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Remembering Tom Smith, 'Citizen-Politician'

Image: Remembering Tom Smith, 'Citizen-Politician'
Tom Smith, 2012 (AP) 

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Friday, 23 Oct 2015 03:41 PM Current | Bio | Archive

When the sad news came on Oct. 18 that Pennsylvania’s 2012 Republican U.S. Senate nominee Thomas J. Smith died at age 67 following a battle with cancer, conservatives throughout the Keystone State recalled a “citizen-politician” who entered politics later in life to “do something” rather than “be someone.”

The son of a farmer in Armstrong County the young Smith postponed college after his father became ill to run the family farm. He also worked as a forklift operator in a coal mine.

A born risk taker, Smith mortgaged his assets to purchase a coal mine of his own. Within a few years, he transformed it into one of Pennsylvania’s largest coal operations —employing more than 100 workers and mining more than one million tons of coal per year.

After Smith sold his mining interests in 2010, he and wife Saundra could have easily enjoyed a life of leisure with their seven children (four of whom were adopted).

However, he was growing upset about the debt and growth of government at the state and federal level. Soon, the retired entrepreneur helped found the Indiana/Armstrong County Patriots.

Two years later, he declared for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate and, in his maiden political voyage, Smith handily defeated five opponents in the primary.

One sure sign he was a political outsider was that, as he freely admitted to me, “I switched my registration from Democrat to Republican six months before I became a candidate.”

But, as much as Ronald Reagan had voted for and campaigned for Republicans before switching his own Democratic registration in 1962, Smith said, “I was not an active Democrat and backed Republicans for office for years before I actually became one."

In 2004, he proudly recalled, he was an early contributor to conservative Pat Toomey’s near-successful primary challenge to liberal GOP Sen. Arlen Specter.

As the Republican standard-bearer against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2012, Smith campaigned as an unabashed political outsider, a backer of rolling back federal spending, and a strong supporter of the right to life and the right to keep and bear arms.

As Barack Obama handily won Pennsylvania over Mitt Romney, Smith drew 45 percent of the vote against Casey.

Rather than give up after an initial defeat, Smith threw himself into his state’sconservative movement with a passion. He contributed substantially to causes and candidates, joined the boards of several conservative foundations, and was a popular fixture at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference (PLC), the annual conclave of Keystone State conservatives.

When I last spoke to him in May, Smith told me he was leaning toward a primary challenge to House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster in Pennsylvania’s 9th District.

Shuster, he felt, was still wed to the concept of “pork barrel” spending by government and not serious about dealing with the federal debt. "I’m going to wait until after the county and municipal primaries take place this year,” he said, “ They’re important, and I don’t want to draw attention from them. But then I’m going to take a poll and be listening to a lot of people."

Over the summer, he was diagnosed with cancer.

“Today, special interests and professional politicians dominate both Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg while the interests of working families, small businesses and senior citizens take a back seat,” observed Lowman Henry, president of the Pennsylvania-based Lincoln Institute for Public Policy Research. “But there are those who are willing to leave the comfort of their private lives and fight to preserve, protect anddefend the God-given rights upon which our nation was established. Tom Smith was one of them.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.



 

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As the Republican standard-bearer against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2012, Smith campaigned as an unabashed political outsider, a backer of rolling back federal spending, and a strong supporter of the right to life and the right to keep and bear arms.
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