Bruce Castor: One-on-One
From The Bulletin….
Bruce Castor: One-on-One
The Montgomery County Commissioner’s race is shaping up to be one of the most significant in County history. While Republicans have been in control for 140 years in Pennsylvania’s third largest county, the Democrats have taken advantage of “Republican fatigue” among voters. They placed one of their most well-known and popular candidates on the ballot, former Congressman Joe Hoeffel, and are waging an aggressive campaign to court the swing voters. They are hoping that the recent surge in Democratic voters will put control in their grasp—just five years ago an unimaginable feat.
Since minority representation is guaranteed on the three-commissioner board, whichever party is able to generate the top two vote-getters gains control. When one of the incumbent Republican commissioners dropped out of the race because of negative political issues, the GOP was left scrambling to find a big-name replacement to bolster its chances of maintaining power. Despite a major rift in the party, District Attorney Bruce Castor was given the nod, and after burying his differences with running mate Jim Matthews, has embarked on the arduous journey to win a Commissioner’s seat— and be in the majority.
Freindly Fire recently sat down with Castor to discuss the campaign and his ideas for governing.
FF: You have an extremely high favorable rating as District Attorney, and would almost certainly win again if you chose to run for re-election. Yet you are giving that up, opting instead to run for Commissioner in an extremely tough environment for Republicans, in a county that is trending Democratic, with no guarantee that you will be serving in the majority. Why?
BC: It is evident to me that the county is going in the wrong direction. I didn’t want to run—I wanted (the Republicans) to win and I wanted to remain as DA. I asked the Party to pull back from Commissioner Ellis, because I did not believe that there was any scenario in which he could win the election this year, and that has certainly proven to be true. Even with the situation we face now, with our opponents led by former Congressman Hoeffel, who is every bit as well known as I am, if I were not in this position of heading our team, I think all eleven of us would go down. We could not have our ticket led by someone who only won by 8,000 votes, and was embroiled in scandal. I vehemently made my point in private to the leadership of the party, but of course our party is divided between those who are supporters of Bob Asher (a party leader and convicted felon) and those who are not. I have assumed the mantle of the non-Asher supporters…so (Party Chairman) Ken Davis, an Asher supporter, backed Ellis, who was heavily identified with Asher. This became an “Asher-vs-Non Asher” issue, but (to me), it wasn’t about that. It was about winning.
For the first time ever in 2006, more people voted Democratic for the State House in Montgomery County than Republicans. Well, then I knew we were headed for disaster if we didn’t make some major changes, which is why I became much more public about it. After it dragged into December, I decided to run myself. I think I will enjoy being DA more than Commissioner, but as an elected political leader, you have a responsibility to do what is right for the most number of people, not necessarily what’s right for you. Everything I do in life revolves around the intrinsic principle of “what’s right”. This is the right thing to do.
FF: Montgomery County has always been a Republican county, but that landscape is changing. Look back to 1980. Not only did President Reagan choose three Cabinet Secretaries from the same state, but the same county. Beyond the demographic shift, what has happened to the Republican Party? What needs to be done to turn it around?
BC: I don’t think the Republican Party is run by Bob Asher, but by me. If we fail, it will be my fault. I do think there are a number of people behind the scenes that are trying to make that happen. Out of the eleven candidates running, there were seven “contested” races—where both Ken Davis and I had candidates— we won six of them. The state Party is, in large measure, run by Asher, so after the disaster at the polls….if you’re the captain, you have to take responsibility for navigating the ship onto a reef. Assuming that all eleven of us win, the challenges will be to put together a government that functions, and then to reorganize and rebuild the Party.
The spiraling downward of the Republicans, both nationally and in the state, is a direct result of a departure of basic principles of Republicanism. We are (were) the Party of principles, we are the party that stands FOR something. The Democrats are the party of everything else. When Republicans look like Democrats, you may as well vote for Democrats. When you no longer stand for something, you mind as well be the party of everyone else. Back when we stood for low taxes, tough law enforcement, being pro-life, anti-Islamic radicalism—we had a national identity. When you begin to move to the center and bring groups in for political reasons, now you are no longer different from the Democrats. We’ve gotten away from the party of Reagan, the party of Gingrinch, and the ideas in the Contract With America. How do we get back? You get beaten. You learn that when you move to the middle and pander for votes, you lose the respect of the electorate. You need to elect leaders that will take you where you want to go.
FF: Under Davis’ stint as leader, the results have gone the wrong way, yet he still has a significant level of support. Why haven’t things changed?
BC: It hasn’t happened because there are forces at work within the committee that are not necessarily designed to produce the best leaders. In my judgment, Davis is there as Asher’s surrogate. I think Ken’s a nice guy, but I don’t think he’s a strong leader, and I don’t think you can have a person in that position whose livelihood is dependent upon politics. He’s a lobbyist, so his livelihood is dependent upon politics, and that’s an error. We’ll try to deal with that next year, but one thing at a time.
FF: There have been several polls on this race. What does your data tell you?
BC: In May, Jim Matthews was seven points down, in August, he was even, in September, he was six point us, and as of last week, he was up nine points. So I am at 52%, Hoeffel is at 44%, Matthews at 43% and Damsker at 34%. I am very comfortable with where we are. The charge given to me by the county committee to pull people along with me is working, the fund raising is good, and I think we are going to win.
FF: What are the key issues in the campaign, and do you think the people still trust the Republicans on fiscal issues, given the lavish spending in Washington and Harrisburg?
BC: We are staking our whole campaign on lower taxes, fiscal restraint, and safe streets and open space. There is a great success story in Montgomery County in that taxes in 2007 are the same that they were in 2002, and in 2008 they will be lower than they were in 2002. That’s why the Democrats are having such a tough time, because they have no issues. Montco is a very well-run, economically sound place, so they’re in search of a scandal. People know their attacks are lies, so no one believes them, especially when I have a 68-9 favorable/unfavorable rating.
Taxes is the biggest issue, followed by controlling urban sprawl, traffic–which is a nightmare, and crime, keeping our streets safe. They care about keeping our people employed (we have a 97% employment rate), schools and illegal immigration. What people don’t want to hear about is that their leaders are all corrupt, all crooks, and the constant sniping about people’s character. They are concerned about their pocketbooks, their standard of living and their quality of life. They got these thing from the Republican commissioners who served before me.
FF: You touched on a hot-button issue: illegal immigration. How do you plan to deal with this?
BC: I don’t think it ought to be as complicated as it is. They’re not supposed to be here, they should be thrown out, and we should close the borders and let anymore in. I do understand the argument that the problem is so massive that we can’t solve it, but I’m a “can-do” guy. Let’s find a way to do it. I don’t see a lot of people in favor of using taxpayer dollars for illegal immigrants’ health care and schooling. And there are a host of other side issues to deal with. In Norristown, we have big illegal population. The criminals know that the illegals won’t go to the police, so they become targets for crime. The victims in turn form gangs to protect themselves, so now we have gang warfare. They bring in brothels to serve just the illegal population, as well as drug dealers to do the same. We also are seeing drug cartels led by illegal aliens. And we are already in the process of bringing down the hammer on employers. There are bills I sponsored that would require employers to make sure their workers are citizens. The penalty for failure to do so is that the business would have its “privilege to do business” license in Pennsylvania revoked. That’s why I have union members support me because they realize it’s not a “union/non-union” issue. It’s about fairness.
FF: Closing thoughts in these last few days before the election?
BC: The Republican Party has to be rebuilt (across the board). The Republican presidential candidate next year will not will Pennsylvania if he does not win Montgomery County. And we need to re-take the State House. If I am in a position of leadership here, and I have built a coalition of people that have helped me get there—among them labor unions, black leaders, the FOP—they will be boots on the ground that will help achieve our goal.
How many more times do we have to lose before we recognize that we need to elect leaders who will take us back to the principles of Republicanism that got us to where we were in the first place?
The key is Jim Matthews. When we win the election, Jim has to re-invent himself and be the party leader that is necessary to make Montgomery County that showpiece of change in the Party to get it to where it needs to be. If that happens, I think we can Montgomery County a model that the rest of the country can follow.