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17th Congressional Democrats battle for votes in new geographies

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Apr 19 2012 12:31:57 PM CDT

Tim Holden-Matt Cartwright

The Democratic primary in the 17th Congressional District is a battle between a 10-term incumbent, Tim Holden, and, a challenger who has never held public office, Matthew Cartwright.

But in this race, the man holding office doesn't quite have all of the usual advantages of being the incumbent.

That's because of redistricting.

The 17th District now has a large block of new voters in almost two dozen municipalities in Northampton County.

That includes Easton and Nazareth, and a major chunk of the Slate Belt.

All of Schuylkill County and parts of Monroe, Carbon, Lackawanna and Luzerne are also in the district.

Here's what the candidates say is most important for voters to know about the race, and themselves.

TIM HOLDEN

Since graduating with a sociology degree from Bloomsburg University in 1980, Holden, 55, has worked as a real estate agent, an insurance broker, a probation officer and sergeant-at-arms for the Pennsylvania House. He also was sheriff of Schuylkill County for seven years. He lives in St. Clair, Schuylkill County.

Holden is now dean of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, and says his seniority and House committee assignments -- transportation, infrastructure and agriculture -- are "ideal" to help him serve the needs of the state.

"I've tried to focus on economic development, bringing hundreds of millions of dollars back to my congressional district," says Holden.

Holden points out that Pennsylvania has more road miles to maintain than New York, New Jersey and New England combined, "and when we pass the highway bill, it will create thousands of jobs across Pennsylvania."

MATT CARTWRIGHT
Cartwright, 50, has worked for the last 24 years at the law firm he founded. He graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and earned his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Cartwright was a 1992 delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He lives in Moosic, Lackawanna County.

He says he's running for Congress to "make a difference. There are jobs that need to be created. ... The unemployment number doesn't include people who are underemployed and not looking for work any more."

Besides job creation, Cartwright says he would focus on infrastructure rebuilding, including high-speed rail service, health-care accessibility and what he calls "the crown jewel," education, especially early childhood education.

DISAGREEMENTS

Cartwright is critical of Holden's vote against health-care reform. He says not only would he have supported the bill, but as a congressman he would try to strengthen the law to cover more Americans.

Holden, who is considered a centrist Democrat, says his vote to buck his party on health-care reform shows his independence. He has voted with his party on issues such as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill and extension of the payroll tax deduction.

Cartwright also says he wants to repeal the so-called Halliburton loophole that was part of the 2005 energy bill and prevents the EPA from regulating fracking. The loophole was inserted into the law at the request of then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

Holden says Cartwright is using the issue to play dirty politics. "While Matt's is posing for holy pictures on television, in the meantime he's mailing out negative fliers tying me to Dick Cheney and Halliburton," says Holden. "I met Vice president Dick Cheney once, and I never received a dime from Halliburton."

Cartwright complains that Holden has not agreed to debate. He says Holden hit below the belt with a TV ad saying his law firm made campaign contributions to two Luzerne County judges involved in the so-called "Kids for Cash" scandal.

The scandal broke in 2007, and Cartwright says his firm's last contributions to the judges was in 2005. He also says he was given an award by the Luzerne County Bar Association for helping to "clean up the mess."