New year, new rep Mentzer begins serving constituents of the 97th

By on January 2, 2013

By: RICHARD REITZ Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Steven Mentzer, Lititz's new state representative, took his oath of office in Harrisburg on New Year's Day.

After 25 years in financial planning, Steven Mentzer did something unexpected — He gave up his career to dedicate two years of his life to community volunteer work.

Mentzer, 56, who was elected in November to replace outgoing State Representative John Bear in the 97th District, which includes Lititz, said he felt the need to pursue something more fulfilling, and served as the volunteer executive director of the Lancaster County Council of Churches’ food and clothing banks.

During that time he received an invitation to participate in a medical mission tour to Honduras — a request he initially declined, but eventually accepted and took with his then 14-year-old son who spoke fluent Spanish. It was an eye-opening experience that reshaped his priorities.

"We visited one of the largest teaching hospitals in Honduras, and the conditions were terrible," Mentzer said. In the maternity ward, there was only one operational ventilator. "The hospital was losing about one child a month simply because they did not have another ventilator. If a child came to the hospital and the ventilator was in use, there was nothing they could do."

But Mentzer felt there was something he could do. He went back to the Lancaster County Council of Churches and raised the funds needed to purchase two used but operating ventilators and donated them to the hospital. From this action, he created the Central American Relief Effort, a humanitarian project that connects volunteer efforts in America with people in Central America in need of aid. Its goal is to raise $400,000 aid annually.

"It developed into something fairly substantial," Mentzer said.

He is still a member of the Board of Directors, but Mentzer has handed over the day-to-day operations so that he can focus on his new challenge — representing the constituents of the 97th District.

Mentzer, a lifelong Manheim Township resident and a former Republican committeeman, initially sought the seat seven years ago to challenge incumbent Roy Baldwin. He was motivated to run by what he called the "pay raise debacle" where the General Assembly voted pay raises for themselves. However, when Bear declared his candidacy and Mentzer realized they shared similar positions, he bowed out of the race and threw his support behind Bear.

He was among those shocked when Bear announced this past August that he was not running again, and planned to re-enter the private sector. "I figured that now was the time for me to run," he said.

Soon afterward, the Republican Committee selected Mentzer to replace Bear on the ballot, and in November he ran unopposed.

While he was officially sworn into office Tuesday, along with the other members of the Pa. House of Representatives, he has been busy at work since the election to prepare for the transition.

"John has made the transition easy," Mentzer said.

He not only inherits Bear’s district office at 1555 Highlands Drive, Suite 110, but Bear’s staff has stayed on to work with Mentzer as well.

But he knows the work that lies ahead is anything but easy, and has already begun the review of pending legislation so that he is up to speed for the start of the new term.

The same reform issues that motivated him to run seven years ago are still important to him today. He said he will vote against any pay raises for legislators, and supports pension reform for state employees.

"Pension reform is very important," Mentzer said. "Public service employees at some point will have to conform to the private sector."

Mentzer cited several issues that will need to be addressed in this legislative session, including:

? Reform of real estate tax

? Education reform (where he supports a merit system for educators)

? Replacing and repairing our roads and infrastructure

? Privatization of the state liquor store system

? Shrinking government size

He expects the economy and jobs to be a major focus of legislators this year, and said one issue he has been studying closely is the mining of Marcellus shale natural gas resources found in the state.

"Pennsylvania has huge reserves that are extremely important," Mentzer said. Like many people, he is concerned about the environmental impact. But so far, he said it has not proven to cause damage and that the companies mining for the shale "have been extremely careful in their approach, and it has had minimal impact, but a huge economic benefit.

"This is a huge boon for Pennsylvania and the United States, and could help lead to energy independence," he said.

"I want to listen to all sides of this issue and will do so with an open mind, which I why I studied the environmental impact closely," he said.

He said he will always put the interests of the 97th District first.

"When that conflicts with the leadership of my party, I’ll be inclined to side with the constituents of the 97th District," he said.

"I’m very independent," Mentzer added. "I’m not going to be intimidated by any political pressure, and certainly not by special interest groups."

He is planning on sending out a survey to his constituents with 4-5 questions, in order to measure the pulse of the community.

"At the beginning of my term, I want to make sure I know how the majority of the constituents feel on key issues," he said.

One question on the survey is, "How important is it for your legislator to be bipartisan?" He is interested to know which issues his constituents feel will require collaboration and compromise.

"People are tired of what appears to be government at a standstill," Mentzer said. "Collaboration requires everyone to make changes to their way of thinking. I think the people of the 97th understand that there needs to be give and take on certain important issues."

He is also planning on hosting public town meetings, and will schedule his first meeting in late April or early May.

He would support 10-year term limit legislation if it were introduced. Mentzer said he has no time table for how long he plans to serve, other than "at the pleasure of the constituency." More MENTZER, page A3

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