In 5th Senatorial District, battle of the Mikes
— Three-term Democrat Stack touts his independence. Republican Tomlinson says it's time for a change.
State Sen. Mike Stack said he is seeking a fourth term in next month’s election because the job enables him to have an impact on people’s lives.
“I enjoy doing it. I’m honored to be the senator for the 5th Senatorial District,” the Democrat said.
Mike Tomlinson, who describes himself as a “pro-union Republican,” is making his first bid for office and has enjoyed the experience.
“Meeting with people, I wouldn’t give that up for the world, win or lose,” he said.
Stack, 49, a lawyer from Somerton, defeated Republican Sen. Hank Salvatore in 2000. He had lost twice previously to Salvatore and also lost a bid for an at-large City Council seat.
In re-election contests in 2004 and ’08, he won handily. He is favored over Tomlinson based on name recognition, campaign funds and a Democratic voter registration advantage.
Stack has lost efforts to become the Democratic Senate leader and chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He believes Democrats can pick up a couple of seats to cut the GOP’s current 10-seat advantage in the 50-seat state Senate, but he did not express a desire to run for leadership this year.
“One of my greatest strengths is my independence,” he said.
Tomlinson, 55, of Mayfair, is hoping people in the district split their ticket on Nov. 6. He vows to be a “lobbyist” for the people. He’s a former math teacher at Overbrook High School and had a long career as a CPA. He’s long been active with Holmesburg Boys Club. He also is legally blind.
During the campaign, Tomlinson has unsuccessfully tried to schedule a debate with Stack. The challenger understands that a well-funded incumbent will almost never give a platform to a poorly funded challenger.
“I’m not good at asking for money,” he said. “It’s grassroots against money, and we’re going to see who wins.”
Statewide, one of Stack’s top goals is to use budget surpluses to adequately fund adultBasic, a state-subsidized health insurance plan for low-income adults.
On the local level, Stack has been among the elected officials working to keep a proposed methadone clinic out of a building at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street.
The lawmaker is also looking forward to when a developer working with Holy Family University starts building on the former site of the Liddonfield Homes housing project in Holmesburg. The mix of senior housing, retail and athletic fields could create as many as 500 jobs and should help nearby businesses, he believes.
“I think it’s going to be great,” he said.
On health care, he has brought state dollars to Nazareth Hospital and Aria Health-Torresdale Campus.
Stack describes Nazareth as a great neighborhood institution with an active board of directors that designs programs tailored for the community. Aria-Torresdale, he said, relies heavily on its emergency room and is using state money to expand the department, creating as many as 200 jobs.
“We have dedicated health-care professionals in our midst,” he said.
Stack is glad to be able to fund the hospitals at a time when money is scarce.
“It’s hard to get a single nickel out of Harrisburg,” he said.
As for education, he wants an elected school board to replace the School Reform Commission and insists that any money directed to public education be invested wisely.
“I want the funding to go into the classrooms. I don’t want it to go to district executives,” he said.
Stack wants the city to go after people who are delinquent on their property taxes. He worries that the Actual Value Initiative, which will be adopted next year, will lead to increased property taxes among his constituents.
“I believe this is a back-door tax increase,” he said.
Tomlinson, who has four daughters and three grandchildren, doesn’t favor the methadone clinic in the community either, but he does want heroin addicts to receive treatment. He suggests someplace “out in the middle of nowhere.”
The challenger, who’s met addicts along the campaign trail, wants longer prison sentences for people dealing drugs. He thinks drug abusers often turn to crime to support their habits.
“They’re going to put a gun to your head for three bucks,” he said.
As for a long-term solution, Tomlinson wants schools to increase the amount of time they spend on anti-drug messages.
“We need to target these kids at the youngest level,” he said.
Tomlinson wants to reform government, offering general criticism of the amount of money donated by lobbyists to the campaigns of elected officials.
The Republican, who says that the School Reform Commission “has got to go,” wants to replace it with a panel that includes teachers, parents, administrators, community advocates and a charter school representative.
The candidate has listened to the Philadelphia Association of Retail Druggists and wants to find a way for the group to continue to prosper at a time when many consumers are required to purchase their prescription drugs by mail from out-of-state firms.
Tomlinson has met with 56 businesses during the campaign. He favors tort reform so businesses are not hit with frivolous lawsuits that they often have to settle.
In general, Tomlinson wants Pennsylvania to become a business-friendly state. He’s spoken with owners of hair salons, flower shops, delis, bars and auto body shops who complain about taxes, fees and regulations.
“We need to make it easier for small business to operate and make a reasonable profit,” he said.
If he loses, Tomlinson plans to run again in four years. ••