Democrats Gain Ground in Chester County


A month after winning a special election to represent the 19th district in the Pennsylvania State Senate, Andrew Dinniman was officially sworn into office on June 19. He's the first Democrat to represent Chester County since 1990.

Dinniman, a longtime Chester County commissioner, as well as a board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Chester County Region, handily defeated Carol Aichele in the special election to fill the vacancy left by Republican Robert J. Thomas, who died in January. (He's stepping down as commissioner, but he'll remain on the federation board while in office.)

The native of New Haven, Conn. has lived in Chester County since 1972. His committee assignments include: environment and energy, local government, games and fisheries, and veterans affairs.

Some pundits have argued that Dinniman's victory could mean that Democrats may finally become competitive in Chester County, which has consistently leaned Republican.

Terry G. Madonna, who heads the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, said the special election could indicate trouble for U.S. Rep Jim Gerlach (R-District 6), whose district stretches from Berks to Montgomery counties and is facing what looks to be a tough rematch with Democrat Lois Murphy.

Others have argued that Dinniman's name recognition – he's been commissioner for 15 years – meant more to voters than his party affiliation, and that his victory will have little importance come November.

"I'm hopeful that there has been a change out here in this county," said the 61-year-old Dinniman, who is also a professor of global studies at West-chester University. Dinniman pointed to Joseph Hoeffle's election to Congress in 1998 as the moment went Democrats proved they could be competitive in traditionally Republican Montgomery County.

"The large increase of the Jewish population has contributed to a more progressive political viewpoint, and increased the number of Democrats," said Dinniman. "Now that we have been able to break through the wall, it will be easier for the other candidates running."

Dinniman said the top two issues on his agenda are working to preserve open space in rapidly developing Chester County without halting economic growth, and lobbying to obtain more autonomy for local municipalities on a range of issues traditionally regulated by Harrisburg, a position perhaps more often associated with the GOP.

For instance, he's proposed having a different sales tax rate in different parts of the state; in Central Pennsylvania a higher sales tax rate might prove a boost to local merchant, whereas in Chester County a higher sales tax might simply push shoppers across the border to Delaware, where there is no state sales tax.

Another subject he's interested in: deer hunting.

"The issue of deer here is a lot different from the issue of deer in Sullivan County," he said. "It's not a hunting issue here. Here, it's a health issue."

Dinniman said that Chester County has among the highest rates of Lyme Disease in the nation, and perhaps, not surprisingly, he feels it should fall to Chester County government to determine the rate at which deer can be hunted.

"I want the General Assembly to accept the logic that Pennsylvania varies greatly, and produce legislation that offers a menu of choices and options," he said. "If you look at what usually happens, each region fights each other. One region wins and the other regions then suffer."



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