Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D)
Pennsylvania 11th District
“Coal is the theme song of this city in the hills,” the WPA Guide said of Scranton in 1940, but even as those words were written, the anthracite kingdom around Scranton and Wilkes-Barre was crumbling. In the 19th century, anthracite had become America’s main home heating fuel and the valley along the East Branch of the Susquehanna River was the No. 1 source of anthracite. Thousands of immigrants flocked to the valley, settling in a chain of little cities north and south of Wilkes-Barre, which is named for two backers of the American Revolution, and Scranton, which is named for its founding family. They took jobs with long hours, modest pay, poor working conditions and high death rates—facts of life that made the violently pro-union Molly Maguires popular here and that spawned periodic clashes between workers and the Pinkerton security forces hired by the industrial moguls. While the supply of coal was endless—the area produced 40% of the world’s hard coal—demand proved fleeting. Anthracite production peaked in 1917, with long strikes in 1922 and 1925 quickening the conversion to oil and gas. Demand for anthracite began to fall in the 1920s and plummeted in the 1940s. The counties containing Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Luzerne and Lackawanna, had 755,000 people in 1930 and 521,000 in 2008. As the area’s 50 collieries shut down, the once-ubiquitous coal dust vanished. The local ethnic mix—Irish, Polish, Ukrainian and Welsh—grew less distinctive. Former boomtowns full of young families became time-worn communities of senior citizens with modest household incomes.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 11th Congressional District of Pennsylvania is the anthracite district. It includes almost all of Luzerne County, plus Scranton and surrounding towns in Lackawanna County. It also includes Columbia County west of Luzerne, Carbon County to the south, and Monroe County to the east. Monroe is a different sort of place. It contains most of the Pocono Mountain resorts and the often-congested Interstate 80 bridge to New Jersey; New Yorkers and New Jerseyites looking for lower taxes and pleasant scenery have moved here in large numbers and the county’s population rose 72% from 1990 to 2008. More typical of the district are small towns like Centralia, site of a massive underground fire that has burned unchecked since 1962 and might burn for another 100 years, inspiring a 2007 book, The Day the Earth Caved In. The town of Jim Thorpe was created in 1953 from the unification of neighboring Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk. The cities changed their name after offering to provide a gravesite for the great football, baseball and Olympic track star when Thorpe’s widow was shopping his remains to whichever town agreed to build him a suitable memorial. Downtown is lively today, with tourists and thousands of cyclists who flock to the town’s numerous downtown trails. Hazleton gained national notoriety in 2006 after passing a tough ordinance aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants, including fines on landlords and employers. In 2007, a federal judge ruled that law unconstitutional.
Since the 1930s, miners have been a large Democratic voting bloc, and this is a solidly Democratic district. But the district’s Democrats tend to be cultural conservatives who are pro-gun and anti-abortion rights. In 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama had trouble connecting to this district after his off-the-cuff comment at a San Francisco fundraiser that working-class people there were “bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” When Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden made his first post-convention visit here in 2008, it had special significance: Scranton was his birthplace and first hometown. Obama won the district, 57%-42%.
Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D)
Elected: 1984, 13th term.
Born: April 2, 1937, Nanticoke .
Education: Temple U., 1957-61, Dickinson Law Schl., 1962-65.
Family: Married (Nancy); 1 child.
Military career: Army Reserves, 1960–61.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1966–85; Nanticoke City solicitor, 1969–81; Admin. law judge, 1971–80.
The congressman from the 11th District is Paul Kanjorski, a Democrat first elected in 1984. Kanjorski grew up in Nanticoke, near Wilkes-Barre. As a 16-year-old page in the House of Representatives in 1954, he was on the floor when Puerto Rican terrorists started shooting from the gallery and wounded five congressmen. Sprayed by dust from the gunfire, Kanjorski helped to bring stretchers into the chamber. He attended, but did not graduate from, college and law school, then passed the bar exam and returned home to practice law. He was a workmen’s compensation administrative law judge for nine years and Nanticoke city solicitor for 12. He ran for Congress and won the Democratic primary by pointing out that the incumbent was in Central America while flooded Wilkes-Barre area residents were boiling water to drink.
|Paul Kanjorski (D)||146,379||(52%)||($3,153,006)|
|Lou Barletta (R)||137,151||(48%)||($1,315,969)|
|Paul Kanjorski (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (72%), 2004 (94%), 2002 (56%), 2000 (66%), 1998 (67%), 1996 (68%), 1994 (67%), 1992 (67%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (100%), 1986 (71%), 1984 (59%)
In the House, Kanjorski is a tough partisan whose voting record was once liberal but has moved toward the center, especially on cultural issues. He opposes abortion rights but has voted for international family planning aid. He voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, but later voiced regret for his vote and criticized the Bush administration for diverting funds from fighting Al Qaeda to Iraq. In April 2007, he bucked his party as one of six House Democrats who voted against giving the District of Columbia full voting representation in the House of Representatives.
On the Financial Services Committee, Kanjorski is the No. 2 Democrat and chairman of the Subcommittee on Capitol Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises. He helped to write the post-Enron scandal bill to crack down on corporate fraud, and he pushed a “subprime lending” bill to protect consumers from predatory practices. In 2007, he took the lead on renewing the terrorism risk-insurance program, including a requirement that insurance carriers offer coverage of a nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attack. He also has proposed steps toward federal regulation of the insurance industry, starting with a Treasury Department office to collect information about the industry. Major insurance companies staunchly oppose the measure.
Most important to Kanjorski is helping his economically ailing district. With help from powerful home-state ally Rep. John Murtha, he has directed millions of federal dollars to local projects; The New York Times has called him “a master of earmarking.” But his eagerness to deliver money back home has gotten him some unwelcome notice. The Scranton Times-Tribune reported in 2007 that since the late 1990s, Kanjorski has earmarked nearly $10 million in federal funding to Cornerstone Technologies, a troubled high-tech research and development company controlled by his relatives. The company was supposed to turn coal into minute particles for use in carbon fibers, but the end product was disappointing and Cornerstone filed for bankruptcy in 2006, with more than $1 million in debt. “It was just like the Three Stooges meet anthracite,” a Penn State professor who worked with the firm told the Times-Tribune. Former employees charged that Kanjorski “often took an active role in its operations,” according to the newspaper account. In 2008, the U.S. Transportation Department had blocked $5.6 million that Kanjorski had earmarked for a parking garage in Nanticoke.
Republicans have targeted Kanjorski, and succeeded in tightening his margin. In 2008, his opponent was Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta, who had challenged him in 2002 and lost. Given his role on the Financial Services Committee, Kanjorski was a prime target for grass-roots opposition against the $700 billion bailout of the financial services industry that committee Democrats shepherded through the House in 2008. Polls in September showed Kanjorski was deadlocked or trailing Barletta, who criticized him for weak oversight of the financial industry, including the many companies whose executives had made campaign contributions to Kanjorski. “I’m elected to Congress to do the right thing, not to get reelected,” he told The Citizens’ Voice in Wilkes-Barre.
Barletta ran ads criticizing Kanjorski’s support of the bailout, and he talked up the need for federal action to control illegal immigration. Kanjorski outspent Barletta $3.2 million to $1.3 million, and he received campaign help from Biden and former President Bill Clinton. He won by only 52%-48%. Barletta won three of the five counties, including the district’s largest, Luzerne. Kanjorski prevailed with 60% in gritty Lackawanna and 56% in fast-growing Monroe. Kanjorski has had some health problems in recent years, including triple bypass surgery in 2007.