Meet Lou Barletta – Former Mayor of Hazleton and Two-Term U.S. Congressman with a Record of Nothing but Demagoguery

If not for the fact that I do not have a team of paid consultants, and all the other trappings of a big-money politician, I would have hammered Mr. Barletta on his record as Mayor of Hazleton much sooner. It is a shame that the media on his turf seems to have given him a free pass, for reasons I am not completely sure of.

I have spent a good bit of time in Hazleton, and have met with, and talked to, many of its connected and unconnected residents along the way, and the issues that have not been addressed are many.

There is the “Philly dredge,” which allegedly involved the shipment and dumping in Hazleton of sludge from the Delaware River, with questionable payments. There is the problem of blight, which has resulted from incompetence and mismanagement of the City’s utilization of HUD block grants, and program requirements. There is the Minsec project, which involved a halfway house that was billed as a rehabilitation facility, and caused further blight and decay. There is what one local activist has called the “nightmare of nepotism” that marked the politics of the city of Hazleton during and since the tenure of Mr. Barletta. These issues are many and varied, and need to be investigated. None of these issues has garnered any significant attention or criticism from the local or national media.

But there is nothing more troubling, and more rife with misinformation and poor leadership, than the immigration debacle that Barletta rose to prominence, and still touts as a proud achievement.

Mr. Barletta still talks of this as an achievement, when, in reality, it was nothing but a simple-minded solution that found itself a lasting problem. In the late 90s, and early 21st century, the City of Hazleton sought to attract Latinos to the community as a solution to an aging and declining population, and there was even talk of having a Hispanic district akin to the Chinatown district in other cities. Exactly what went wrong is not clear, but there was a shift in thinking that, perhaps for his own political aspirations, the immigration issue became one of creating division and fear.

Barletta brought in a Kansas lawyer by the name of Kris Kobach, who has been referred to as “America’s worst Republican,” and now is the Secretary of State of Kansas. He has been criticized in the Kansas media as one who “stokes anti-immigration fears by championing the most vicious laws and then travels from state to state, spewing his hate from the laws he writes – for huge fees.” Kobach was reportedly paid $55,000 out of the City of Hazleton treasury for the first half of 2007 alone. Reports are that the immigration policy established by Barletta was, in reality, a Republican trial balloon set in motion by Rick Santorum.

At the time of the referenced policy, there were, according to sources, only about 150 undocumented immigrants in Hazleton, and the policy effectively pitted all of the European residents (and past immigrants) from the City against the 5000 or so Latino residents. The residue of these problems still exists, and divides the City today. Barletta espoused the policy as a necessity to fight the rise in crime by undocumented immigrants, but the evidence at the federal trial of the case showed that only 4 of 428 violent crimes committed in Hazleton in the first six years of the 21st century. The federal court also found that the city grossly overstated the cost of so-called illegal immigration.

The federal court found against the City, and the reasoning was clear, and easy to follow, and would easily have been apparent to a constitutional lawyer – setting immigration policy is a matter committed by the Constitution to the United States Congress, and Congress’ power preempts that of state and local governments to set such policy. Yes, it is that simple.

Barletta sold his City, and its residents on the wisdom of the litigation, in part, by promising them that they would not have to foot the bill for the litigation, i.e., they would not have to pay the legal fees incurred by it. Wrong again. The insurance carrier for the city challenged its responsibility for the fees, and the federal court agreed, sticking the taxpayers of the distressed City of Hazleton with a bill for over $2.5 million of fees through the litigation which, while Barletta blames it on the ACLU running up the fees, was due to the continuing attempts to modify the immigration ordinance, and expand the scope of the litigation. Despite all of this, Barletta cavalierly vowed to fight on, and took his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which refused to entertain any of the City’s legal arguments.

The result of the litigation is a distressed City having further burdens placed on its economic health, and, where a “climate of fear” has prevailed, and a city remains divided to this day. This is the very essence of demagoguery, and poor leadership, and “leading from behind,” and everything this can go wrong as a result of this kind of leadership.

Nothing has been more troubling to me than the number of people who have wanted to talk about this issue on the campaign trail, as if the Susquehanna is the Rio Grande, and we are being invaded from the south, and, not content to just put this debacle behind him, Barletta is now using it to spread even more fear and terror about ISIS and Ebola coming across our southern borders. He now even has vilified children seeking to escape circumstances in their country and coming across our southern borders. This is not how a Christian nation acts.

As I said during the debate, the single worst day I had during this campaign was a day in early October where I was driving and walking around the streets of Shamokin, stopping and talking to reisdents along the way. I stopped one fellow, who just so happened to be carrying a 12-pack Budweiser 16-ounce cans under his arm, with one open in his hand, and I identified myself as the candidate for United states congress against Mr. Barletta.

As I have said many times, I’d estimate that 60 or more percent of the people I have met have just been glad that there is a candidate running against Barletta – a tribute to the voters in the Eleventh Congressional District. Not a single time, except this one, did a democrat voter say he supported and would be voting for Barletta, and this fellow said to me “I’m a democrat, and I’m voting for Barletta because we have too many niggers in town, and they are all just looking for a handout.

I said nothing to the man, except maybe a mild expression of disappointment, but I was seething inside, and the object of my ire was not him, but was Mr. Barletta. I was bothered all day that day, and am still bothered by it to this day, and I hold Mr. Barletta responsible for this unenlightened comment by this unenlightened man on the streets of Shamokin.

It was, without question, because the policies, positions, and words of Mr. Barletta that this man felt free to make such an outrageous remark – it is the mindset of everything I have spent my entire professional life standing against, and fighting against, and now running against. We need leaders who lead from in front, and from positions of enlightenment, and from principled positions looking for common good, and sound principles, not “leaders” like Lou Barletta, who lead from behind, and use fear and insecurity as the tools of their demagoguery.

The contrast between he and I could not be more clear, and we are a moral and enlightened and principled, and even religious people in the eleventh Congressional District, and I will adopt this is my style of leadership in the United states Congress.

I have vowed, and, win or lose, will vow, to be a continuing part of the healing and reunification of the city of Hazleton. I have met with some of the Latino leaders of the community, and some of the enlightened, politically active members of the community, and we have discussed the need for this to be done. I will proudly do so.

I must also point out that I have not made a significant campaign issue out of a certain very troubling matter concerning Mr. Barletta’s alleged relationship with a young undocumented immigrant, and an alleged offspring of that relationship. I have received information about this from many independent sources, in some detail. If true, this would make him a hypocrite of hypocrites. I have some internal struggle over this, and know that Mr. Barletta has been questioned about it in the past, but it is not just one source, but many sources, who have come to me with this information. I believe the voters have a right to know. I believe the media should do its job.

Thank you.