When Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe ran for office in 2011, some of his inspiration came from another young commissioner already serving in Bradford County.
Now Mark Smith, who became the youngest chairman of his commission at age 29 in 2008, is running for lieutenant governor in 2014. He stopped in State College on Monday to chat with local Democrats during evening headquarters office hours that allowed this year’s municipal and countywide candidates to notarize completed petitions.
“We had a lot of similarities, with a focus on technology and innovation,” Pipe said of himself and Smith. “We’ve become close.”
Smith said Monday wouldn’t be his last visit to the area, and that he’s ready to get his campaign off the ground. He said his top issues are transportation and education, and that he has perspective on natural gas drilling because of movement of the industry and hundreds of wells in Bradford County.
“Penn State, State College, Centre County is a place where I can get some good feedback on education,” he said, adding that the state should make significant investments in education. “There are plenty of places to look for money for education,” such as the corporate net income tax.
On drilling, Smith said the environment and residents’ property rights should come first, but that people also shouldn’t discount the industry’s economic and job impacts. He said local conservation districts should be part of the conversation, keeping local entities in the loop.
Some local communities have made grass-roots efforts to make their voices heard. In 2011 and 2012, State College and Ferguson Township residents, respectively, made successful moves to have approved on election ballots environmental bills of rights which, in part, ban natural gas drilling. Some have called into question the legality of such documents, which conflict with state law.
“There should be a way to bring local voices into the process,” Smith said, adding that people want to know they and their environmental rights are protected. “We need a way to do that. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”
Being a youthful candidate, Smith said, gives him the ability to look at government procedures anew, instead of conceding to the way things have always been done.
“It’s just a new set of eyeballs looking at an old set of problems” and looking for solutions, he said.
Locally, the Centre Region in particular saw young blood come into office in 2012, with Sarah Klinetob elected to State College Borough Council and Elliott Killian to the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors. Both are in their 20s.
Pipe said the election of younger officials will encourage others to consider stepping up.
“I think local government has an intrigue,” he said. He noted that young people might not be as jaded or run down, offering a fresh perspective to an office.
Greg Stewart, chairman of the Centre County Democratic Committee, said those young officials may run for higher office later, as Smith is. He said the committee was “thrilled” when Pipe ran, as well as Amber Concepcion, who serves on the State College Area school board.
“Local offices sometimes struggle to find candidates,” Stewart said. “We’re thrilled when someone steps forward.”