Rep. Tim Holden (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: March 5, 1957, Pottsville .
Home: St. Clair.
Education: U. of Richmond, 1976-78, Bloomsburg St. U., B.A. 1980.
Family: Married (Gwen).
Elected office: Schuylkill Cnty. sheriff, 1985–92.
Professional Career: Real estate agent; Insurance broker, Holden Insurance Agency, 1980–85; Probation officer, 1980-85.
The congressman from the 17th District is Tim Holden, a Democrat first elected from the old 6th District in 1992 and the winner of a 2002 battle between incumbents thrown together by redistricting. Holden comes from a political family from the coal mining hamlet of St. Clair. His great-grandfather was a coal miner who founded the forerunner to the United Mine Workers, and his father served four terms as Schuylkill County commissioner. Holden gained fame as a local football player, although tuberculosis cut short his college career. In 1985, at age 28, after selling insurance and real estate in the family business for five years, he was elected Schuylkill County sheriff. Holden’s opponent in the 1992 race for an open U.S. House seat was the better-financed John Jones III, a lawyer. But Holden’s regular guy appeal played well in culturally conservative and economically polarized Schuylkill County. He won 52%-48%.
|Tim Holden (D)||192,699||(64%)||($1,096,079)|
|Toni Gilhooley (R)||109,909||(36%)||($104,485)|
|Tim Holden (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (65%), 2004 (59%), 2002 (51%), 2000 (66%), 1998 (61%), 1996 (59%), 1994 (57%), 1992 (52%)
Holden has a moderate voting record, though it is more conservative on cultural issues. He is one of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats and has consistently been near the center of the House. “The problems our country is facing need to be solved in a bipartisan manner,” he said. “There’re about 70 liberals and 70 ultraconservatives still in the House. They need to be left behind.” He opposes abortion rights, but in 2007, he supported federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, which uses excess embryos from in vitro fertilizations.
On the Agriculture Committee, he is the No. 2-ranking Democrat and chairman of the Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research Subcommittee. On the farm bill enacted in 2008, he played a central role in doubling farmland preservation funding, which he called “extremely important in Pennsylvania.” He also crafted provisions aimed at reducing farm runoff into the Chesapeake. On the energy issue, his philosophy is: “Drill everywhere,” as he said in 2008, sounding like a Republican in calling for more energy production.
Holden also has gained influence as the senior Pennsylvanian on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. On the 2005 highway bill, he took credit for $10 million in local projects, far less than claimed by more influential or vulnerable members. But as earmarking has become controversial in recent years and criticized as wasteful, his earmarks have come under closer scrutiny in the press. In April 2009, the Lebanon Daily News reported that in the past year Holden got $3.2 million in earmarks for clients of the controversial PMA lobbying firm, which has close ties to the powerful Rep. John Murtha, the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, and has been a major contributor to Holden’s campaigns.
After redistricting in 2001, Holden was thrown into the then newly created 17th District with Republican Rep. George Gekas. The Republican edge in the district favored Gekas, but Holden spent many hours knocking on doors in Dauphin and Lebanon County, while Gekas was less organized and slower to introduce himself to new voters. Holden won 51%-49%. In 2004, Republicans nominated Scott Paterno, a lawyer and the son of longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Holden won 59%-39%. Since then, Republicans have focused elsewhere.