Voters in November will be nearly as motivated to come out to vote against candidates as for them, the polls indicate. Disapproval ratings are that high. One candidate countering the tide of voter disgust is 54 year-old Mike Regan, the Republican candidate in the 31st state Senate seat, which covers equal parts of York and Cumberland counties.
Regan is a delight in a year of blimp-sized egos and scandals blighting the political landscape. His appeal is two-fold: he refuses to accept the prevailing sentiment among many elected officials that government growth is inevitable; he brings something like a new citizen’s awe and appreciation to both running for and holding office.
Regan defeated three opponents in his first primary campaign for the House in 2013, and this past spring defeated the same number in the Senate primary using a time-honored approach to campaigning: he knocked on a lot of doors.
“I got into my first race late,” Regan said. “ Didn’t know an awful lot about campaigning. I just kept knocking on doors and introducing myself and what I stood for.”
By one estimate, Regan knocked on 5,000 doors in that primary. He went on to capture 71.1 percent of the vote in the general election. In the Senate primary, he knocked on an estimated 8,000 doors and won 51 percent of the vote in that four-way race.
His overarching goal, he says, is to restore people’s trust in government by showing them that elected officials value tax dollars as much as the hard working people paying them.
“Every time Harrisburg needs money it comes to hard working Pennsylvanians with its hand out instead of looking for ways to reduce fraud, cut waste, and employ best practices to streamline government,” he said.
He’s won the support of the business community in the 31st and statewide. “Mike Regan has demonstrated great leadership in Harrisburg and we look forward to his continued service as a state senator,” said PMA President David N. Taylor. “Mike understands that government is supposed to work for the people, not the other way around. Senator Regan will be a limited government, pro-growth champion for Pennsylvania’s citizens.”
Regan possesses a near-perfect resume for both combating government overspending and – by refocusing on government’s core functions - protecting its citizenry.
He began his career as a deputy U.S. Marshal in the Southern District of Florida. He returned to Pennsylvania in 1990 as a deputy U.S. Marshal in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and was elevated to the position of Fugitive Task Force commander in 1995.
In 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Regan to become the U.S. Marshal for the Middle District. He retired from that position in 2011, after 23 years of service.
He was then named deputy inspector general of Pennsylvania, where he rooted out waste and fraud in state agencies, including the Department of Human Services (DHS). The two job experiences occasionally overlapped.
“I can’t tell you the times on a drug bust finding stacks of cash, weapons, and EBT cards (welfare debit cards),” Regan said. “It infuriated me. I and other working men and women worry if we can afford to take our families on vacation and they (drug dealers) are there with hundreds of thousands of dollars and abusing welfare.”
In the House, he introduced legislation that would discontinue welfare benefits for convicted drug kingpins. It passed, after a struggle he said, but later died in the Senate.
Regan is a member of the Taxpayer Caucus that last May unveiled a plan to save $3 billion in state government costs. The provisions in the plan were largely ignored, and a budget with a $1.4 billion, or 4.1 percent, increase in spending was approved. Regan, with others, voted against the spending and tax increase plans, and reiterated their calls for spending reforms, most notably to the state’s public pensions systems.
“The 2016-17 budget was not a good deal for Pennsylvania taxpayers,” he said. “Government must be held accountable to the people who pay the bills and cannot continue to grow excessively while taxpayers continue to struggle.”
Regan said that in the Senate he will continue to work on the spending side of the equation, with a primary focus on welfare spending, and not just recipient fraud but provider fraud as well. He admitted that targeting welfare spending opens you up to a “hard-hearted” label but said that he will pursue a way to rein in spending without jeopardizing benefits of those who truly need them.
Clearly, something has to be done. A 2015 study by the Commonwealth Foundation, “How Welfare Spending is Driving the Budget Crisis,” shows that since FY 2000-01, the DHS budget has grown nearly twice as fast as state GDP and state personal income. And despite all the additional spending, Pennsylvania’s poverty and unemployment rates remain largely unchanged over the same time. This fiscal year, the line item in the General Fund for DHS increased again, by $466,491,000 or 4.1 percent, for a total of $11,982,401 billion.
Regan’s other main focus, and potentially an even tougher fight given the powerful special interests involved, is making Pennsylvania a Right to Work state; giving workers the choice whether to belong to a union.
“I love what Scott Walker did in Wisconsin,” he said. “If we can get a strong Republican governor in office, we can do some amazing things in Pennsylvania.”
He may very well get that chance. Political analysts say the House and Senate should keep their strong Republican majorities, and Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s approval rating is near a record low. He’s up for re-election in 2018.
The 31st Senate district is classified as a “high performance” Republican district, and as of this writing, Regan has no opponent. Still, he says he is taking nothing for granted. The Democrats have until August 25 to announce a candidate to fill a write-in spot.
“Imagine what it would be like to bring best practices to the state agencies and even the school districts,” he said. Imagine indeed.