Lou Barletta burst onto the political scene in 2000 after he was elected mayor of Hazleton, a down-on-its-luck, melting-pot of a city in northeastern Pennsylvania.
In the blink of an eye, he was catapulted from a small-city mayor in Luzerne County, to the national limelight with his principled stance on illegal immigration.
His message resonated throughout many corners of the nation: the federal government has failed us; we are tired of waiting on Washington.
Faced with rising crime, drug addiction, graffiti, boarded-up businesses, and social service costs, he decided to step up to the plate instead of sitting on the bench. This self-made entrepreneur, now a father of four and grandfather of seven, became the first mayor in the nation to introduce and sign a local ordinance cracking down on businesses who knowingly hire illegal aliens. His stance was precedent-setting, and set the stage for a fiery national debate that has now leapt to the front of the world stage with President Trump’s watershed election, and his oft-repeated “Build that wall!” chorus.
Barletta’s 2006 ordinance, the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, was potent medicine to many business people in a once-bustling coal town that became dominated by faded rowhouses, abandoned buildings and crumbling storefronts. His bold ordinance attracted national media attention in segments of “60 Minutes” and Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” and seemingly overnight, Lou Barletta became a darling among the media and the nation’s conservatives.
And Hazleton, a gritty, city-sized magnet for illegal immigrants, became a microcosm of the nation, as it struggled with growing pains fueled by an influx of illegal aliens, and a dizzying growth in armed robberies, gangs, drug deals and welfare applications.
The 2006 killing of a 29-year-old father of three in Hazelton by an illegal immigrant who had been released repeatedly by law enforcement, followed years later by the killing of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, in California by a seven-time felon who had been deported five times before, could have been, “I told you so” moments. But Barletta took no delight in being proven prescient. He had long warned about the danger of sanctuary cities, arguing that no mayor has the right to pick and choose which federal laws they will follow, and no citizen should feel unsafe and unwelcome in his own home and own homeland.
Barletta’s rise to fame was a steady ascent that spanned the public and private sectors, and local and federal government. After his readily-confessed inability to hit a curve ball dashed his dreams to play major league baseball for the Cincinnati Reds, he made the real-world’s big leagues as a businessman who came from the most humble of roots. He and his wife Mary Grace founded a line-painting business in 1984 with a $29.95 investment. In five years, they had built the largest business of its kind in Pennsylvania. Soon, it was the sixth largest business of its kind in the nation. Not bad for a Hazleton-born native with proud Italian roots who is not afraid to think outside the lines.
After his stint as mayor, Barletta was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and rapidly left his mark there as well. He is now running for U.S. Senate, where he promises to tear down walls and move mountains in a body known more for tone-deafness and obstructionism. He doesn’t have the headliner family name like Sen. Bob Casey or the placid tolerance for Senate inaction, or action that seems to occur in slow motion. He has watched with frustration as close to 50 bills have passed the House, only to go to an early grave in the Senate. He has seen both from the inside and the outside that today’s federal government is too big, too big-ticket, and too Big Brother. Regulations and special interest tax carve-outs have sentenced the American worker to death by paperwork.
With this philosophy and experience, he was the right man for the job in 2014 to serve on a government panel focused on building public-private partnerships in transportation, economic development and infrastructure. His analysis of two Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports led him to discover that taxpayers are far overpaying for federal office space. This finding followed his leadership in saving taxpayers more than $3 billion by changing the way the General Services Administration manages its real estate portfolio.
In announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Barletta was widely hailed as a “straight shooter” and a principled fighter who is unafraid of a challenge. He has been embraced as a proud defender of the American worker and the American family. Far from a loud-mouthed partisan and a hyper-political, long-time swamp-dweller, he has been bipartisan, policy-oriented, and refreshingly innovative.
A man who once wanted to be a baseball diamond superstar for the Reds is now a hero for Red states and Blue states alike, and a man who promises to scale the divide between natives and newcomers, the haves and have-nots, and donkeys and elephants.
He offered these thoughts on today’s unfolding drama on the national stage:
PACB: The President has been in office 10 months. How would you grade his performance?
Congressman Lou Barletta (LB): The President and I are both from the private sector, so I understand the frustrations that accompany that transition from the private to the public sector. Considering that he has never been in the government trenches, I think he is doing a good job. Moving from the speed, collaborative spirit and results-oriented pathways of the private sector to the snail’s-pace bureaucracy of government isn’t easy. In the private sector, virtually everyone works toward a common goal, and collaboration is the hallmark of every day. But as you can see from President Trump’s first year in office, that collegiality is far from the case. Despite the media’s amplification of the growing pains that come with the first year, the economy is responding well to his policies, border crossings are coming under control, and our adversaries abroad have had to reevaluate their misconceptions about American weakness.
PACB: What has contributed to the past year’s economic confidence?
LB: People underestimate the effects of deregulation. Experts estimate that the President’s “Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions” will trigger a potential $13.5 billion in annual savings. The president has ordered the review of rules that cost more than $55 billion to the economy. That matters. When Barack Obama was president, the first six months of his Administration rang up a total final rule cost of $24.4 billion, with a paperwork burden of more than 6.8 million hours. It was a “Washington first” policy. Business had to wait for clearance to act, from some unelected, disconnected bureaucrat squeezed into a cubicle in some high-rise. Those bureaucratic delays and regulatory handcuffs suffocate job creation and business growth.
When I was in business, it boggled my mind that here in America, land of the free, I felt more competition from the federal government than from my own business competitors. It made me passionate about cutting red tape and giving businesspeople the tools they need to drive their local economies and create jobs, instead of placing more power in the hands of unaccountable Washington bureaucrats.
Frankly, we should have more victories in our win column. Tax cuts and the repeal and replace of Obamacare would have already been crossed off our to-do list, but petty personal differences in the Senate have sometimes outweighed the will of the American people. Obamacare was a major tax on businesses and individuals, and spawned a huge cobweb of oppressive government regulations. With my business background, I want to be able to build bridges with the President and with anyone serious about finding solutions. Let’s scale the roadblocks and find the fixes.
PACB: What does community banking mean to you?
LB: Community banking, at its core, reflects the real power of America. A diverse economy, relationship-based local institutions and the contributions they pump back into our local economies represent American exceptionalism at its finest. America was built on the backs of strong local relationships, and strong communities. Community banks illustrate this strength. They succeed because they represent the American tradition of community; they are the pathway to the American Dream—to home and car ownership and business growth. Communities thrive when their banks thrive.
PACB: Why is there such a disconnect between Washington and the rest of America?
LB: The disruption we have seen in recent years, and in 2010 and 2016 specifically, is due to the inability of leaders in Washington to relate to, and respond to, issues that have been festering for decades. As the mayor of Hazleton before my election to Congress in 2010, I had to deal with illegal immigration, and the lack of attention to the issues that it caused led to a bitter backlash against elected officials that they, frankly, deserved. While the 2008 financial collapse hurt everyone, it especially hurt people living and working outside the major financial centers. Instead of building a robust free-market recovery from the ground up, Obama and the Democratic Congress settled on taxes and regulation. Obamacare and Dodd-Frank may go down in history as two of the worst policies ever passed after the market crash. Both hamstrung banks and businesses. Dodd-Frank did nothing to address the root causes of the housing crisis, which ultimately stemmed from aggressive federal regulations that encouraged risky mortgage lending. Dodd-Frank led to the shuttering of more than a thousand community banks. These are the primary lenders to small business and the relationship builders focused on the future. They were gobbled up by bigger banks or put out of business. This wave of bank closures and consolidations harmed the recovery of local communities after the 2007 recession. The economy is an ever-changing ecosystem of buyers and seller, so it’s critically important to have the fewest impediments as possible to the natural balance of supply and demand.
PACB: So you’re saying government intervention and inattention turned Americans against DC?
LB: That is unquestionably the case. We are a tiered system of government. America starts at the local level, not the federal. It starts in our schools, churches, little leagues and community groups. These groups are the backbone of our nation. But Washington sees government as working from the top-down. This approach leads to a micromanaged economy which hurts the innate dynamism that is the heart and soul of America, and has been for centuries. Freedom allows this dynamism to blossom. It allows a washed-up baseball player like me to take $29.95 and start a business from scratch. This system is unique in the entire world. So our job now is to roll back the suffocating regulations of the prior administration. When small businesses go to get a loan these days, they are treated like a statistic, not a relationship. Massive regulations hurt the little guy. This summer we passed the financial CHOICE Act to end some of Washington’s destructive regulations. “Too-big-to-fail” incentivizes big banks to take on more risk because they know the Washington safety net will bail them out.
I believe we need to let Americans build. Let them create; let them manage their own lives. Government regulations–more accurately, government over-regulation–mean decisions must cross some bureaucrats’ desk before a job-creator can act, which is neither dynamic nor free.
PACB: What do you want to accomplish going forward?
LB: I would do what President Trump is trying to do—pull Washington back, give local communities freedom, invest in infrastructure, and fight for the American spirit again. Many Americans feel like D.C. has forgotten about the issues important to them, and even looks down upon them as a problem to be fixed instead of an opportunity to be embraced. Washington is also on an unsustainable spending spree. With a national debt that is historically high, exceeding more than $16 trillion, D.C. must cut back spending and harness its budget like every responsible American family and businessperson must do. I want to bring the people’s issues to Washington, not Washington’s problems to the people.