York County GOP endorses primary candidates, breaks long tradition

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

The York County Republican Committee is breaking with tradition by endorsing six candidates for county offices in the May 21 primary elections.

The committee announced its list of preferred candidates Monday, Feb. 18. The local GOP chapter hasn't endorsed in primary elections in at least 15 years, Chairman Jeff Piccola confirmed.

Those who received endorsements are: clerk of courts candidate Julie Haertsch; prothonotary candidate Allison Blew; register of wills/clerk of orphans' court candidate Bryan Tate; Commissioner Chris Reilly; Treasurer Barb Bair; and Sheriff Richard Keuerleber.

"If you have incumbents or people who are clearly qualified Republicans who are supportive of the party, they should be given the benefit of party endorsement," Piccola said.

Both Blew and Tate are on the party's executive committee, but Piccola said they had no role in the endorsement process. 

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Of the seven Republican candidates who weren't endorsed, clerk of courts candidate Barbato Arvonio and commissioner candidate Matt Mann were the only ones to immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I wish they would have supported both Republican candidates, especially with my vast experience," Barbato said, declining to go into more detail.

Mann commended the committee for only endorsing one candidate in the commissioners race, although two of the three board seats are up for grabs this year.

He said that's fairer to voters, although he added has mixed feelings about both endorsing incumbents and endorsing in primary elections.

"I'm not really a fan of (endorsing in primary elections)," Mann said. "But I guess it's just old school political protocol. They're going to what they're going to do."

Endorsing before primary elections has been criticized for potentially muddying the voting process, said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster County.

But he added it is far from uncommon, despite its absence in York County. Parties have historically endorsed in primary elections, and it's well within their purview.

Primary endorsements are more common for statewide office. The Republican Party of Pennsylvania recently endorsed two candidates for open Superior Court seats. 

The Democratic Party of Pennsylvania also endorses candidates before statewide primaries, confirmed Democratic Party of York County Chairman Chad Baker. As of now, those endorsements are limited to candidates in four special elections.

In York County, however, the Democrats have a long-standing policy of not endorsing in primaries, he said.

"It is our belief that endorsements cloud the democratic voting process, and by not endorsing, we allow voters to exercise their right of choice at the polling place," Baker said. 

The county Democratic Party offers the same resources to all candidates and encourages volunteers to carry multiple petitions, he added.

Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Committee.

Yet on the Republican side, local voters have been telling Piccola for the past several months that they want a return to primary endorsements to give the party more direction, he said.

Every Republican candidate had been interviewed by the committee prior to the endorsements, Piccola added, and he doesn't think endorsements will discourage others from running, as anyone interested in running should have made it known by now.

Four of the endorsed candidates — Reilly, Keuerleber, Tate and Haertsch — have Republican challengers in the primary; Bair and Blew are unopposed — so far.

Candidates will begin circulating petitions Tuesday, Feb. 19. The candidate filing deadline is Tuesday, March 12.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.