I can’t remember the last time a farmer ran for Congress in Northeast Pennsylvania, but we might have two next year.
If you read Random Notes by Roderick Random on Saturday, you know produce and wheat farmer Keith Eckel is giving serious thought to running for the 10th Congressional District seat, assuming the Senate confirms Rep. Tom Marino as nation’s new drug czar.
Besides farming himself, Eckel served as president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau for 15 years, according to a biography on Bloomberg.com.
He isn’t the only farmer and agricultural leader thinking about running for Congress.
Former state agriculture secretary Dennis C. Wolff, 66, of Greenwood Twp., Columbia County, said he’s “seriously considering” running for the 11th Congressional District seat that U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta plans to give up to run for the U.S. Senate next year.
Wolff served as agriculture secretary for 6 ½ years between 2003 and 2009 under former Gov. Ed Rendell. He and his wife own Pen-Col Farms, which has about 200 registered Holstein cattle on 400 acres.
“I’m going to make my mind up at the beginning of October,” Wollf said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
A Democrat and lifelong farmer, he thinks he can win the Republican-trending district district “I do (think a Democrat can win),” he said. “Especially one that’s a rural Democrat and knows the issues and challenges of rural Pennsylvania, especially the 11th Congressional District because that’s where I was born and raised.”
He knows the district, slightly more Democratic in voter registration, went 60 percent to 36 percent for President Donald Trump last year.
“I have a lot of faith in the people in the 11th Congressional District that they’ll vote for the person and not necessarily the party,” Wolff said.
He better hope so.
He declined to criticize Barletta’s representation of the district, but said he would have voted differently on some issues.
“I’m not looking to criticize him,” he said.
Wolff immediately took up immigration reform. Barletta, for one, believes the nation shouldn’t bother exploring legalization of law-abiding illegal immigrants, estimated at about 11 million people, until the nation secures its borders. That means building a wall and installing systems to prevent hiring illegal immigrants.
“That’s going to have to be a bipartisan decision,” he said. “There’s approximately 11 million undocumented workers here in the United States. And the’yre not going to disappear. It has to be dealt with. Deporting 11 million people isn’t going to happen. So there needs to be something, someway, some mechanism of looking at that and coming up with a solution that works because they’re an important part of the workforce in the United States. I agree that the people who are criminals or have criminal records, there’s no question they need to be deported or should not be here. But they’re the minority of the group of people that are here.”
On Obamacare, Wolff said health insurance remains a huge challenge for most people.
“I’ve been a farmer my whole life and other than when I worked for Gov. Rendell in Harrisburg for a few years, I’ve had to pay for my own health insurance, just like many people do,” he said. “That is becoming a really, really big challenge for the working class folks.”
He opposes repealing Obamacare and starting over.
“I think the Affordable Care Act is there,” he said. “Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Should it be improved? Yes, it should be improved. So that’s a good starting point. We talk a lot about repealing it and replacing but we know what works in the Affordable Care Act and we know what doesn’t. And that’s a good starting point. That’s the way it is with most legislation. The devil’s in the details.”
“You don’t need to tear it up and start over,” he said. “I would never do that here on the farm if it wasn’t working. I would take a look at how you would make some changes to make it better. I’ve never had the luxury of just throwing things out and just starting over again.”
Millions of people benefit from Obamacare, he said.
“That all needs to be taken into consideration,” he said. “I love what I’m doing, I love farming, but I guess I’m so many other people who’ve experienced a level of frustration with the dysfunction in Congress.”