Last updated: February 17. 2013 12:48AM - 743 Views

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FORTY DAYS ago Gene Stilp challenged incumbent Republican Congressman Lou Barletta to a series of nine debates.

Stilp, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 11th Congressional District, suggests debates be held throughout the "gerry lou-mandered" district that now covers nine counties, stretching from Wyoming County and the Back Mountain region of Luzerne County southwest along a narrow corridor to within a stone's throw of the Maryland line.

ONLY 50 DAYS remain until voters in the 11th Congressional District and those in the 50 states make their way to the polls on Nov. 6 to freely elect the president of the United States and their representatives to the 113th Congress.

IN 17 DAYS President Barack Obama will meet former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in their first of three presidential debates. The forums were announced on Oct. 31, 2011 by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonprofit corporation established in 1987, and no presidential candidate would dare evade them.

Yet, in response to Stilp's challenge we've not heard BOO from Lou. Why would Barletta be hesitant to debate Stilp?

The 11th District heretofore anchored firmly in Northeastern Pennsylvania (since pre-1940) was dramatically dissected this year, shedding Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Pittston to add as many Republicans as possible in a cynical attempt to protect the otherwise vulnerable Barletta (See: "The Wall Street Journal," April 11, 2012).

Our once compact and very influential 11th Congressional District encompassing much of NEPA is no more.

See for yourself: www.govtrack.us/congress/members/PA/11.

In a debate, Stilp would probably make that clear.

Barletta also supported the budget plan of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (Mitt Romney's running mate) that eviscerates Medicare, America's health insurance plan for those 65 and older, and replaces it with an inadequate voucher for future recipients to carry hat-in-hand to private insurance companies in an attempt to purchase some coverage.

Stilp would likely make that clear as well. "Crystal."

Earlier this year, Barletta also voted for a defense appropriation bill that would adversely affect funding for the Tobyhanna Army Depot, the largest employer in Barletta's district and in all of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Barletta said his vote on the defense bill was an error. No kidding. Worse, however, it demonstrates Barletta is asleep at the switch and was not monitoring this important legislation from its inception through development. It is what a representative must do.

Stilp also might point that out. Repeatedly.

Stilp supports the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") that provides coverage for pre-existing conditions, allowing young adults to remain on their parents' insurance plans, closing the "doughnut hole" for seniors and preventing a terrible illness from bankrupting American families.

Incredibly, Barletta says, "From day one, I have stood for full repeal of ‘Obamacare.' "

Lou Barletta is a graduate of Hazleton High School and a former Hazleton city council member, businessman and mayor.

A native of Luzerne County, Gene Stilp graduated from St. Nicholas High School and King's College in Wilkes-Barre before earning his law degree from the George Mason School of Law in Arlington, Va.

Eager to debate, Stilp resides in Middle Paxton Township, outside Harrisburg in Dauphin County, where he also is a volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician and a well-known taxpayer activist.

In July 2010, candidate Barletta proposed five debates with his opponent, U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski. Now the incumbent congressman, Barletta seems to be hoping he can duck the Stilp challenge. Given the record, I can understand why Barletta might be nervous about debating Stilp.

Our newspapers, television stations, The League of Women Voters and PBS stations up and down the 11th Congressional District have a civic responsibility to arrange three televised debates. It's their duty.

They must prepare the venues, invite the candidates and, like the Commission on Presidential Debates, dare them not to show.

In July 2010, candidate Barletta proposed five debates with his opponent, U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski. Now the incumbent

congressman, Barletta seems to be hoping he can duck the Stilp challenge.

Kevin Blaum's column on government, life and politics appears every Sunday. Contact him at kblaum@timesleader.com.

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