Political newcomer Gebhard wins in landslide for state Senate seat

Matt Enright
York Dispatch
Chris Gebhard, candidate for the state's 48th Senate District.

The state's 48th Senate District has been in Republican hands for 38 years.

And after a special election held Tuesday, that hasn't changed.

Political newcomer and Lebanon resident Chris Gebhard, president and CEO of insurance firm Hoaster Gebhard and Co., has a sizable lead on the other three candidates. He received 30,124 votes —  62.33% — and more than 15,000 more than his next closest competitor, Democrat Chris Clements. 

In an interview Wednesday, Gebhard said he was deeply honored by the support.

"It was overwhelming favorable in our direction, and as a complete newcomer to this process, that was pretty cool to me," he said. "I'd never run for anything, my name was never on any ballot, and to go through that process the first time and have that percentage of people came out in favor of me was awesome and humbling."

Gebhard said he first was inspired to run after the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which he was not in favor of.

"I saw how the government responded there in the heavy-handed way that they did," he said. In his work with commercial clients, he saw them have no say in the process.

He also criticized the education system, saying it had failed his two young sons. "I was watching the education system basically fail in front of them. All these things were happening, and it was honestly pretty heartbreaking."

When former Sen. Dave Arnold died this year, Gebhard said he sat down with his wife, Sarah, and talked over running for the seat. She was apprehensive, but she came around.

Gebhard said running for office fits with what he does for a living.

"I'm a salesman, so I just kind of applied what I know and how we run our company, and it obviously turned out to be very successful," he said. 

Now that he's been elected, Gebhard says one of his major priorities is getting the economy reopened and getting people back to work.

"I've talked to so many business owners that basically don't have any say in how to operate their businesses," he said. He criticized Gov. Tom Wolf's administration and the directives on things like capacity during the pandemic. "I'm a big believer that you should allow a lot of these decisions to be made on the local level. I'm a small business owner myself, and I have a vested interest in creating an environment that is safe and welcoming to my client." 

Gebhard said those decisions should be left to people on the local level. With restaurants, he advocated for allowing people to make decisions on whether or not they feel safe to go in person or get take out. He compared the decisions made by Pennsylvania to those of states such as Florida and Texas, which he thought turned out more successfully.

Unemployment was another point of emphasis for Gebhard.

"They have the ability to get paid a significant compensation amount to sit at home and not have a job, and we need to get away from that," he said. Among the changes he advocated for were reinstituting a job search requirement for unemployment. 

Voting is another issue Gebhard has concerns about. He said in his time canvassing, there's a portion of the electorate that felt disenfranchised after Act 77, which allowed voters to cast mail-in ballots without providing an excuse.

While the intent was good, he said between the Wolf administration and the Supreme Court, people were doubting the validity of it.

"One of the things we should have as Americans full faith in is the electoral process, and right now in Pennsylvania we don't have that," he said. 

Among the specific changes on voting Gebhard advocated for was having mail-in voting and in-person voting have the same requirements. No signature match for mail-in voting was an issue he highlighted, as well as standardizing how counties handle questionable mail-in ballots. In November, some counties attempted to "cure" the ballots, while others threw them out.

Gebhard also said he was a believer in an ID requirement.

"It's one of the most important things we do as citizens in the United States, I think showing your ID seems very reasonable and logical to me," he said.