CLEARFIELD COUNTY, Pa (WTAJ) — With no Democrat on the Primary ballot, Republican voters in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives 73rd District will pick the presumptive replacement to retiring Rep. Tommy Sankey on Tuesday.
Derek Walker, John Sobel and Dallas Kephart are vying to succeed Sankey in representing the 73rd District, one that encompasses parts of Clearfield and Cambria counties.
All three pointed to jobs and attracting business as well as expanding the area’s broadband infrastructure as top priorities for the district.
Walker said promoting the state’s energy economy is imperative for the region.
“We have the answer to our energy independence right underneath our feet here in Pennsylvania with our vast energy supply of natural gas,” Walker said. “I feel we could put people back to work here and create energy independence once again for the United States.”
Walker is president of Walker Financial Services and co-founder and president of Penn Crossing Midstream LLC. Previously, he owned and operated fracking liquids hauler Shortfuse Gasfield Trucking and Fork Ridge Ranch, a hunting preserve in northern Clearfield County.
“I’m the only candidate in the race who has signed the front of a paycheck,” he said, noting he is the fourth generation to be part of a family business. Walker’s grandfather founded the Bradford Coal Company in 1935 and his father, C. Alan Walker, served in Governor Tom Corbett’s administration as Secretary of Community and Economic Development after a 38-year tenure at the company.
He wants to find ways to stop the “brain drain” that drives young people from the area after they graduate school, and that requires economic development. If elected, he said he will serve only 6 to 8 years.
Walker, his wife Stephanie and two sons, ages 7 and 9, live in Bigler. He’s active in the Boy Scouts, both as scoutmaster and board member of the Bucktail Council, and he’s previously served as a trustee at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson and as a board member of Penn Highlands Clearfield. Walker is also involved with local theatre and teaches statistics, ethics and finance as an adjunct professor of business at Penn State Dubois. He holds degrees from Bucknell and an MBA from Penn State.
He said along with fighting for the energy economy, getting high-speed Internet access to everywhere in the district is a priority along with seeing an ATV trail system and park come to fruition.
After 15 years as a Clearfield County Commissioner, Sobel said he wants to continue working issues such as broadband infrastructure and developing economic opportunities, particularly in the area of rare earth minerals that are used in electronics manufacturing and are often found in coal regions.
He stressed that in talking with voters, it’s apparent that the number one concern is the economy. Businesses in Pennsylvania are overtaxed and over-regulated, the Lawrence Township resident added.
“If you can make for a better business climate in Pennsylvania, you can make the economy more viable,” he said.
The 68-year-old Clearfield native has practiced law since 1980 and worked for many small municipalities in the area before being elected commissioner in 2007. That experience provides him with a perspective other candidates do not have – the consequences and burdens of unfunded mandates and regulations on small communities, Sobel said.
“I think I would bring a pretty good sense of what’s going to work and what isn’t going to work and hopefully bring that perspective to the legislature for such that I could help my fellow legislators prevent something from being developed that isn’t going to work anyway,” Sobel said.
Sobel previously served on the Clearfield Area School District Board of Directors and currently is on the board of the Clearfield YMCA, Shaw Library, Clearfield Chamber of Commerce and Bigler’s Rocks Association. He is an elder at the Clearfield Presbyterian Church and is a member of the NRA.
Sobel graduated from Vanderbilt University and earned a law degree from Dickinson School of Law.
If elected, Sobel said his first actions will be to see what he can do to jumpstart the economy and continue to work to bring high-speed Internet to the region, something he said will attract people to rural areas to work and live.
Kephart, 26, an Osceola Mills native who now lives in Decatur Township, said of all the candidates, he is the one with whom voters can relate. Having worked as a coal minder and while in law school interned on Capitol Hill with U.S. Representative Glenn Thompson, Kephart has most recently worked for Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough.
“I’m assuming I’m the only one who’s actually handled a shovel and been a blue-collar worker in this race and I’m most like the people in this district,” Kephart said. “But, I’m also the only one with legislative and state government experience which is critical of this position given it is a state legislature job.”
He said being accessible to all constituents will be a top priority and he will fight to create an environment where people will want to invest in job-recreating businesses. Like his opponents, Kephart said he will work to lower taxes and reduce regulations.
“We don’t have enough jobs — we don’t have enough good — people are unemployed – hurting,” Kephart said. “Especially from the pandemic, I’d say lack of economic opportunity is the number one issue in this district.”
Kephart noted his family has lived in Clearfield County for more than 200 years and he said he will “stay grounded by listening to the people I serve.”
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Kephart said he has garnered recommendations from several groups for his pro-life and pro-Second Amendment stances. He said he will fight for American Energy and natural resources and the coal, oil, gas and timber industries and he supports election reform and a voter ID law.