LEWISBURG — Democrats seeking a nominee for the 85th State House District special election recommended Dr. Jennifer Rager-Kay Thursday night.
Rager-Kay, 39, of the Selinsgrove area, had previously served as Democratic nominee in 2018, losing to incumbent Republican Fred Keller. The special election was called for Tuesday, Aug. 20 after Keller was elected in May to represent the 12th District in Congress.
Rager-Kay said the special election represented an opportunity for a Democrat to win in a heavily- Republican district. She noted the election date was unusual and there was no incumbent.
“We don’t have to worry about the fact that there is this good-old boys club (where) we have a home-grown candidate who has been there forever, nobody votes against him. He’s good at shaking hands and kissing babies and going to every parade,” said Rager-Kay. “This is the opportunity for us to step forward as a party to show them as a district who we are as Democrats. We really are the people’s party.”
Rager-Kay said time to campaign was limited, but she had already set the groundwork in her previous campaign which netted more than 7,000 votes. Rager-Kay said the 2018 campaign attracted an encouraging amount of Republican support.
“We made an estimate that out of that 7,000, around 4,000 had to have been non-Democrats,” Rager-Kay said afterward. “Not enough Democrats came out to be all 7,000. If every Democrat that came out voted for me, unfortunately it still would have been only about 4,000. A rough estimate was around 3,000 to 4,000 must have been non-Democrat votes.”
Each candidate had five minutes to speak, followed by random questions from the audience, which filled an upstairs room at BJ’s Steak and Rib House.
Rager-Kay conceded there were opportunities which were passed up in her last campaign, including chances to “beat up” on the incumbent.
“I didn’t want the Republicans a reason to come out and vote against me,” Rager-Kay said. “We had a lot of opportunities that we could have used more of the opposition research than we did.”
Rager-Kay predicted the two-month campaign would illustrate to Republicans where their party has failed its members. The closure of Wood-Mode was one instance, she said, where more could have been done.
Rager-Kay, a proponent of a higher minimum wage, said people would spend more money if they made more money. A physician, she added that looking for alternative treatments for persons addicted to opioids would also be a priority.
Three other candidates were considered, including Bonnie Hamilton, Adam Rosinski and David Heayn.
Hamilton, mayor of New Berlin, said the state funding formula for education was in need of repair. She compared Mifflinburg, where about $14,000 was available per pupil, to Lewisburg, which is able to supplement what they get so that about $17,000 per pupil is available.
Rosinski, the founder of Custom Care Pharmacy, vowed to advocate for improved access to prescriptions through a higher limit for public prescription support. Rosinski, of Milton, also called for ways to provide affordable housing other than simply building housing complexes.
Heayn, Lewisburg Borough Council member, spoke to the gathering via conference phone. He noted how cyber and charter schools were taking money from traditional public school systems. Heayn is also public education director for a Philadelphia-based nonprofit.
The actual vote for the night was not revealed as a gesture of unity. Fifty percent of the 27 convention voters were all that were needed, according to Alex Reber, state party treasurer. The recommendation will now go to the state executive committee for approval.
Reber noted that the state committee had never to his knowledge overruled a local caucus.
Staff Writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at email@example.com.