Editor's note: Ardmore Patch also interviewed Rep. Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery), Hamilton's opponent.
Lifelong Lower Merion resident Perry Hamilton had never considered entering politics until just a few years ago. Now, the Republican businessman is challenging Democratic incumbent Rep. Tim Briggs in November for the 149th congressional seat.
The 149th District of Pennsylvania, which includes part of Lower Merion, Bridgeport, Upper Merion Township and West Conshohocken, has been represented by the Democratic Party for most of the past 15 years.
Hamilton met with Patch in early October to talk about his background, stance on the issues and thoughts on his opponent. (Read Patch's interview with Briggs here.)
Hamilton was born in Penn Wynne and lived in Wynnewood and Ardmore growing up, attending Lower Merion public schools and The Haverford School. After attending Susquehanna University, he lived in Narberth for a decade and moved back to Wynnewood, where he's lived ever since.
“The opportunity to stay here was here," he explained. "We had friends and family here ... nothing compelled us to move away."
Hamilton works in carpentry and painting, but most of his experience is in the wholesale hardwood lumber industry, in which he worked for 32 years.
"I know when businesses fail, I know how they fail, I know why they fail. I know how they turn around." - Perry Hamilton
Hamilton worked as the territorial manager for the lumber company, and sold to shipyards, steel mills, foundries, furniture manufacturers and model makers.
That, he said, is important—"because these are people I knew over 32 years in business, and those are the industries I watched leave this country.”
Aside from selling the lumber, Hamilton also performed credit risk management and did a lot of workouts with problem companies. He described himself as someone who understands a wide variety of industries and businesses as a result of that experience.
"In working out problem loans over 32 years, you get to know a good business from a bad one. You can feel it when you walk in the lobby," Hamilton said. "I know when businesses fail, I know how they fail, I know why they fail. I know how they turn around."
That background, he said, gives him the experience he needs to be a Pennsylvania state representative—"at this time, as opposed to any other time."
'At This Time'
“This is the longest, deepest jobless slump I’ve ever known,” Hamilton said. “Some people think it’s cyclical—I think President Obama thinks it’s cyclical. I don’t.”
The problem, instead, lies with the fact that the United States has allowed its industrial base—and therefore much of its businesses—to go away, Hamilton said. “I think we have to consciously bring that back.”
"We have to make sure that the regulations that have been real problems to businesses are understandable, enforceable and enforced." - Perry Hamilton
From Hamilton's perspective as a businessman, stringent regulations have been a real problem for American businesses. Two agencies that he believes have been especially difficult for businesses have been the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“Both,” Hamilton said, “are very sorely needed—it’s not a frivolous thing having those two agencies—but when the administration of those regulations gets to the point where we lose our business base, to the point we’re at now, … that has to be adjusted.”
Regulations are necessary, as they ensure that businesses are being good neighbors, Hamilton said, but government must ensure that regulations are understandable, enforceable and enforced. Outdated laws must be rewritten, rather than additional regulations being added.
“That’s a real oversimplification," Hamilton said. "Nothing is simple—nothing is cut and dry.”
Hamilton vs. Briggs
Politics, Hamilton said, should not be a career.
“The most important thing that sets me apart from my opponent is my career background and the career I’ve taken,” Hamilton said. “[Briggs] is in essence a career politician: he’s been a legislative aide and then a legislator, whereas I have been part of the private business sector—really, since I was 10 years old.”
Hamilton says he stands by the model of political office as a position, and a temporary one at that.
"Term limits lessen the possibility of political corruption—which is why I’m putting term limits on myself: two terms, that’s it," Hamilton said. "And it’s not partisan: for every Democrat, I can name a Republican."
Hamilton believes that Briggs could win re-election with only the Democratic vote but that he himself would need the support of not only Republicans and independents to take office, but some Democrats, too. If elected, Hamilton said, that diverse support would make him more accountable to all his constituents—not just those of his own party.
And as he’s campaigned door-to-door, Hamilton said, many Democrats have heard him out.
“The Democrats I see are not sticking their feet in concrete," Hamilton said. "But here’s the thing: neither are the Republicans. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction among Republicans as well. I think everyone in office, regardless of who they are, is subject to thoughtfulness on the part of voters. The electorate is thinking; this election, they’re thinking about it."
Despite the disadvantages of running against an incumbent, Hamilton said, "right now, I think people are interested in the alternative."
"I’m the man with a mission," Hamilton continued. "I have the energy—because I see I have a rare ability to do a good thing in this job that [Briggs] can’t."
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