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November 2006

Special Dossier: Decision 5767
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Jim Gerlach
U.S. House of Representatives candidates: Lois Murphy (D) and Jim Gerlach (R-incumbant).
Special Dossier: Decision 5767

Open Sukkah In the Sixth District
Murphy and Gerlach speak at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El..

-- Dan Loeb

During the recent holiday of Sukkot, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El opened its Sukkah on consecutive nights to Jim Gerlach and Lois Murphy, Congressional candidates in Pennsylvania's sixth congressional district. These open sukkah events entitled "Race for the House" were sponsored jointly by the Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El Men's Club and Sisterhood.

As part of our In The Own Words series, we present extracts of the conversation to get a glimpse of the candidates' views on Israel and a wide range of other issues.


Lois Murphy lives in the community and attends Beth Am Israel services occasionally with her husband Ben Eisner. Rabbi Neil Cooper was impressed with Lois's knowledge when he first met her last year at the national AIPAC conference in Washington DC.

Rabbi Cooper praised Jim Gerlach equally the following evening. Over the four years the Congressman has been representing our district, Rabbi Cooper had several occasions to be in touch with him, usually on issues of Jewish interest. Rabbi Cooper found Gerlach to be generally supportive of Israel and expressed his gratitude to the Congressman for this support. 

On Israel

Lois Murphy spoke of her husband's recent trip to Israel with Mark Aronchick to participate in the bikeathon from Jerusalem to Eilat to help raise money for the Arava Institute. Lois and Ben learned to appreciate Israel's complex cultural, religious, environmental and security issues.

The security of Israel and the violence in Gaza was already in her mind, but as violence escalated these grave concerns developed into an existential threat to the State of Israel. 

She vowed that the United States "must support Israel in its quest for security" commenting that the nuclear proliferation threat from North Korea compounds the problems posed by Hamas, Hezbullah and Iran. "We must not let Iran have a nuclear weapon," declared Murphy, lamenting that "the sanctions appear to be advancing much more slowly than Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.... Too much energy was spent on Iraq, and not enough on Iran, Al Qaeda and North Korea."

Gerlach answered many questions posed by Congregants about his stand on Israel and the Middle-East in general. 

First, the Congressman was asked to speak about his recent trip to Israel and its meaning to him. Gerlach replied, "I had a strong inkling to support Israel [beforehand] but actually meeting the folks there was an eye opening experience... A homemade rocket hit a target one-quarter mile from us, and our security team turned us around. This reinforced my desire to help Israel remain strong. Our  support [of Israel] is money well spent. There is strong support [for Israel] in the House and Senate and obvious in this administration. We have to support her in her time of need. Getting shot at changes your perspective. Imagine if we got shot at by missiles from Philadelphia; we would want to do something about it."

On Iran

Another questioner asked Gerlach about certain "independence movements" in Iran which are classified by the administration as terrorist organizations and as such are not eligible for financial aid from Americans. (Editor's note: This includes the Baluchistan Liberation Army which aims to establish an independent nation encompassing the Baluch dominated areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.) Gerlach answered "I do not know anything about this, but I will look into it. You are onto something. We need to move moderate elements into the fore in Iran."

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice asked both candidates about the Lautenberg amendment to prevent American companies like Halliburton from doing business with Iran as they now do through their sham foreign affiliates. This amendment was defeated by Senator Rick Santorum. (See related article.) The candidates were asked how they would vote were such an amendment to be brought up for a vote in the House. Lois Murphy said she supported the Lautenberg amendment. Gerlach was "not familiar with the Lautenberg" but promised to "look very seriously" at the proposal adding that we need some sort of Iranian accountability legislation to "prevent delivery of weaponry systems."

On Iraq

Lois Murphy called on Congress to insist that the White House provide "a plan to change course in Iraq in light of our recent National Intelligence Assessment concluding that our enterprise in Iraq is making us 'less safe' not 'safer'." She added that she had read two Republican Senators quoted as saying "We need to change course, but I cannot say anything until after the [midterm] election."  Lois Murphy was outraged: "If they believe our troops and our country require change, then it is irresponsible to delay."

Jim Gerlach echoed Lois Murphy's sentiments: "Congress must be more assertive to determine what is going on on the ground in Iraq. We are appropriating the money, but we need to ask more questions in a formalized basis and debate what our next step is.

Concerning the National Intelligence Estimate's assertion that the war in Iraq is making us less secure, Gerlach cited "key judgments"  which are in the classified portions of the NIE and conclude that "our presence has fueled the Jihadist movement, but if we succeed it will defuel them." Gerlach emphasized "defuel is the term I read. The air will come out of them because it will be seen as a defeat for Al Qaeda and its terrorist movement."

Gerlach added that Iraq's "unity government has no sence of urgency. They feel that they have a blank check in terms of American time, lives and dollars.  We do not need a timetable but a benchmark of success specifying certain troop levels by certain times."

Mitch Clair co-president of the Men's Club asked whether "a Democratic Congress might do a better job of holding the Administrations foot to the fire." Gerlach thought for a minute and concluded "I don't know. I haven't heard heard anything from them on this."

Other Issues

Both candidates underlined the wide variety of other issues facing this district stretching from Lower Merion to Reading whose diversity emulates that of our Commonwealth including affluent Main Line suburbs, Amish farmland, Industrial communities, and so on.

Congressman Gerlach's committee assignments includes the Energy, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where he overseas the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army Corp of Engineers; as well as the Financial Services Committee. Gerlach noted that this is "a good fit for our district" as the Financial provider Vanguard is the largest employer in the district with 10,000 employees.

  • Land Development: Gerlach supports challenge grants for farmland preservation where the Federal government will match state and local funds to preserve farmland. Gerlach also hopes to obtain private funding to extend the SEPTA corridor in hopes of minimizing traffic congestion and spurring economic development in the area.

  • Energy Independence: Three dollar plus gasoline raised Gerlach's concerns about what our future. Gerlach wishes to "move in the next ten years to more domestic petroleum production, and in the meantime [support] more hybrid and flexible fuel vehicles" adding that "the President ought to announce an [energy] initiative like Kennedy's 'Man on the Moon' program."

  • Health Care: Lois Murphy lamented that "too many people do not have coverage. People change jobs 5 or 6 times in their career, and it is hard for people to get coverage on their own between jobs. We need to provide health care for all Americans. We need a responsible bipartisan dialogue to provide health care for all Americans."

    Jim Gerlach was asked what to do about the failure of Medicare's Part D. Gerlach admitted that "there is no panacea". He added that "Congressmen need to keep working on the program, but a lot of people are getting benefit who previously were not." 

    Gerlach supports the Medical Liability Legislation currently stalled in the Senate as a means to avoid defensive medicine.

    Gerlach spoke about his earlier experience in the State government. The Department of Transportation "DOT had trouble getting driver's licenses out in time, so I shudder to think what would happen if the Federal government was ever in the position of approving life or death decisions."

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency: Lois Murphy characterized FEMA as having been "a tight ship before Michael Brown and other cronies came along, and you can see where we are now."

    Gerlach felt FEMA had been "unfairly criticized" when it was doing a good job protecting the lives of Americans. He felt that "bad decisions were being made in New Orleans and Louisiana, but the Federal government should have come in anyway since decisions were not being made" adding that FEMA "did OK in Mississippi." 

  • Budget: Lois Murphy: "Long term structural debt has not been addressed in any meaningful way" as record surpluses have turned into record deficits." Although the problem has been allowed to become quite deep, she proposed several ideas. First, restore "pay-as-you-go fiscal discipline". Next, cut waste such as no defense and homeland security contracts. In her career, Lois Murphy worked on cutting waste at the Department of Justice and is appalled at the nine billion dollars unaccounted for in Iraq. Furthermore, Murphy called for the repeal of 170 billion dollars in tax loopholes and tax giveaways to the wealthy. Finally, regarding Medicare which she characterized as being a more urgent problem than Social Security), Murphy was amazed that Congress specifically prohibitted Medicare from negotiating drug prices like the Veterans Administration does and private insurers do. Lois Murphy cited studies showing this alone could result in savings of 580 billion dollars over eight years.

  • Immigration: Lois Murphy: "We are a country of laws and is is appropriate for us to expect people to obey laws. It is appropriate for us to expected secure borders, and it is appropriate for us to expect companies to help enforce laws." Given the growing problem with immigration up 56% over the last six years, Murphy called for "intelligence and resources necessary to guarantee secure borders and ports" adding that we would have to arrive at an "economically viable compromise which would allow companies to hire the help they need."

    Gerlach wants to dealt with the "13 million illegal immigrants already here, one-third of whom came legally and overstayed their visas. They like it here and melted into the community." Gerlach proposed "Ellis Island Centers" in their home countries. Illegal immigrants would have to return home to these "Ellis Island Centers." They would then be given priority to have their visa regularized. Gerlach does not feel we should "reward people who came here illegally with amnesty" although exceptions would be made for illegal immigrants with American children or whose health did not permit them to return to their home country. 

Rabbi Cooper concluded the evenings by thanking each candidate for visiting our sukkah and sharing their "candor, wisdom and perceptive comments," and urging the congregants to vote.

Previous Interviews

  • October 2006: Patrick Murphy, who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 8th district.
  • September 2006: Alan Schlesinger, Republican Senate candidate in Connecticut.
  • August 2006: Peter Edelman, President of the New Israel Fund
  • July 2006: Joe Sestak, who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 7th district.
  • June 2006: Rep. Steve Israel, from New York's 2nd district.
  • May 2006: Charles Smolover, Vice-President of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice
  • April 2006: Ira Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Committee
  • March 2006: Alan Sandals, candidate in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate
  • February 2006: Matthew Brooks, Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition
  • January 2006: Rep. Chaka Fattah from Pennsylvania's 2nd district
  • December 2005: Rep. Jim Gerlach who is running for reelection in Pennsylvania's 6th district.
  • November 2005: Gov. Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee
  • October 2005: Bob Casey candidate in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate.
  • September 2005: Pennsylvania State Representative Daylin Leach.
  • August 2005: Lois Murphy who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 6th district.
  • July 2005: Chuck Pennacchio candidate in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate.