Myers aims for mix of left, right Pa. policies

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His resume is solid -- Army veteran, businessman, pastor, school administrator -- but Max Myers' profile is hardly typical for a Democratic candidate for governor.

The Cumberland County resident is an evangelical minister. Until four years ago, he was a lifelong Republican. The platform he advances offers a mix of liberal, conservative and apolitical proposals. He's deeply concerned about poverty but skeptical of existing government programs to address it. He's the only one in the emerging field that supports a moratorium on natural gas fracking. He declines to take a public position on the controversial issues of abortion and gay marriage.

Mr. Myers was born in a small town in Illinois. He joined the Army after high school, serving in Germany in the early 1970s. After his discharge, he earned a bachelor's degree in biblical studies from North Central University in Minneapolis, an institution that describes itself as "a Christ-centered Pentecostal School."

He was ordained an Assembly of God minister and went on to serve as pastor to several congregations in the Midwest. He later moved to Pennsylvania to work as an administrator at Global Awakening, a ministry school in Cumberland County. He and his wife have two grown children.

Mr. Myers, 60, said his political education was shaped by the writings of the founder of his adopted state, William Penn, the Quaker who envisioned the new colony as a model of democracy and tolerance.

He abandoned his Republican allegiance several years ago because, he said, "I became uncomfortable with Republican posturing on LGBT and women's rights issues."

"It became evident that I needed to become a Democrat."

Beyond his concern that the GOP was not treating some communities "with honor and respect," he said. "My platform is, first of all, poverty, and poverty is not on the Republican agenda in any way, shape, or form."

Still, Mr. Myers' rhetoric on ameliorating poverty is not typical for a member of the party that still upholds the heritage of the New Deal and the Great Society.

"People are the answer to this, not government," he said, noting that he was skeptical of government subsides because "for a number of people, what was meant as a safety net has become a spider web."

He calls for cultural transformation to address generational poverty but acknowledged the need for economic as well as cultural remedies.

"You cannot fault people who are in poverty when there are not livable wage jobs for them," he said. "You cannot live off of minimum wage jobs."

The Myers platform features more conventionally liberal planks on some other issues. While most of his rivals have advanced more nuanced positions on fracking, typically supporting increased regulation and new taxes on continuing drilling, the former pastor embraced the Democratic State Committee's call for a moratorium on drilling.

"We need to slow down and listen to the findings of our New York state neighbors who have chosen not to allow the fracking process in their state," he said in a news release last summer.

Mr. Myers has also called for the legalization of medical marijuana.

But, publicly, at least, he's made the unusual decision not to take a position on other sometimes incendiary issues. While he supports measures to bar discrimination against gay citizens and says that it is inconceivable that abortion would be outlawed, he won't say whether or not he personally supports abortion rights or gay marriage.

"I have people tell me, 'Get a backbone, Max, and take a position,' " he said. "It takes more backbone to stand here. It is who I am and a demonstration of how I would govern Pennsylvania. It's about treating people with honor and respect."

Of proposals to ban abortion, he said, "It's not going to happen. America would never stand for making abortion illegal. ... It's more a party identity issue and a fundraising issue that a real policy issue."

If some of his proposals are singular for a Democratic candidate, so is the process he would use to implement his vision. Mr. Myers said he would create a "Pennsylvania Peoples Commission," charged with shaping the specifics of a new governing agenda.

He described it as a 12-member panel chaired by the governor and lieutenant governor, but otherwise comprising non-politicians from fields such as education, law enforcement and business.

"You'd have exponentially higher chances for creative problem solving," he said of the unique body. "The people need to be setting the tone."

"I believe that if were going to see different results it's going to take a different type of leadership, a gifting approach," he said. "I am oriented toward problem solving. I believe in the power of people, not the power of politics."


Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.

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