Preston: Experience makes a difference

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In the two most recent elections where state Rep. Joseph Preston Jr., D-East Liberty, has defended his 24th legislative district seat, he has had the luxury of running against multiple opponents.

This year, however, there will be no split of the anti-incumbent votes as his Democratic Party-endorsed opponent, Ed Gainey has managed to get challengers William Anderson and Todd Elliot Koger removed from the ballot.

JoePreston
JOSEPH PRESTON JR.

Had Gainey received Anderson’s votes in 2006, he would have already unseated his former boss. Gainey did not run in 2008 or 2010 and Preston defeated both Anderson and Koger handily. But Preston, who has held the District 24 seat since 1983, said he isn’t taking his former legislative aide lightly.

“I was campaigning door to door this last weekend,” said Preston. “And I will spend as much time here as I can away from my legislative duties in Harrisburg. But unlike my opponent, the people elected me to come here and do what legislators are supposed to do. I’m fighting for my constituents.”

Prior to huge Republican wins in the 2010 election giving them control of the state house, Preston served on three committees and was majority chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee. He still serves as the Consumer Affairs minority chair, and retains his seat on the Rule Committee.

But with his party no longer setting the agenda, getting legislation out of committees and to the floor for votes is harder. Preston says his experience can make the difference.

“The biggest concern I’m hearing is about transportation cuts. I have a lot of seniors and employers in my district who rely on public transportation,” he said. “I’m also working with my colleagues to fight for more higher education and special education funds.”

Preston points to the development in East Liberty, noting it took years of work to get those investments.

“We’ve got Home Depot, Target, the YMCA and YWCA. I’m working with state Sen. Jim Ferlo on the Larimer Consensus group and I’m very pleased that the (Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency) is investing in the district,” he said. “I’d rather be campaigning in the district, but I have to be here to do the job.”

Preston, who turns 65 on Memorial Day, said he can put resources to use for constituents he has earned through seniority, and that Gainey would not have.

“I have three staffers in my local office and another five in Harrisburg. When someone at St. James Church asked me a question about the Voter ID fight, I had an answer for them in 10 minutes,” he said. “And as a committee chair I have an attorney at my disposal. A new guy might have one staffer in each office, without benefits.”

Preston said one thing he is working on that he believes has some Republican support, and thus is doable, is addressing recidivism and unemployment for ex-offenders via a fairly simple remedy.

“I’ve talked with the governor about this. If someone is busted with drugs in their car, their license is suspended for a year or more, depending. But if they go to prison for, say, four years, that suspension doesn’t start until they are released. That needs to be changed,” said Preston. “If they can’t drive, they can’t work in construction or try to get Marcellus labor work because you have to have a valid license for those jobs.”

As for the campaign in general, Preston said, he expects people to “point fingers at who’s carrying the ball.”

“I have to take myself to the voters and be honest about what I can do, not make a bunch of unrealistic promises. Even if I disagree with someone, I’ll make sure their voice is heard,” he said. “I am not going to let outsiders control what’s going on in the district.”

This year’s primary election is scheduled for April 24.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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