Sestak for Senate: He's the voice of reason in a season of anger

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Pennsylvanians are not likely to find a more high-contrast choice Nov. 2 than in the race for U.S. Senate. Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak are vying for the seat held by Arlen Specter for the last 30 years.


Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Joe Sestak and Republican candidate Pat Toomey discuss the issues.

Mr. Toomey wants to reduce the role of government on virtually every front. Mr. Sestak believes government should play a role in improving the lives of Americans. Based on interviews with both candidates, the choice for the Post-Gazette is easy.

In a nation with double-digit unemployment, businesses shipping jobs overseas, a health reform targeted for repeal by special interests, a Congress incapable of forging smart energy policy and a tax-cut extension that could shower billions of dollars on the rich when the deficit can ill afford it -- Joe Sestak is the voice of reason.

A two-term congressman from Delaware County, Mr. Sestak, 58, had a 31-year Navy career, which peaked at the rank of three-star vice admiral as he commanded an aircraft carrier group during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. His service gives him insight, beyond his work on Capitol Hill, to the complex machinery of government and the pressures by powerful forces not allied with the public interest. When Mr. Sestak tells of the need to wrap up the U.S. role in Afghanistan, he speaks from the perspective of a warrior opposing the terror threat in Pakistan. When he calls for a rollback in military spending, he does so as a former commander who knows which systems work and which don't.

After his 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer (she is 9 now and in remission), Mr. Sestak realized the life-or-death value of good health care. The experience later made him an ally with President Barack Obama in the fight to improve Americans' access to health insurance. While he acknowledges that the reform is not perfect, the congressman deserves credit for working to abolish egregious insurance industry practices that hurt average Americans: losing coverage due to a pre-existing condition, seeing young adults kicked off their parents' policies and having benefits disappear upon reaching lifetime caps.

Joe Sestak supports a smart energy policy that will rely less on fossil fuels, create jobs by growing sustainable technologies and reduce oil imports, thereby enhancing security. While his opponent rails about the federal deficit, Mr. Sestak would help reduce the red ink by extending the Bush-era tax cuts only to households with up to $250,000 in income. Renewing tax cuts to the rich would add $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

That's understandable from Pat Toomey's point of view. While one of his TV ads highlights a family restaurant business in Allentown, Pa., he was a currency trader on Wall Street, first at Chemical Bank, then for the British investment banking firm Morgan Grenfell. Later, he was a consultant in Hong Kong before returning to the United States and moving to Pennsylvania.

In 1998 he won a seat in the U.S. House and served for three terms. Then, as now, he supported privatizing parts of Social Security, a flat income tax of 17 percent and corporate taxes that are as low as possible. He believes the new health insurance law should be repealed and replaced by a modest program of tort reform, competition among insurance companies and health savings accounts in which families would set aside tax-deductible dollars to pay for their insurance.

Mr. Toomey, 48, criticizes the federal banking bailout and economic stimulus as unnecessary spending, although economists widely backed both as necessary to save the nation from a depression. A former president of the Club for Growth, a far-right national political advocacy group, he believes in free trade and corporations unfettered by regulations. Mr. Toomey opposed cap and trade, the market-based concept initiated by Republicans that would give financial incentives to businesses for curbing harmful emissions. He says that while data supports the phenomenon of global warming, the extent to which it can be blamed on human activity is "very much disputed."

Yet Mr. Toomey, the father of three, is a soft-spoken, amiable candidate. He lacks the bark of a Rick Santorum, but he would easily replicate the former senator's voting record. An analysis last May by said Mr. Toomey was more conservative than 98 percent of all members of Congress since 1995 -- and much more conservative than Mr. Santorum. Which raises the question, do Pennsylvanians really want to turn back the clock?

With Joe Sestak on the ballot, voters don't have to. His views are in sync with the state and his voice calls for moderation. For that reason, he has earned the Post-Gazette endorsement.


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