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County Hall Corner: Picking a Congressman

On Saturday, March 2nd, 190 conferees from 15 northcentral Pennsylvania counties came together for a long and arduous process of picking a candidate to represent the Republican Party for the 12th-PA Congressional District for the special election to be held on Tuesday, May 21st. Congressman Tom Marino’s resignation put into motion quite a process for

On Saturday, March 2nd, 190 conferees from 15 northcentral Pennsylvania counties came together for a long and arduous process of picking a candidate to represent the Republican Party for the 12th-PA Congressional District for the special election to be held on Tuesday, May 21st.

Congressman Tom Marino’s resignation put into motion quite a process for his replacement. First, conferees were selected from each of the representative counties of the congressional district based on population. Lycoming County is the largest county in the district and had 36 conferees whereas Sullivan County had the fewest with two.

Then individuals submitted their names for consideration for the position of United States Congressman. Over 30 names initially expressed interest, but when the state Republican Party sent each of them a voluntary candidate questionnaire that ran 18-pages and covered not just issue positions but ‘vulnerability’ issues, the field quickly weaned down to 21 candidates representing 14 different counties.

They were quite a diverse group of applicants. Women were well represented, such as Jessica Bowman Hosley, a professor from Lock Haven University, Stacy Garrity, a retired Army Reserve Colonel who had served in Iraq and is now a vice president with a major company in Bradford County, and Maria Montero, a Hispanic woman who was a former Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women in Governor Corbett’s administration.

The men were quite a cross-section as well. Gerald Carlin and Chris Hoffman were farmers from Susquehanna and Juniata County respectively, Pat Miller was a 31-year old lawyer, Joe Peters was a former federal mafia prosecutor, and Joseph Moralez was a self-described black, gay, Republican (three words not often seen together).

Almost all of the candidates had been sending out mailers, emails, even phone calls to the conferees for weeks prior, but this was the first time they had a chance to introduce themselves personally. Each of the applicants was given a five-minute intro, and while almost all were time challenged in that regard, some made the crowd want more. Bob Noer from Clarion County had no political experience but has a ‘masters in speech communication’ and certainly could make a good living as a motivational speaker. Maria Montero grabbed the microphone off its stand and had the crowd off their feet by the time she was done.

The favorite son of Lycoming County was State Representative Jeff Wheeland, but he made the emotional decision to withdraw before deliberations started with his family standing beside him due to some nasty 11th-hour allegations. Matt McDermott, Lycoming County’s government chief administrator, made a decent showing but was eliminated after the second ballot.

The vote came down to two experienced Republican pols; Doug McLinko, a four-time Bradford County commissioner and Fred Keller, a state representative for Snyder and Union counties. McLinko had a loyal base, but his relentless adversarial relationship to Congressman Marino was well known and did not work in his favor. With each ballot, his numbers stayed steady. On the other hand, Fred Keller, a successful ‘blue-collar’ businessman with proven government experience in Harrisburg, saw his votes continually rise as other candidates were eliminated.

In the end, it was Fred Keller in a landslide. When the final vote was announced, virtually the entire hall erupted in cheers and a standing ovation. There were more charismatic candidates, there were those that would have hit more demographic or social consciousness boxes, but Fred Keller won the conferees over by his clear and sincere sharing of his values. He wants to see more jobs in the area, cuts in taxes, he wants the protection of the unborn and protection of America’s freedom. Fred spoke candidly about his faith in God and how it sustained him and his family through a very dark tragedy. Fred Keller won the hearts of that gathering by being himself — the real deal.

Politics being what they are today, Fred Keller will now face scathing attacks from the opposition that will probably go back to how he pulled a girl’s ponytail in kindergarten. It takes a lot of courage and conviction to go into this snake pit called politics today, but Fred Keller appears to be up to the challenge.

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