NORTHEAST PENNSYLVANIA — Registered Democrats and Republicans of Wayne and Pike counties have the opportunity to cast ballots for the candidates they want to see in the general election later …
NORTHEAST PENNSYLVANIA — Registered Democrats and Republicans of Wayne and Pike counties have the opportunity to cast ballots for the candidates they want to see in the general election later this year. Here’s what you need to know about who you’re voting for.
Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states in which prospective justices run for election on party lines. Once justices get elected, they no longer have to campaign for reelection. After they serve a 10-year term, they face a non-partisan “retention” vote, which justices rarely fail.
On Tuesday, May 16, residents will decide the future justices who will serve on the PA Supreme, Commonwealth and Superior courts.
The Superior Court handles high-profile criminal and non-government-related civil cases. The court is currently evenly split with seven Democrats and seven Republicans, and has two open seats.
The Commonwealth Court handles many high-profile civil cases, usually ones that involve state departments and agencies. It recently ruled in a landmark decision that Pennsylvania’s unequal funding of school districts across the economic spectrum violated the state constitution. With one open seat, there are currently five Republicans and three Democrats on the bench.
The PA Supreme Court is the commonwealth’s highest court and has the power to affirm or reverse decisions made in either the Superior or Commonwealth courts. It hears relatively few cases each year, but its decisions have significant impact.
In 2022, the court upheld the implementation of no-excuse, mail-in voting after the Commonwealth Court ruled it unconstitutional. During the flurry of COVID-19 regulations coming from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, and the many attempts to strike down those regulations by the state legislature, the Supreme Court often acted as mediator between the other branches.
The court has also stepped in to make lasting decisions about the shape and makeup of PA’s legislative and congressional districts. Currently it has four Democrats, two Republicans and one open seat to be filled this year
At the county level, Pike County is also seeing races for magisterial courts in two districts.
District magistrates are known as the “frontline” of the commonwealth’s judicial system, “the gatekeepers of the court system” and the type of judge who residents are most likely to come into contact with over small-claim disputes under $12,000.
Running for District 60-3-02 (Matamoras, Milford, Westfall), Dave Clark is the owner of D&H Taxidermy and Pine Grove Cemetery, and is running against Cristin Cavallaro, a social studies teacher at Delaware Valley and East Penn school districts.
Three candidates are running for District 60-3-03 (Dingman, Lackawaxen, Shohola). Ashley Zimmerman is a public defender in Wayne County. She is running against Michael Mancino, who owns Vanderbeek Farm and Equestrian Center and Theo Balu, who is the owner of Patriot Arms and Munitions.
All three commissioners in both Wayne and Pike counties are running to stay in office this year. Democrats and Republican voters will cast ballots for two candidates of their respective parties. There are two Democrats running in both counties, so all four of them will proceed to November without much need to campaign. Three Republicans, however, are running in Wayne, and four Republicans are running in Pike.
Commissioner Brian Smith, Republican—A longtime commissioner and current chairman of Wayne County, Smith is also a dairy farmer and school bus driver who named reviving the declining local dairy industry as a top priority.
Commissioner Jocelyn Cramer, Democrat—The first female commissioner in the county’s history, Cramer is looking to get reelected after her first four-year term. She said that connecting all Wayne County residents to high-speed internet has been a major goal for years, and that they’re closer than ever before.
Commissioner James Shook, Republican—An owner of several businesses throughout the county, Shook was appointed to the Board of Commissioners after Rep. Joe Adams was elected to the state House. He said that he hopes the current board can remain intact, so that the projects in the works aren’t sidelined.
Jacob Hanna, Republican—A former employee with the Department of Defense, Hanna is running on the promise to cut various departments’ budgets in order to avoid raising property taxes. He also said he wants to make the county government more responsive and transparent.
Michael Dougherty, Democrat—A current member of the Hawley Borough Council, Dougherty said that he wants to get on the Board of Commissioners to eliminate “wasteful spending.”
Commissioner Matthew Osterberg, Republican—Osterberg has spent decades working in municipal government in a variety of positions. He said that this experience in local government is vital, and that local leaders ought to make decisions that will make Pike County a better place to live for future generations, as well as less-fortunate residents.
Commissioner Ronald Schmalzle, Republican—The employer of more than 750 workers throughout the county, Schmalzle said that he brings a brain for business to the commissioners, which balances well with the other two commissioners’ expertise in government and law. He said he wants to continue the commissioners’ work, like addressing a recent EMS crisis and delivering the county its first urgent-care facilities.
Commissioner Anthony Waldron, Democrat—The relative newcomer of the sitting commissioners, Waldron said that his legal knowledge has helped the commissioners transform a former PennDOT building into a transportation hub, recycling and archival center.
Matthew Contreras, Republican—An outspoken advocate for “parental rights” in public education and an opponent of masking requirements in school, Contreras’ website states that he’s running to ensure fiscal responsibility, transparency, medical freedom and election integrity.
Bob Roche, Republican—Co-founder of Pike County Second Amendment Sanctuary, Roche has worked to get municipalities throughout Pike County to declare themselves “sanctuaries” for the Second Amendment (right to bear arms). He’s advocated for a “tax freeze” in the county to “limit government overreach.”
Karen Haycox, Democrat—Haycox is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of NYC and Westchester County, has spent years working in the nonprofit sector, and “is deeply involved in the LGBTQ+ and housing communities.”
The primary election takes place on Tuesday, May 16. Check www.riverreporter.com/news for updates on how these races turned out.
Editor's note: This article was updated on May 12, to include Theo Balu as a candidate for District Magistrate Judge in District 60-3-03.
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