Former politician Balya takes to airwaves

He hosts a morning show

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Former Westmoreland County Democratic Commissioner Tom Balya is hosting a Saturday morning show on Latrobe radio station WCNS.

"I'd like to provide a diverse voice in the county," Mr. Balya said.

County voters in 2011 for the first time in 60 years elected a Republican majority to the three-person board, after Mr. Balya chose not to run for re-election.

Mr. Balya has interviewed a variety of guests on the half-hour show at 10 a.m., which began shortly after the November election.

"Obviously, with my involvement in politics, I'll be interested in that," he said. Among guests so far were Democratic Commissioner Ted Kopas and former Democratic Congressman Ron Klink.

He's also interviewed Mike Langer, director of the Westmoreland Cultural Trust, which runs the Palace Theater in Greensburg.

"It's bringing people here from 27 different states, and that creates spinoff economic development for the region," Mr. Balya said.

He'd also like to have Stan Gordon, a local UFO enthusiast, on his show, he said.

Mr. Balya, of Greensburg, who was county commissioner for 16 years, sees a need for balance in the county to counteract the conservative voice of the Tribune Review newspaper.

"The Republican county commissioners are doing the very things we (he and colleague Mr. Kopas) did and got criticized for, dipping into the surplus to balance the budget. But the Trib hasn't commented on that.

"There is no magic well to balance the budget, with state and federal cutbacks and rising costs, you're eventually forced to raise taxes. We've seen that in municipalities this year, too, in the center part of the county. But [the newspaper] has beat into everyone's head that the Democrats are bad and are big spenders."

"I welcome this show not as a Democrat, but as a citizen of the county," Mr. Kopas said. "Tom is not shy about his opinions, and he's well read and well versed on issues. I'm a proponent of dialogue and discussion, to see who has the best ideas."

He thinks the addition of a call-in feature to the show would be good for area listeners, as well.

"County government doesn't often make headlines, and a lot of issues are not well understood," he said. "So some discussion of the issues from all sides might help. But certainly, there will be a political edge to the show."

"I don't want to make it solely a beat up on Republicans show," Mr. Balya emphasized, "although their ineffectiveness in Congress over this fiscal cliff should be obvious,'' he said. The Tea Party is done, we saw that in the presidential election, so I hope some Republicans will break away and work with Democrats in Congress now."

Mr. Balya has seen Westmoreland County voters trend more conservative in the county over the last 20 years.

"Bill Clinton won Westmoreland County with 22,000 the first time (in 1992), and then four years later by 1,800. Al Gore lost it by 9,000 votes (in 2000). Obama lost it by 29,000 in 2008 and by 40,000 this year. And this is with a Democratic registration edge still, of 29,000,'' he noted.

In 2011, county voters selected a Republican majority --Chuck Anderson and Tyler Courtney--for the three-person county commissioners board, as well.

Part of that conservative voting trend has come from the changing demographics in the county, Mr. Balya said. The loss of manufacturing in the traditionally Democratic areas of Monessen, Jeannette and New Kensington has caused a population decline in those areas giving way to the growing municipalities in the central region, including Murrysville, and North Huntingdon, Hempfield and Penn townships. Many are now bedroom communities for commuters to Pittsburgh.

He says the decline of manufacturing jobs and the loss of large corporations from the Pittsburgh region in the 1970s and 1980s may be a significant factor in Western Pennsylvania voters becoming more conservative.

"I grew up with a lot of cousins here, and most of them had to leave the area for good jobs," he said. "So workers here have seen their father's factory jobs disappear, and they haven't had the same earning power without a college degree. So, they see their incomes stagnate ... they think taxes are too high and they are opposed to helping others, whether it's minorities or people on entitlement programs."

He's also seen a conservative voting trend even in once-solid Democratic areas, with those areas only going for President Obama by a slim margin.

He thinks that means that some of it, with Obama, is race related.

"We're very parochial here in Westmoreland County, we don't have many ethnic groups, or minorities," he said. "We have a Greek restaurant, and that's our diversity. So I'd like to provide some of that diversity in my show."

Mr. Balya also notes that gerrymandering of elected officials' district boundary lines has had an effect on the national gridlock and dysfunction in Congress. Analysts say that Republican state lawmakers, by redrawing Congressional and state district lines to favor Republicans, have made elected officials more conservative because their main opponents are now in the primary.

Mr. Balya has degrees from the University of Pittsburgh in economics and public and international affairs. He worked in Washington, D.C., after college, but returned to Greensburg to marry. He and his wife, Common Pleas Court Judge Debra Pezze, have two daughters.

Mr. Balya joins a Saturday morning "talk block" of live shows on the Latrobe station from 7 a.m. until noon with a variety of topics and interviewers. Those include Westmoreland Community Action director Tay Waltenbaugh talking about hunting and fishing, a show by owner John Longo, and a segment devoted to local and regional sports. In addition, there are monthly shows by the Better Business Bureau and on issues such as the environment, social services in the county and faith and spirituality.

Mr. Balya hopes his show will add a call-in component, or expand to an hour, if successful.

Listeners can find it on the Internet, as well, at Mr. Balya also has a blog,, where he post commentary and people can voice their opinions on issues ranging from gun control to the Steelers.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Debra Duncan, freelance writer:


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