Rep. Joe Pitts (R)
Pennsylvania 16th District
The Pennsylvania Dutch Country, settled by Germans in the 18th century when it was Pennsylvania’s frontier, remains a distinctive part of America. These Germans were Amish and Mennonite, pietistic sects seeking religious liberty and determined to farm rich lands in the same intensive way they had in Germany. Today, many of their descendants—the Eisenhower family is the most famous example—have blended into mainstream America. But in the Dutch area around Lancaster, many “Plain People” still live in the old way, though today they are willing to use some modern devices, such as battery-powered electricity. Though larger communities exist in Ohio and Indiana, tourists can still see families of Plain People clad in black, clattering over the back roads in horse-drawn carriages, with scrupulously tended farms set amid rolling hills and barns decorated with hex signs. The scene was captured memorably in the 1983 film Witness. Beneath the surface, Amish communities are facing the strains of modernity. In recent years, Amish teens have attracted public attention for using drugs and alcohol while participating in the “rumschpringes,” a period when adolescents are freed from their community’s rigid rules and mores, before being given the choice of returning to the fold as an adult.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Modern-style crime also interrupts their peaceful lifestyle from time to time. In October 2006, five girls were killed and five others seriously wounded by a gunman at their one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines. The local Amish community quickly demolished the building and erected a new one six months later. The community remains robust, and tourism, much of it linked to interest in the Amish, brings in more than 5 million people annually. Agriculture is the other pillar of the local economy. Farmers here produce some of the highest per-acre yields on earth. Within an easy drive from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, the area has also become home to outlet malls, a fitting development given that the first Woolworth’s five-and-dime store opened in Lancaster in 1879. Lancaster County and Chester County grew by double-digit rates in the 1990s—partly from religious families, partly from newcomers moving in—making this the heart of one of Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing regions, though the pace has slowed in recent years.
The 16th Congressional District of Pennsylvania includes all of Lancaster County, plus parts of southwestern Chester County that adjoin the Maryland and Delaware borders, as well as a small slice of Berks County that reaches to Reading. Outside the regional hub of Lancaster, the 16th is mostly small-town territory, with numerous quaint and quirkily named villages, such as Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball and Intercourse (the first two named for the posted logos of old pubs, the third for reasons that are obscure, but almost certainly not sexual in nature). Closer to Philadelphia, the district takes in suburbs, including West Chester and Kennett Square. During the 1990s, Reading and Berks County attracted a large number of Hispanics in search of jobs. The district is now the third-most Hispanic in the state, at 10%. Still, this remains a Republican district. In 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain won it 51%-48%. He lost in Chester and Berks, and led 55%-44% in Lancaster, which cast 73% of the votes.
Rep. Joe Pitts (R)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Oct. 10, 1939, Lexington, KY .
Home: Kennett Square.
Education: Asbury Col., B.A. 1961, West Chester U., M.Ed. 1972.
Family: Married (Virginia); 3 children.
Military career: Air Force, 1963–69 (Vietnam).
Elected office: PA House of Reps., 1972–96
Professional Career: High schl. teacher, 1969–72; Owner, Landscape & Nursery Co., 1974–90.
The congressman from the 16th District is Joe Pitts, a Republican elected in 1996. Pitts was born in Kentucky, and spent time in the Philippines with his parents, where they served as religious missionaries. He joined the Air Force after college, and served three tours of duty, flying 116 B-52 combat missions in Vietnam. He returned to become a math and science teacher in Malvern in Chester County, and later owned a nursery near Kennett Square. He and his daughter have exhibited their artwork, everything from painting to sculpture and woodwork, at local galleries. In 1972, at age 33, he was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. In 1989, he became chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and oversaw the restoration of the Pennsylvania Capitol. When Republican Rep. Bob Walker, one of the conservative reformers of the Newt Gingrich era in the House, cited the “Pennsylvania Dutch tradition” of not serving over 20 years, Pitts ran to succeed him. In the primary, he ran as a “true conservative,” speaking out in favor of home schooling and against gambling. He raised the most money and won with 45%. The runner-up, a moderate Republican, received 26%. In the general election, Pitts easily defeated newspaper publisher James Blaine, a descendant of James G. Blaine, the “Plumed Knight” and Republican presidential nominee in 1884.
|Joe Pitts (R)||170,329||(56%)||($621,729)|
|Bruce Slater (D)||120,193||(39%)||($92,274)|
|John Murphy (I)||11,768||(4%)||($5,484)|
|Joe Pitts (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (57%), 2004 (64%), 2002 (88%), 2000 (67%), 1998 (71%), 1996 (59%)
In the House, Pitts has a conservative record, though he sometimes is a centrist on foreign policy. He was an early advocate of the 2001 Bush tax cuts, and later was an avid booster of the president’s failed plan in 2005 to introduce private savings accounts into the Social Security program. Pitts has been an outspoken advocate of increased energy production, including the construction of new oil refineries on closed military bases.
Pitts led the Pro-Life Caucus and headed the Republicans’ “values action team” that worked with the Christian Coalition and other groups to promote a pro-family agenda. Before the bankruptcy bill was enacted in 2005, he played a key role in scuttling a provision, added to the legislation by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., which would have made fines and criminal penalties for abortion protesters non-dischargeable under bankruptcy protection. He was a chief proponent of legislation to ban human cloning. With his appreciation for both human rights and national defense, Pitts founded two diverse groups: the Religious Prisoners’ Congressional Task Force to plead for human rights around the world, and the Electronic Warfare Working Group, to encourage more congressional support for military technology. In 2008, he urged a boycott of the Olympics in Beijing unless China improved its human-rights record.
In 2006, Pitts had a tough re-election contest. Former corporate executive Lois Herr said that Bush went after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on “flimsy evidence,” and she called for bringing home the troops from Iraq. But Pitts won 57%-40%. In 2008, he defeated a weakly-funded challenger, 56%-39%, comfortable enough, but his smallest vote share to date and a sign of shifting views in this once solidly Republican bastion.