Andy Dinniman: A senator battles for November
10/12/2016 09:49AM ● Published by Richard Gaw
Follow the political career of State Sen. Andy Dinniman, and you will find a man of gentle contradictions.
He is the living embodiment of the quote made famous by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who said that while politicians may campaign in poetry, they govern in prose. Watch him speak; often, he will close his eyes and smile, as if searching through his mind's dog-eared thesaurus for the perfect words. Watch him at a public event, and he morphs into everyone's favorite uncle. He reads stories to schoolchildren. He milks cows at the Unionville Fair.
And yet, he also carries the ferocity of a pugilist, both in Chester County and in Harrisburg. He is unafraid to roll up his sleeves in a fight to hold back the Artesian Water Company from activating a Landenberg well. He enacted tough legislation to fight human trafficking and Lyme disease in Pennsylvania, and authored Pet Protection from Domestic Abuse, which calls for strengthening the state's animal cruelty law to increase the penalty when animal abuse is committed in a domestic-violence situation.
For the more than 30 years he has served as a public servant in Chester County – first as a County Commissioner and then as a Senator for the 19th District since 2006 – Dinniman has flipped from starry visionary to brazen bullwhip, all in an effort to do the business of the people he represents.
There is, arguably, no politician more well-liked in Chester County than Dinniman, but he has enemies. He knows that the wolves are always at the door and ready to pounce, as they are now during his campaign for re-election to remain the state Senator for the 19th District. His critics call him a career politician, a champion for the the low-lying fruit of the state's most pressing needs, and yet another accomplice in a state legislature that has sunken into an unworkable abyss of deadlock.
Over the course of a three-hour discussion at the historic Lincoln Building in West Chester, across Market Street from his office, Dinniman again proved that he is a study in contrasts, as he addressed the contested race he is running against newcomer Jack London, whose efforts to defeat Dinniman have earned him good marks among fellow Republicans.
However, Dinniman will be the first to say that London is not the only Republican opponent he has to defeat on Nov. 8.
He's also running against Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the Republican Committee of Chester County. This year, DiGiorgio has emerged as a strong contender to replace longtime state Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason. Along the way, DiGiorgio has helped champion London's campaign to defeat Dinniman.
Over the summer, Dinniman noticed something peculiar at Republican Party headquarters in West Chester, which is just down the street from his office. All of the signs in the windows, he noticed, promoted London, and no other Republican candidate.
“I called some of my Republican friends and asked, 'What's going on here?'” Dinniman said. “They all told me, 'Andy. You have to understand. Val is running for the chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.' As I had these discussions, I realized that I am facing two elections at the same time, one of which I am a party in, and the other in which I find myself an unwilling party to.
“The intensity is not just focused on getting me out of there, it's also that Val can claim that he did me in and thus helped his own election.”
If London's self-described selling point is that of the political truth teller, then Dinniman's has been his recognizability. A September polling of 400 people – 46 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat, and 14 percent Independent, who live in all parts of the 19th District – revealed that Dinniman is running 22 points ahead of London. In the 'favorable' or 'unfavorable' categories, Dinniman came out with a 56 percent favorable rating, ahead of Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Gov. Tom Wolf, as well as London and DiGiorgio. In contrast, he had a 13 percent unfavorable rating. In addition, the poll also revealed that 77 percent of those polled were not aware of London and his campaign.
“So in order to market London, you have to create the impression of a train moving forward,” Dinniman said. “Val knows that he has two problems: He wants to win the state committee chairmanship, and that he knows that I have a very high favorable rating, and the only way he can take me down is to throw the dirt at me. But I've been around a long time, and I've helped a lot of people, and been involved in a lot of activities, so the only way they can try to destroy a 22 point lead and a 77 percent favorable rating is to do a massive negative campaign.”
In a climate of open hostility toward longtime politicians, London has been advertising himself as the political outsider who will go to Harrisburg to build coalitions across the aisle to tackle the biggest issues facing the state: Liquor privatization, the public pension system, and the reform of outdated programs that chew up the state's budget. On his website, London has challenged Dinniman to a public debate, giving him 25 potential dates that coincide with the Senator's calendar.
London recently told the Chester County Press the reason for wanting to debate was to challenge Dinniman on several issues -- in particular, the fact that Dinniman is carrying three separate pensions.
Dinniman currently collects $20,000 a year on a Chester County pension, based on his 14 years as County Commissioner; a pension from West Chester University, from having taught there as a professor since 1972; and a pension from the state, from his position as a Senator.
Dinniman defended his right to his pensions.
“I've given 46 years of service to the state, of which 37 of those years were also spent at West Chester University,” Dinniman said. “My pension with the state is no different than anyone else does with their pension from the state. It's a fixed annuity on a fixed rate, based on the number of years of service.
“I have done nothing that's different than any of the judges on the Court of Common Pleas who have a county pension because they worked in the District Attorney's office, and now have the state pension."
While Dinniman has turned down London's offer for a debate, he will meet his opponent in an Oct. 23 debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters at Borough Hall in West Chester.
“We have a system to do this in Chester County, and it's worked well, in my judgment,” he said. “Chester County has a strong Quaker heritage, and we don't yell and scream at each other. In my view, the voters of Chester County are thoughtful people who want a substantive discussion of issues, not just yelling and screaming the negatives at each other.”
While London continues to direct a portion of his campaign to pigeon-holing his opponent as a career politician, Dinniman considers his opponent to be a newcomer with little knowledge of -- or prior interest in -- politics. He pointed to the results of a 23-page research summary of London, conducted by a Washington research firm, which showed that London has lived in Chester County for the past four years. He registered to vote in the county in August 2012 – as a Democrat – but changed his political affiliation to Republican in early 2015. The report also stated that since he first registered back in 2000, London has voted a total of six times. Dinniman said that London's voting record will be introduced in Dinniman's campaign literature.
“Who is Jack London?” Dinniman asked. “He arrives in Chester County four years ago as a Democrat. Changes last year to a Republican, and now he's the rock star of the Republican party? You can make the speculation that his change was out of philosophy, but there's also some simple pragmatism here. Val couldn't get any of the prominent Republicans to run against me, so he created the illusion of a rock star, and no one realizes, and Val doesn't talk about it, that this rock star has only been here for four years and voted six times.”
Dinniman defended his role as a longtime politician.
“I've never heard Jack or Val call [Republicans] Joe Pitts or Art Hershey career politicians -- all of whom I deeply respect,” he said. “They only call the Democrat a career politician. People aren't stupid. The citizens of Chester County are far too smart to fall into that type of biased message.”
If he is re-elected to head back to Harrisburg for another term, Dinniman faces an avalanche of issues that dot his to-do list: Maintaining affordable health care; identifying crucial areas of infrastructure improvements; lowering the state's corporate net income tax rate; reducing state spending by cutting the size of government and ending per diems for Harrisburg lawmakers; applying impact fees to gas companies along the Marcellus Shale; and, in his capacity as minority chair of the Education Committee, to continue his opposition of the Keystone Exam.
Each evening when the state Senate is in session in Harrisburg, Dinniman drives the hour and a half back home to West Chester, in order to see his wife and walk his dog. It's where he said his heart truly exists, where he can get the most work done, unimpeded by partisan politics. It's the side of him that shows both the poetry and the prose of what has marked his political career.
Yet, as he readies for what will be the last leg of a campaign that has been filled with efforts to discredit him, Dinniman said he is ready to do battle with his opponent, and the Republican Committee of Chester County which is supporting him.
“They are trying to do a surrealistic theater presentation in this election, in order to create a new independent voice of the people,” he said. “They're creating a story, a myth, about Jack London being an independent, and why? It's because they know that people vote for me because I'm the real independent. The Republicans have tried to create a new Andy Dinniman, when the citizens of Chester County have said that the real Andy Dinniman is just fine.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .