On Nov. 6, voters in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District — formerly the 15th Congressional District before Pennsylvania’s recent redistricting — will head to the polls to select a new congressman to represent the district in the United States House of Representatives. Although election day is months away, the race for the seat has already started.
Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican who held the seat in this swing district since early 2005, announced in September he would not be seeking re-election.
Among those running for the seat are David Weidman and Dean Browning.
Weidman, who is running as a Democrat, has dedicated much of his life to service. He joined the U.S. Air Force after 9/11 and eventually became a U.S. Army infantryman in Afghanistan.
While in Afghanistan, Weidman served in the Panjshir Provincial reconstruction team, working with Afghan civilians and soldiers on humanitarian missions. His service continued at Penn State University with his involvement in the Blue and White Warriors Veterans Society.
After college, Weidman interned with the Lehigh Valley Drug and Alcohol Intake Unit and worked with children with special needs at Dieruff High School in Allentown. He then became a city planning commissioner for the borough of Emmaus, where he currently resides.
Weidman said his main platforms stress the importance of civil rights and liberties, increased attention and care for veterans, and mental health services.
“We live in a culture of apathy and we need to shift to one of empathy,” Weidman said. “If the system we live in won’t protect us, I need to do something. That’s why I decided to run for office.”
Weidman said he is also focused on a full reform of the immigration system that offers greater tolerance to those aiming to become citizens. He said the deportation of law-abiding, aspiring U.S. citizens is evil.
“The system is set up against people who want to become citizens,” Weidman said. “These people are sacrificing so much to become citizens, but then they’re treated like criminals.”
Weidman originally started his campaign on gun reform, advocating for a stronger dedication to mental health services, extensive background checks and waiting periods as a way to prevent mass shootings. As a soldier, he said there is a big disconnect between the true purpose and actual implementation of weaponry.
Weidman believes in forging diplomatic relations, especially in the regions he was deployed. He believes American strategies in international relations are too expensive in terms of dollars and cost of life.
Weidman recalled an encounter with a young child on a mountain in Afghanistan, who asked why Americans helped oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s, only to leave and make room for the Taliban.
Weidman turned to the child and told him they weren’t leaving. He said they were going to stay.
The boy, however, insisted Americans would leave again, asking Weidman who was going to replace them.
“We can’t be threatening,” Weidman said. “I hate that — arming rebels and strategic bombing with more collateral.”
Weidman also advocates for increased attention, care and benefits for veterans — services he believes veterans desperately need, which are lacking — a problem the U.S. has yet to fix. He also wants to address the treatment of veterans and create stable institutions dedicated to providing mental and physical support for combat veterans.
“I sacrificed myself for this country, and so did my wife, and people treat us like garbage,” Weidman said. “If I sit back and do nothing, how can I live with myself? If I’m bringing kids into this world and don’t do anything, what kind of parent am I?”
Weidman said he will rely on skills he developed through his psychology major and experiences in the military to connect with people on a level that current politicians have been unable to reach.
“We have lawmakers with no understanding of cognition and psychology,” Weidman said. “They may know how to interpret laws, but they don’t understand how to interpret humans.”
Dean Browning, a Republican, believes there are fundamental issues with how the country is being run and looks to change them.
“I’ve never seen our country more divided than it is currently,” Browning said. “Private sector experience is needed in Washington.”
Browning is the chief financial officer for New World Aviation, a provider of aircraft maintenance and management services. Browning has also spent time as the commissioner of Lehigh Valley, where he administered the county budget. Prior to that, he worked for Air Products and Chemicals, Harvel Plastics and Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
Browning believes his more than 40 years of business experience is a crucial part of his campaign. Browning has a strong desire to strengthen the economy in the Lehigh Valley.
To do so, he said he plans to revive the Lehigh Valley’s manufacturing base while aiming to revamp the education system. He also stressed the importance of strengthening the military, tightening immigration and regulating federal spending.
“Our economy succeeds best when we build things and make things,” Browning said. “We can become the world’s low-cost energy producer.”
Like Weidman, Browning believes there should be greater efforts dedicated to improving medical care for veterans and improving the Veterans Association.
Regarding defense spending and foreign policy, Browning wants to increase the size of the navy and pay closer attention to China’s economy and the threat of North Korean missiles.
Though Browning favors a lack of involvement in Syria, he agrees with President Donald Trump taking action in response to the use of chemical weapons.
Malini Ray, ’20, plans to vote in November. She said key issues in the Lehigh Valley revolve around the gentrification of lower-income neighborhoods and negativity towards immigrants.
“People have forgotten there’s such income and wealth diversity,” she said.
With a high influx of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, Ray said there is a negative attitude toward immigration in the Lehigh Valley. She said she hopes that whoever replaces Dent is able to combat these issues and spread more awareness of the complexity of immigrants’ lives.
“People have close-minded views on immigration and don’t know a lot about immigration law, so they either say they are pro-immigration or against immigration, but in reality, it’s more complicated,” she said. “Lehigh Valley is such a diverse region, and that goes unaccounted for when it comes to politics.”
Three Republican candidates have already dropped out of the race — Justin Simmons, Mike Pries and Ryan Mackenzie. However, the 7th Congressional District is still crowded, with at least two other Republican candidates and six Democratic candidates filing to run. The field could continue to grow until the March 20 filing deadline.