tax reform.
“No more county property tax assessments in the middle of a recession,” Hertzler told CBS 21 news.
They also intend to make county government more accessible by scheduling meetings in the evening, when working people are able to attend.
Shultz and Hertzler are the insiders’ picks, each with a history of involvement in the county party, and each having served in local elected office for years.
The third candidate is relative newcomer Michael Fedor, who moved to Cumberland County in 2009 after teaching in a public school in Lancaster County and serving on the Duncannon Borough Council.
Fedor’s connection to labor in the area and statewide is the X factor in the campaign. He serves as Director of the Central Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and is Past President of the Nittany Labor Employment Relations Association. Fedor serves on the board of directors for Keystone Progress, and as a former public school teacher was member of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
“Having spent a decade as a public school teacher and in the labor movement, my clear base is union families.” said Fedor. He is focusing his campaign on new economic development in the county, like he did in Duncannon where he helped direct over a million dollars into economic development and infrastructure repairs. He wants to develop local renewable energy and agriculture jobs. “I also hope to count on support from teachers in the county.”
Fedor rejects criticism that he is disregarding party considerations by seeking the nomination.
“Voters spoke pretty loudly in the last two cycles against the type of politics that puts a strict order on things. The challenges are too great to limit ourselves to an old way of thinking.”
After interviewing several local Democrats, it appears that the county party is leaning toward Shultz and Hertzler.
“Sean Shultz has been on Carlisle Borough Council for several years, and he’s an up and rising star in the Cumberland County Democratic primary. Jim Hertzler has a track record of good government in East Pennsboro for more than 20 years,” said Cumberland County Democratic Chairwoman Gail McDermott. “We’ve always talked about building a farm team to run for higher office in the county, and this is a good example of that.”
“But I think we’re fortunate to have three qualified candidates,” McDermott continued.
According to McDermott, no candidate for County Commissioner in memory has been nominated without the party’s endorsement.
But it’s too soon to count out Fedor.
“Michael is new, but he’s well connected to Democrats and labor across the state. He’s gearing up to run a very serious campaign,” said one Democratic insider based in Harrisburg.
The big question is how much organized labor will support his campaign, which so far remains unclear. Fedor says he expects strong support from the labor community and several other endorsements to be announced soon. He reports that he has over $28,000 in commitments and plans to use direct mail, air radio ads, and hire a campaign staff for a door-to-door field program.
Fedor, himself a county committee member, isn’t giving up on earning their support either.
“I don’t think that the committee has lined up behind Jim and Sean,” he said. “I’ve been talking to Democratic activists across the county, and it seems that we will have an equal opportunity to earn the endorsement. I think I have a great shot.”
But in regardless, he’s staying in.
“I owe it to my supporters to see it through to May 17th, whether we have the county endorsement or not,” Fedor said. “The most important endorsement we can have is that of the voters on election day.”
Likewise, Shultz said he and Hertzler have appeal to union households.
“Our main goal is serving our constituents. I’m proud of the record Jim and I have helping working people – that’s our message to union households. I’ve had members of labor unions support me, and that’s why.”
PoliticsPA did not have the opportunity to speak with Hertzler.
Given their roots, their respective geographic bases in the county, and their history of elected office, Shultz and Hertzler are an imposing team of candidates.
However, historically there has only been one Democratic Commissioner. That means that a strong Democratic pair in the primary may not provide an advantage in the fall, something that primary voters are likely to consider.
Shultz says he and Hertzler had that possibility in mind when they chose to run together.
“I sought out someone to run with who would be a strong candidate,” he said. “I wanted to run with somebody who I respect. Someone that I felt that if I did lose, that I’d be proud of the effort, and proud of the person who ultimately did earn the office.”
Former Democratic candidate for State Representative Angela West had also been rumored as a candidate, but she ruled out a run in an interview with PoliticsPA.
Tim Potts, co-founder of government watchdog group Democracy Rising PA, is considering for the office as an independent.
And PoliticsPA will keep and eye on the developing Republican primary for Commissioner, which is shaping up to be at least as contentious as the 2007 race.