He is the maverick reformer of the Schuylkill County Republican Party. In 2006, former Schuylkill County Controller, Gary Hornberger, led the charge against incumbents who supported the infamous midnight pay raise as he unseated Pottsville icon, Bob Allen (R-125) in the primary. His decision to challenge such a well entrenched GOP stalwart, while airing out the dirty laundry of the party establishment led Republican chieftains to abandon him during the general election. As a result, a political neophyte in Tim Seip ascended to the state legislature in what was once thought to be an eternally safe Republican district and the GOP lost control of the House to the democrats by one measly seat.
Undeterred, two years years later, Hornberger is at it again. This time, though, he is armed with money and resources from the local and state Republicans. Hornberger was gracious enough to grant The Clarke Report a one on one interview without preconditions. In part I of this interview we discussed Tim Seip’s record, Gary’s platform of reform, who he would choose as House leadership, and Bonusgate.
CLARKE REPORT: Thank you for your time, Gary. I know that during this time of year you are a very busy man.
GARY HORNBERGER: My pleasure, Hank.
CLARKE REPORT: Two years ago, you failed to beat a rookie politician without much of a resume or qualifications for the office. Now, he is an entrenched incumbent with the power of the majority party and a record of legislative accomplishments behind him. What is the difference for you this time around?
GARY HORNBERGER:Well, there are three important things that are different in 2008. First, there is a different atmosphere for Republican candidates like myself. Two years ago, people were mad about the progress with the Iraq War and President Bush. They were discouraged. Many Republicans stayed home. However, now with John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, the party seems to be re-energized both nationally and in this county. From what I have seen enthusiasm is very high. That’s the first thing.
Second, as you know I challenged and beat an incumbent, which caused quite a bit of animosity between me and many in the party leadership. That has largely dissipated this time around. Yes, there are still some who remain angry. However, the party leadership as a whole has been great. Dave Argall has provided me with resources that I otherwise would not have enjoyed. Sen. Rhoades has openly advocated for me to the party and said mine is the most important election. Even Bob Allen himself attended a unity picnic with me and encouraged everyone to put two years ago in the past.
Finally and most importantly, Tim Seip now has a voting record that he must defend. He has done some good things, the bill that he teamed with Sen. Rhoades on comes to mind. However, there are two specific areas where I have been disappointed. Tim Seip has shown an affinity for raising taxes each chance he gets, while refusing opportunities to lessen tax burdens on small businesses and grow the state economy. Let me explain:
Mr. Seip voted to increase the sales tax. He voted for an additional state fee on consumer’s public utility bills. He voted for Act 44 which was designed to toll I-80 and increase turnpike fees now. He also granted the turnpike commission carte blanche to raise fees in the future without approval of the legislature. He supported increases taxes on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. He imposed a 10% drink tax and charged a $2.00 fee for rental vehicles in Allegheny County.
Meanwhile, he voted against reducing the personal income tax from 3.07% to 2.99%. He rejected a proposal to lower capital gains exclusions for start up businesses, which would enable small business entrepreneur to keep initial costs down and make a profit quicker. He supported keeping taxes on all businesses barbarically high, which has caused Pennsylvania to lag behind the national average in drawing new businesses into the Commonwealth.
Simply put, Tim Seip’s voting record shows that he is a firm believer that government can spend our money better than we can. I don’t believe that. Our economy is not in good shape. People are hurting all across the board. This is the worst time to be raising taxes and with Tim Seip as our representative you get a big government, big spending, liberal democrat.
CR: You have run on a platform of reform, but so do a lot of other candidates, Tim Seip included. How will you actually effectuate reform?
GH: Let me make one thing clear. Tim Seip is no reformer. In 2006, he stood with me against the pay raise and perks. He attended some of the pink pig rallies organized by Gene Stilp. Then once he was elected, what did he do? He took the leased vehicle and other perks and uses legislative accounts for campaign advertisements and leaflets masked as constituent information.
CR: So, what will you do differently?
GH: Early in the campaign, I filled out a questionnaire with DemocracyRisingPA, a non-profit legislative watchdog, and pledged on the record to do a few things. First, I will NOT vote anyone into a leadership post who does not allow specific reform measures to be brought to the floor, which include:
(1) more transparency in government spending
(2) monthly audit of the legislature
(3) no voting sessions after an election
CR: But those things are contingent on others. You say you will have the most transparent office in Harrisburg. How?
GH: I will post every expense I accumulate on-line. I will not take a vehicle, healthcare, per diems, or a pension. I will only take mileage and a salary. The PA Constitution is specific on this and I will follow it to the tee.
CR: Some have advocated for a constitutional convention to address this very topic, among others. Do you support this?
GH: Absolutely, but it has to be a true citizen’s convention, not just a vehicle for politicians to get themselves airtime and new appointments.
CR: You just mentioned legislative accounts. You have criticized Seip for using taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes. Can you explain what he has allegedly done?
GH: Sure. Take for instance Seip’s brochure. He mailed out a listing of recipients of grant money to all his constituents. Other than showing his district how well he brings home the bacon what other purpose does this serve than campaigning? Obviously those who received grants KNOW they got them, right?
Another example are the cable tv ads. These ads tout legislative accomplishments of the democratic house, but are only shown in districts where an incumbent democrat is vulnerable. Clearly these actions are an attempt to use taxpayer dollars for campaign commercials.
CR: Bonus-gate. The biggest scandal to hit Harrisburg in decades, maybe ever. Both Republicans and democrats, but mostly democrats, paying huge bonuses to staffers who did work on their campaigns. Your thoughts?
GH: Outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars. There is no other way to say it. It is my firm belief that any leader in a position to know or to do anything about these abuses, but who failed to act, should resign immediately. First the pay raise, then this? The public trust in the legislature has been completely destroyed. The cold hard fact is that in a branch of government that demands oversight of everyone else, they have NONE over them. You can’t allow a fox to rule the hen house. Things have to change and the Assembly must be reformed.
This is another area where I have been disappointed with Tim Seip. Despite all his empty rhetoric about reform, since the Bonusgate story broke he has yet to call on Rep. DeWeese (democratic House Majority Leader at the center of the scandal) to step down. I guess Tim would rather be a good boy and keep receiving money from the caucus than to make waves.
CR: Let’s talk about leadership, then. If you were elected and the GOP took over control of the House, would you vote for Speaker Emeritus John Perzel into the position of Speaker of the House?
GH: In caucus, I will sit down with each candidate for leadership and assess their commitment to allow reform issues to come to the floor. If they make that commitment and are not involved in any way with Bonusgate, then I will support whoever the caucus ultimately chooses.
CR: But, John Perzel was the architect of the midnight pay raise and is one of the key figures in Bonusgate. His chief of staff, Brian Preski, is accused of taking over $160,000 in mileage reimbursements for traveling across the state fund-raising for Perzel’s re-election campaign. Knowing this, would you vote for him on the floor if the caucus selected him?
GH: 2 years ago, I was on the record as saying that I would not. If he indeed is implicated in Bonusgate, I cannot see the caucus supporting him for Speaker.
CR: What if they did?
GH: I don’t like to speak in hypotheticals.
CR: Come on, Gary.
GH: Again, if Perzel were implicated in Bonusgate, I would not.
CR: What about Dave Argall? He was a big proponent of the pay raise. He still hasn’t returned some of the unvouchered for expenses. He is one of the biggest takers of per diem money. He takes all the perks. And he supports you actively. Would you support his candidacy for Speaker?
GH: Everybody knows I was against the pay raise, but there were some good people who voted for it. Sam Roher, who has been the champion of property tax elimination and who shares the same maverick mentality as I, voted for the pay raise, too. Would that one vote negate everything else he has done? I would take the approach that even though I was against that particular action, I would look at their overall record in the legislature and ask them whether they were willing to allow reform issues to come to the floor. Like anyone else, I will ask Dave . . .
CR: So, you would vote for him?
GH: Again, I would sit down with him first and ask the tough questions. If he agreed to let some of the reform issues I outlined above come to the floor, then yes I would . . . so long as he is not implicated in Bonusgate, which I do not believe he is.
In part II of this interview, which I will release later today, Gary and I talk about what the state government can do about gas prices, energy monopolies in PA, the smoking ban, and Melinda Kantner. Stay tuned.