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Decrying incendiary rhetoric, chaos and dysfunction, Charlie Dent departs Congress

From the Morning Call

US Rep. Charlie Dent, who has represented the Lehigh Valley in Congress for 14 years, used his farewell speech on the House floor Thursday to advocate for the “sensible center” in a government that has become increasingly polarized.

While the center of both Republicans and Democrats are well represented, the “fringe elements” on far-right and far-left have paralyzed the government because of their inability to compromise, Dent said in his 10-minute speech that was televised by C-SPAN.

 
 

He said too many Republicans blindly follow President Donald Trump, and too many Democrats resist the president’s policies even when they agree with them.

“Separation of political parties has replaced separation of powers as a guiding governing philosophy,” Dent said. “This dynamic is simply not sustainable and is already having troubling consequences.”

Dent, 57, a Republican, announced last year he would not seek re-election and is resigning from office Saturday.

Gaining national attention for his criticism of Trump, Dent has been a moderate voice during his tenure in Congress and co-chaired the Tuesday Group caucus, which advocates for center-right legislation. His bipartisan rhetoric has become an anomaly in Congress but seems to jell with his constituents. A Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll released last week shows that he had nearly equal job approval rating between Democrats and Republicans.

Dent leaves Congress as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, a role in which he said he was charged with helping fulfill the basic functions of government: keeping the government funded and preventing default on the nation’s obligations.

He said it hasn’t been easy in the current political environment; witness the 2013 federal government shutdown.

 Dent also railed against the rise of the “three-headed monster”: isolationism, protectionism and nativism. Those attitudes, he said, dishonor the Greatest Generation, which delivered victory in World War II and established an outward-looking, rules-based order.

He urged his colleagues to defend democratic values now under attack: the rule of law, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary. He said the United States should “double-down on multilateral, rules-based order” and honor agreements — even ones some members disagree with — if the country is to have the credibility to establish new ones.

He called for the pursuit of bipartisan fiscal reform, increased access to more affordable health care, expanded education opportunities and expanded infrastructure.

Dent did not disclose what his next venture will be, but he assured his colleagues he won’t be “retreating from the battlefield.”

“I hope to provide an even larger voice in favor of responsible governments and hope to foster a strong center-right movement that embraces traditional conservative virtues of order, discipline, stability, measured statements and incremental change — not the incendiary rhetoric, chaos and dysfunction that we have unfortunately became accustomed to in recent years,” he said.

Dent thanked his staff and said it had been “an honor and privilege” to serve the people of the 15th District.

Dent’s departure will trigger a special election, which Gov. Tom Wolf has scheduled to occur on the same day as the general election. The parties will pick their candidate to run in the special election to serve out the remainder of Dent’s term.

His district, which has since been realigned per a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision, will become the 7th District, including Lehigh, Northampton and parts of southern Monroe counties.

The Democrats vying for the nomination for the two-year term in the next Congress include David Clark, Rick Daugherty, Greg Edwards, John Morganelli, Roger Ruggles and Susan Wild. The Republicans running are Dean Browning and Marty Nothstein. Tim Silfies said he would run as a Libertarian.

The primary is Tuesday.

 
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