Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Gazette sat down last week with Bryan Lentz, a Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District. They discussed his electoral strategy, background, and policy plans for his prospective tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He will likely be running against Patrick Meehan, a local prosecutor who is the front-runner candidate among Republicans.
Lentz currently serves as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for its 161st legislative district, which includes Swarthmore. Lentz first won office in 2006, winning against incumbent Tom Gannon; in 2008, he retained his office against Republican challenger Joseph Hackett. The 7th Congressional District will be open this year, as current holder Representative Joe Sestak plans to run against incumbent Senator Arlen Specter in the Democratic senatorial primary.
Daily Gazette: Right now you’re running for congress in a district that went for [Democrat] Joe Sestak, and has only gone for one other Democratic candidate since the Civil War. You’re a pretty progressive fellow, at least when you’re talking to Swarthmore students, so how do you think you’re going to win?
Bryan Lentz: Well, a lot of hard work, and talking about my ability to bring people together and get things done. You know, I have a varied background. I was an officer in the army, I was in the paratroopers… I served in Bosnia, I got Bosnians and Muslims to work together for reconstruction. I’ve been a legislator, and I’ve gotten bills passed as a junior legislator… and I’ve worked with Republicans on them. So, I can say to people, “Look at my background.” I know about foreign policy, I’ve been in the military, I know about law as a prosecutor, I know about legislating. So, I’ve been all those things. I can hit the ground running in Washington. And the fact that I’m a veteran, and that there are a lot of … very proud veterans in this district [will be beneficial]. I’m going to work hard, and I’m going to reach out to as many people as possible, and I’m going to run a good ground game.
DG: Sure, but it seems, recently, we’ve had a lot of progressives who have been running on the theme of unity, like Obama. Now, they’ve been finding out that they really can’t unify people with the progressive agenda as well as they thought. How are going to convince some of the very conservative voters in your district of the need for a strong cap and trade policy and for a strong public option in health insurance reform?
BL: Well, I think it’s how you ask the question. The question is, what kind of country do we want to be? And, in the area of insurance, the question is … [whether] we want our fellow citizens to have access to quality, affordable health insurance. You can not answer that question “yes” without some government involvement. The market is not going to take care of that, and we should not be willing to leave our fellow citizens behind on that question. Now, how you get there is obviously an intense debate, but the answer should be “yes.”
I thought the President put it very well in the State of the Union on energy—even if you don’t believe in global warming, you can’t think that the burning of fossil fuels is good for the environment, and you can’t think it’s a good thing that we’re getting left behind by countries like China and Germany in clean energy. Just on an economic basis. You know, this is the greatest country in the world. We’ve always been the greatest country in the world because we’ve led on things. So, conservatives, they have a pride in their country, they have a pride in being number one, and cap and trade, or some version of it, is a free market solution. So, that should appeal to free market folks. The same thing [goes] for jobs. The government has a role for improving our infrastructure. You can’t have a first rate economy without a first rate infrastructure.
DG: Now, if you win, you will probably be in a House of Representative with far fewer Democrats than it has now. Let’s take an issue like healthcare reform, where you said you wouldn’t even support the Senate’s current version. Any version of healthcare reform will probably be further watered down than what I’m sure you’d like to see. Would you vote for this?
BL: Well, what I said was that my preference would be for a bill that has a public option. But when push comes to shove, if I can vote for a bill that gets rid of discrimination on pre-existing conditions, that caps expenses so [people] don’t go bankrupt when they get sick, that removes some of the other problems with health insurance, I’m gonna vote for it, rather than saying start over. But I would certainly be an advocate for an improved bill.
DG: You’ve spoken about how, as a former military man yourself, you thought we still really need to cut the military budget in certain ways. It’s time for Obama to figure out what some of these cuts will be. What do you think are the main parts of the military budget that we’ve been spending too much on?
BL: Well, I don’t know that we need to cut it… you know we can’t spend at the rate we are. For instance, in Afghanistan, we have to finish that job over there and stop spending trillions of dollars on that. But, we have to be smart about what we do spend on the military. I thought it was a good decision to cancel the building of airplanes that were designed to fight the Soviet Union, when there is no more Soviet Union. We can’t let investment in the military be driven by anything other than what’s best for the country’s security.
DG: Well, it looks like you have to go, so one final question for all the philosophy majors out there. I read that you were a philosophy major yourself at Georgetown. How’d that work out for you?
BL: It was great. It teaches you critical thinking, it helped me in law school, it helped me on the LSATs and I recommend it to anyone. I majored in how to think and I minored in how to kill.
[Note: Mr. Lentz was referring to military preparations that he had begun in college.]
DG: Thanks so much for your time.
BL: Have a nice night.