Rep. Matt Cartwright versus Jim Bognet
By OWEN WALSH
EIGHTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT, PA — In the home stretch to the General Election on November 3, both of the candidates …
EIGHTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT, PA — In the home stretch to the General Election on November 3, both of the candidates vying for Pennsylvania’s Eighth Congressional District are playing offense.
Democratic incumbent Matt Cartwright, who represents Wayne, Pike and Lackawanna counties and most of Monroe and Luzerne, is seeking his fifth term in the House of Representatives. Republican Jim Bognet, formerly the Trump administration-appointed vice president of the U.S. Export Import Bank, is looking to “turn NEPA red again.”
Bognet hasn’t minded getting personal. He’s been referring to Cartwright as “Nancy Pelosi’s lapdog” since the primary election last spring. At a recent re-election rally for President Donald Trump in Pike County, Bognet mocked the congressman for “marrying into money” and attending school in Canada. But perhaps more than any ad hominem slight, Cartwright has taken strong exception to Bognet’s assertion that he supports defunding the police.
In the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests that spanned the country last summer, Bognet’s campaign issued a press release alleging that Cartwright had “proposed to defund the Wilkes Barre police.” Bognet’s campaign alleged that Cartwright affirmed this during a virtual listening session through the Black Scranton Project and local chapters of the NAACP. Bognet is advertising himself as the law enforcement candidate, securing endorsements from the PA State Troopers Association and a number of local Fraternal Orders of Police (FOPs).
The nonpartisan fact-checking site Politifact, partnering with the Philadelphia Inquirer, investigated the press release and rated it false, after finding that Cartwright explicitly said that he opposed defunding the police during the same listening session referenced by the Bognet campaign.
“There have been voices calling for defunding and disbanding police forces; I personally do not agree with that,” Cartwright said during the session. “I think we can make a lot of valuable and effective changes short of doing something like that.”
Bognet’s press release focused on a different point in the meeting when a participant asked whether it would be possible to reallocate the money Wilkes-Barre spends on its police force.
“Absolutely yes. How you spend tax money is one of the biggest issues in representative democracy,” Cartwright answered.
Politifact ruled that Cartwright was merely explaining “that public officials in places like Wilkes-Barre, and in Congress, have the power to decide how public funds are spent on the police, as for any other public agency.”
Bognet maintains that Cartwright “doesn’t stand” with law enforcement.
“This issue proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can’t trust Jim Bognet to tell the truth,” Cartwright said. “What’s really astonishing is that he would have the nerve to say that when, this year, I got the Hazleton Police Department $1.34 million in federal funds to hire more police officers... Bognet is from Hazleton.”
Making China pay
One of Bognet’s top campaign promises has been to “make China pay,” while arguing that Cartwright has failed to confront China during his nearly eight years in office.
“I think we have to make China pay for what they’ve done to us: the manufacturing jobs they’ve stolen, the intellectual property they’ve stolen, the unfair trade practices and the cover-up of the coronavirus cost us hundreds of thousands of lives,” said Bognet. During his primary, Bognet expressed his support for the Forging Operational Resistance to Chinese Expansion (FORCE) Act, introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. The legislation includes a $43 million investment “for military infrastructure, weapons and other assets in the Indo-Pacific region to further compete effectively with China.”
But Cartwright has questioned the authenticity behind Bognet’s strong promises on China. Last week, his campaign sent out a press release publicizing the fact that one of Bognet’s top campaign supporters has ties to a Chinese pharmaceutical company. According to CBS News, Michael Goller, “the largest donor for a single-candidate PAC supporting [Bognet] has made more than $1 million in cash fees and stock options from being on the board of a Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company. The donor contributed [more than $100,000 to the ‘Keep PA Great’ PAC], as well as $5,600 to Bognet’s campaign.”
“We have money funnelled from a Chinese drug manufacturer directly to Jim Bognet’s campaign,” Cartwright said. “It is utterly astonishing that he has the nerve to say that he would be the one to crack down on China.”
As for his stance on the issue, Cartwright supports a handful of bills that he said would address U.S. “overreliance on China and global supply chains,” specifically the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.
Wayne and Pike counties are some of the more rural, more conservative counties in the Eight Congressional District, something that Bognet is hoping to capitalize on as a Republican and strong Trump supporter.
“One of the things I really hear [in Wayne and Pike counties] is that they don’t want the values of Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco being represented by their congressman,” he said. “[Residents are] conservative, they believe in hard work, they believe in free enterprise, they believe in God, they believe in their Second Amendment rights and they see Matt Cartwright voting party line with Nancy Pelosi—that really makes them angry.”
Bognet also named more funding for infrastructure, protections for local farmers, support for natural gas and recovering economically from COVID-19 as top priorities for Wayne and Pike counties. During his campaign, Bognet would support extensions to the Paycheck Protection Program and federal unemployment benefits.
Cartwright has also named COVID-19 relief and infrastructure as top priorities. For Wayne County especially, he said that rural broadband—access to high-speed internet—is an important issue. Just last week, the Wayne County Commissioners put $1.2 million in federal CARE Act funding toward broadband expansion projects. Cartwright said that his position on the House Appropriations Committee will help direct taxpayer dollars to address infrastructure issues in the district.
“I’m becoming a subcommittee chair on Appropriations in January if I’m reelected. That puts me in charge of $72 billion a year... it gives you a lot of chips to play with in NEPA, it gives us clout that we haven’t had in a generation or more,” Cartwright said. “That’s what the big deal is: making sure your area gets its fair share of federal tax dollars. If you don’t, it means you’re paying taxes and they’re going to different places in the country and not here.”
With a week and change before Election Day, neither candidate is a clear frontrunner. The district has strong pockets of conservatives, giving Donald Trump a strong advantage in 2016, but has been rated “likely Democratic” for the House race by The Cook Political Reporter, University of Virginia Center for Politics and Inside Elections.