HOLLIDAYSBURG - Hundreds of people gathered at Legion Park in Hollidaysburg to interact with candidates running for state and federal government offices on a platform of minimizing government's reach into Americans' lives.
That reach includes the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, that sets fines - or taxes - for Americans who don't obtain health insurance. On state and local levels, government reach includes unfunded state mandates and education issues.
The annual Blair County Tea Party Freedom Fest on Sunday served as a forum for voters to get to know Richard Flarend and John McGinnis, vying to serve as representative of the 79th District of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and Tom Smith, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate for Pennsylvania who's running against Democrat incumbent Bob Casey.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Rachael Angermeier, 14, has an American flag with a heart around it painted on her face by Rachel Kaneshiki, 14, both of Duncansville, Sunday at Freedom Fest at Legion Park in Hollidaysburg. Read more about the event on Page A3.
Flarend lost the crowd's support at Legion Park with his support of unions and opposition to school choice.
"We can thank the Pennsylvania State Education Agency for allowing school districts to survive over the economic downturn," he said.
"The PSEA allows administrators to talk to teachers with one voice, not 500 voices. I don't know if any teachers would have taken a pay freeze if they were not represented by a union."
That same union at Altoona Area School District, however, negotiated a 2 percent increase for teachers during the second year of their contract, Altoona Area graduate Jesse Ickes stated.
Ickes stated to Flarend that voters need a representative in Harrisburg to not bow to union lobbyists.
The crowd cheered Ickes.
But Flarend said there are two parties involved with approving teacher contracts - teacher unions and the school board.
At the school board level is where the grassroots tea party movement has had some success in the past year, one man said.
"Over the last election cycles at Hollidaysburg Area and Altoona Area school districts, we have replaced people with responsible board members," he said.
Hollidaysburg school board member Aaron Ritchey, who opposed raising taxes for 2012-13 because he believes the district administration has not yet made sufficient budget cuts, asked McGinnis what he would do to prevent the collapse of the public education system due to debt owed to the state's Public School Employees' Retirement System.
To cover rising costs of pensions, McGinnis proposed cutting other areas of the state operating budget to fund pension payments for state employees including teachers.
Both McGinnis and Flarend say they are pro-life.
The contingent of tea party members at Legion Park appeared to be re-energized by the Supreme Court ruling upholding Obama's health care overhaul.
Smith a self proclaimed "pure citizen-candidate," aims to repeal the health care law if elected over Bob Casey.
Smith said he is a God-fearing father, farmer and businessman who is pro-life and pro-Second Amendment.
Smith's coal company mined tons of coal and employed 130 people before it was sold in 2010.
"I lived the American Dream. This is the land of opportunity, and I see it being deteriorated by the government," Smith said.