Rick Daugherty is trying to crack the 14-year Republican grip on the15th Congressional District with a traditional Democratic campaign and a pro-union vibe. He wants to protect social programs with cuts in defense spending. “We cannot be the world’s policeman anymore,” he says.
He and four-term incumbent Charlie Dent agree on a few things — keeping the Bush-era tax cuts in place, for example. They favor a diplomacy first, but-keep-all-options-on-the-table approach to Iran’s emerging nuclear capability. They want to repeal the medical devices tax scheduled to pay for part of the Affordable Care Act.
Dent has been, for the most part, the type of moderate Republican Lehigh Valley voters prefer. They’ve elected him four times. Whether Dent has moved to the right over that time — or he’s just tracked with a “middle” that has moved rightward in a more conservative House — is debatable. He has staked out a consistent record and gained a seat on the Appropriations Committee, and we endorse his bid for a fifth term.
Daugherty, the executive director of the Lehigh County senior center, makes some good points. The new health care act should be amended and made to work, as opposed to Dent’s “repeal and replace” plan. Where Daugherty falls short is pinning job creation on a strategy that seems to look backward — repealing trade agreements, giving unions more heft to organize through “card check,” buy-American programs — rather than figuring out how the U.S. can compete in an increasingly global economy.
Daugherty likes the so-called Buffett rule — the Obama plan for a minimum 30 percent tax rate on those making more than $1 million. Dent calls that “insulting to the American people,” arguing that it would have the crippling side effect of taxing small businesses at higher rates.
Dent could do a better job of clarifying his job-creating, tax reform platform. His regular Tuesday get-together with like-minded moderate Republicans has put forth some credible alternatives to the Draconian budget cuts hoisted by the Tea Party-influenced House.
Where Dent does get bullish is on energy issues. He’s a leading proponent of hydrogen fuel research, and he’s out front on developing North American energy sources — coal, nuclear, offshore exploration, building the Keystone pipeline, drilling on federal lands.
He’s worked on legislation to ban synthetic drugs and to provide liability protection for health professionals in emergency rooms. He authored an amendment forcing the National Park Service to meet a reasonable time frame in deciding on a proposed Pennsylvania-to-New Jersey power line.
For someone gaining clout, however, Dent all but sold out on the Pennsylvania Legislature’s monstrosity of a congressional redistricting plan, commandeered by the GOP leadership. That move severed eastern Northampton County from the 15th District, which had been a Lehigh Valley-based district since 1970. Dent, with a perch on the Appropriations Committee and 14 years in the state legislature, could have wielded influence for a fairer plan, instead of explaining that “I don’t draw maps as a member of Congress.”
Like so many others, he punted — and was rewarded with a district that became more Republican, virtually impenetrable to anyone looking to upset a well-financed incumbent. The 15th District now stretches to the Susquehanna River, and deprives the Lehigh Valley of a unified voice in the House.
Still, voters in the 15th would be better served by the experienced hand in this race. Daugherty’s idea of economic and military isolationism doesn’t inspire much confidence in what must be a forward-looking approach to national defense and global competition.