York State Fair will remain in July for next two years: What you can expect

York County GOP sits out hotly contested commissioners race

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

As primary season approaches, the York County GOP isn't taking sides in three-way Republican primary race for the Board of Commissioners amid an increasingly factious political environment.

According to party chairman John O'Neill, the only endorsements the GOP will make are in the uncontested county races and for prothonotary. Allison Blew, the incumbent prothonotary, "received two-thirds vote from [the] full committee at our meeting," he said.

The Board of Commissioners race is competitive this year: Incumbents Ron Smith and Julie Wheeler, the current president commissioner, are vying against a newcomer, Scott Burford, for two of the three seats. In the county treasurer's race, incumbent Barbara Bair faces a challenge in the primary from Andrew Kroft.

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There won't be any endorsements on the Democratic side of the primary either. The county party chair, Chad Baker, said the organization does not endorse candidates.

"We believe the primary process should be open and up to the voter, hence our policy," Baker said. That means the party won't take sides in the race between incumbent county Commissioner Doug Hoke and newcomer Keena Minifield.

York County Commissioner Ron Smith looks on as the final certification of votes cast on Election Day are discussed during the York County Election Board Meeting at York County Administrative Center in York City, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

Other endorsements in the commissioners' race raised eyebrows this spring.

Fraternal Order of Police White Rose Lodge 15, an organization that encompasses current and former York City police officers, endorsed Wheeler and Burford, leaving incumbent Smith out.

"Julie has shown York County that she is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and do the work that desperately needs to be done," said Ben Praster, the labor union president. "Scott Burford has a proven track record that will directly translate into the work of a York County commissioner."

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A newly formed political action committee also endorsed Burford over Smith.

PA Economic Growth PAC, a right-wing PAC that professes to be about "election integrity," free markets, small government and individual rights, endorsed Wheeler and Burford.

PA Economic Growth PAC includes among its members former Central York School Board member Veronica Gemma as "director of electoral reform" and Jessica Wood as "director of election reform." Wood has been a key figure in failed attempts to get a referendum about electronic voting machines onto the ballot.

School board member Veronica Gemma during the Central York High School graduation ceremony in Springettsbury Township, Friday, July 24, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo
(Photo: Dawn J Sagert, The York Dispatch)

The organization did not respond to a request for comment.

Smith said he hadn't heard of PA Economic Growth PAC or been contacted by the group.

"I've never been contacted by them, never been talked to by them, never been asked to speak, so I have no idea," he said. "We're just doing what we have to do moving forward, touching base with constituents, reaching out."

This year's fracturing of the GOP primary field for county commissioner is just the latest example of splintering within the party establishment.

State Rep. Mike Jones, R-York Township, who represents the 93rd District, was stripped of several committee assignments last year over endorsements of challengers to former Reps. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, and Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township. Jones also did not respond to a request for comment. He is listed as an adviser to the PAC.

Pennsylvania State Rep. Mike Jones during the York County Republicans watch party at Wisehaven Event Center in Windsor Township, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

Burford did not respond to a request for comment. Reached Wednesday, Wheeler said she had been endorsed by the FOP and PA Economic Growth PAC.

The FOP Lodge 73, which represents police officers from the county as a whole, endorsed Smith and Wheeler in the Republican primary.

Trent Buschmann, the FOP's board president and a detective with the York Area Regional Police Department, had no comment personally on why the group had endorsed the incumbents. The membership votes after a committee meets with candidates and gives recommendations, he said.

Meanwhile, Wheeler is set to speak at an event for a group that falsely claims the 2020 election was fradulent.

Scott Burford, Republican candidate for York County Commissioner.

According to the website for FreePA, a group that wants to conduct a "forensic audit" of the 2020 election, Wheeler will speak at its May 1 meeting. The group is also against the COVID-19 vaccine, according to its website. Wheeler will be "educating us about the local government and how York county works," according to the website.

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FreePA did not respond to a request for comment. The event is noted as being barred to the media, and no photos, videos, phones or other electronic devices are allowed.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler reads the York County Victims’ Rights Week Proclamation during the 37th Annual Crime Victims' Rights March and Candlelight Vigil beginning at the Colonial Courthouse in York City, Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"They asked for an update on county government, specifically broadband," Wheeler said Friday.

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York County hand-counted ballots from three precincts after last year's general election at the request of Audit the Vote, a group that similarly believes without evidence that the 2020 election was fraudulent and that hand-counting is more accurate than machines. The hand counts repeatedly returned tallies that were off by a single vote — which then forced a recount that was checked using a Dominion Voting Systems scanner.

The primary election will be held May 16. The last day to register to vote in the primary is May 1; for more information, visit York County's Elections and Voter Registration website at https://yorkcountypa.gov/503/Elections-Voter-Registration.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.