Earlier today I had the chance to interview Lou Barletta, the Republican Congressional candidate challenging Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania’s 11th district. He is currently the Mayor of small town Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
In 2000, Barletta ran for Mayor of Hazleton because at the time, “Hazleton was basically a joke,” he remembers. “There were daily headlines about the Mayor fighting with the City Council. It was ‘bad for business.’”
Of course, he was told he couldn't win because the city is overwhelmingly Democratic. Well, “Sweet Lou” -- as he was known in his baseball days -- won by a two-to-one margin, and has been increasing that margin ever since.
THE STORY OF HOW HE TRANSFORMED THE TOWN is quite remarkable. When Barletta took over, the city was bankrupt with a $1.2 million deficit stemming from illegal contracts, union corruption, and lack of accountability. He wanted to send the message that he means business. Literally. [# More #]
Within the first few months, Hazleton was in the middle of a complete turnaround. Barletta put a freeze on all wages the day he was sworn in. He fired all management positions and hired based on interviews. Naturally, this came as a shock as this was not what folks were used to.
TODAY, HIS HOT-BUTTON ISSUE IS ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. Through his efforts, the city turned the deficit to a surplus, earning Hazleton the Governor’s Fiscal Responsibility and Best Management Practices award.
Interestingly, during the PA Presidential Primary campaigns, Barletta asked all three presidential candidates to come speak about immigration -- and not a single one of them did.
“I don’t believe they wanted to stand with me here and talk about this issue," Barletta says. His reaction poses some serious questions: If they’re afraid to meet with Lou Barletta, how are they going to deal with countries like Iran and Venezuela?
... With a bad Republican year, and 435 seats House up every two years, it's Lou's ability to win in tough situations that makes this race worth watching.
Lou beat the incumbent Mayor in a write-in campaign. Now, he faces an entrenched opponent, incumbent Paul Kanjorski, who has been in office for 24 years. Barletta tells me Kanjorski is known for earmarking over $9 million to his family owned business that went bankrupt. “This is an example of why there is an 18% approval rating for Congress.”
Now that Barletta is a nationally recognized opponent of illegal immigration, he has the name recognition and a potential fundraising base needed to run a real campaign.
His website, LouBarletta.com, is only in its 7th week and has received donations from 41 states; 1000 donors to contribute to his campaign. He wants his audience to know that “I have the courage to stand up and provide the leadership that America needs.”
Barletta and his wife Mary Grace have four daughters all in their 20’s. When asked ‘has living with five women affected you as a politician?’ he responded “Very much so, because I don’t get to say much at home, so I certainly use government as a way to have my voice heard.”
Let’s hope that that is the case. I will keep an eye on this race, as it will undoubtedly be in the national spotlight.
Megan Henry contributed to this report.