Republican congressional candidate Chet Beiler ratcheted up his attack on U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker’s character and voting record on Monday.
In a meeting with LNP’s Editorial Board, Beiler apologized for his own “distasteful” campaign tactics in his 2016 battle with Smucker, while at the same time making new allegations against his opponent.
Beiler, a Manheim-area businessman and former county Republican leader, is challenging Smucker in the May 15 GOP primary — one week from today.
The pair went head-to-head in the same race in 2016, when Smucker defeated him after an expensive and intensely negative race that featured personal attacks and allegations of illegal campaign tactics.
“I didn’t want a bloodbath like we had two years ago, a five-month bloodbath, which I’m so sorry, it got a little bit out of hand,” Beiler said Monday in his first extended interview since entering the 2018 race this spring. (View the entire conversation here.)
“It was a little bit distasteful and not a credit to this community in the way that some of that campaign unfolded,” he said.
And while Beiler said his renewed campaign would focus on issues and Smucker’s record, he threw out at least one new allegation for the first time.
He said Smucker — who represented southern Lancaster County in the state Senate for two terms — “destroyed decades worth of constituent files” when he handed that office over to his successor, state Sen. Scott Martin, at the end of 2016.
Beiler goes further on his campaign website — stating that Smucker “absolutely loathes” Martin, a former county commissioner, and wanted to inconvenience him.
Martin’s chief of staff, Terry Trego, confirmed that “some of the constituent files were deleted during the transition” but he did not know why or how many. He said the files contained information on constituent casework.
Trego said Martin is unavailable to talk about the issue until Sunday, but he did not explain why.
Smucker's campaign spokesman Mike Barley, when asked if the congressman could talk about the claim, responded with a prepared statement.
"This is a ridiculous claim, even when you consider Chet Beiler’s long record of lies," Barley said. "There is Senate procedure and process for record retention and Congressman Smucker and his staff followed those guidelines."
According to the Senate guidelines provided by Barley, constituent files and correspondence may be discarded when the senator retires. It adds: "To the extent practical, coordination with a new incoming member is encouraged."
Beiler also opened up about so-called “Votergate” — the scheme in the 2000 election in which Beiler, then the county GOP chairman, was charged with soliciting registered Republican voters.
The issue has plagued Beiler during multiple political campaigns since, including his 2016 run for Congress, when Smucker mentioned it in his campaign mailers and ads.
“His attack on me regarding that issue is so unfair is because he makes it sound like I intentionally violated the law and I personally was out there doing something fraudulent,” Beiler said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Beiler explained that he used committee money to pay $3 or $4 to campaign workers for each new Republican they registered to vote, which was illegal under a 1995 law, although hourly pay was legal.
He even described how he and the seven campaign workers thought they were “doing the Lord’s work,” and that they all watched, for inspiration, the scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where the soldiers storm the beaches of Normandy.
“We didn’t know any better,” said Beiler, who also called the law “obscure.” He said it has since been changed, and the method of payment is now legal.
Health care, immigration, budget
Breaking with many Republicans, Beiler said the Affordable Care Act should be repealed without a replacement, and that states should just get Medicaid block grants.
“I don’t even think the federal government should have any role in healthcare. I now that's controversial and I know when I do my quarterly town hall meetings when I’m in office, if they will hire me, that there will be people who will disagree vehemently with that. But I’m there working for them. And they should know if I am elected I intend to be a constitutional conservative.”
On immigration, he said he would be open to giving a special long-term legal status, but not citizenship, to current recipients in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — program.
He also favors a physical $20 billion wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico. The wall would “pay for itself,” he said, because he believes undocumented immigrants cost the country “many billions of dollars a year.”
Most undocumented immigrants don’t participate in welfare programs, but Beiler said they also put a stress on public schools.
Meanwhile, Beiler said he would not vote for budgets that increase the federal deficit or that contain any funding for Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions.
On education, Beiler said he did not support the public education system and preferred giving parents more school choice options.