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Hellam Twp. Dem launches late bid to oust 9-term Republican in state House

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Fred Owens, of Hellam Township.

A Democrat from Hellam Township has launched an 11th-hour write-in campaign to oust state Rep. Keith Gillespie, a nine-term Republican.

Fred Owens is a consultant who had spent four decades teaching psychology at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. Owens opted to challenge Gillespie for the 47th District seat because politics should be competitive and decades of poor policy decisions have set the region back, he said. 

As a write-in candidate, he will need 300 votes in the June 2 Democratic primary to get on the general election ballot in November.

The district is made up of Conewago, East Manchester, Hellam and Manchester townships; Hallam, Manchester, Mount Wolf, North York, Wrightsville and York Haven boroughs; and parts of Springettsbury Township.

"If I can't get 300 votes as a write-in candidate, then Mr. Gillespie will just walk into his 10th term without any open discussion or opposition about how to better deal with the problems we're facing," Owens said.

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Owens, who serves on the Hellam Townships Planning Commission, did not supply many concise policy proposals. But he did detail where he believes the state Legislature has failed.

There has been a "gradual and continual erosion" in the quality of life for families and small businesses owners, something that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

A main contributor to that erosion is the state's continued reliance on trickle-down economic policies that favor corporate tax breaks over building up the working class.

The fallout of those economic policies, such as a lack of job security and livable wages, have become worse with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as millions are left out of work, he said.

"Over the past 20 years, our leaders have bought into a distorted vision of our priorities,” he said.

The Democrat insisted the state needs to invest more in infrastructure, noting the thousands of structurally deficient bridges throughout Pennsylvania.

Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-47th District, during the Swearing-in Day ceremony at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In the midst of pandemic, with school classes having to be moved online, a lack of access to broadband has also become a more pressing issue than ever.

"Infrastructure is the foundation of a healthy, productive society," Owens said.

Owens went on to assert that the state needs to vastly increase funding in K-12 schools and universities so property taxes no longer need to be passed to provide vital services to future generations.

At the university level, tuition hikes resulting from a lack of investments are also contributing to a student debt crisis that is leaving younger generations buried in payments, he added.

But the state is not doing what it can to hold corporations accountable to force them to pair their share of taxes, he said.

The GOP-run Legislature, for example, has refused to implement severance taxes on oil and gas drilling in the state, a potential boost to revenue from the practice that is actively hurting the environment. 

Wolf has pushed for the tax since he took office in 2014, citing $300 million in annual revenue under his most recent proposal. But Republicans have viewed it as a nonstarter.

Owens went further into climate change politics, citing the state's poor air quality and the environmental toll from practices such as fracking.

Gillespie handily defeated Democrat Michael Wascovich in 2018, receiving 64.3% of the vote.

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