CLARKS SUMMIT — Lt. governor candidate Mark Smith has seen how state politics impact rural Pennsylvania, and he said he wants to give a voice to less populated areas like Bradford County, where he’s a county commissioner.
The 35-year-old second-term commissioner from Athens is one of five announced Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for lieutenant governor.
The field also includes former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, Harrisburg Councilman Brad Koplinski, state Sen. Mike Stack and Brenda Alton, who recently held the post of director of Parks, Recreation and Enrichment for the city of Harrisburg.
The winner will be paired with the top vote-getter in the party’s race for governor and will likely take on the incumbent GOP ticket of Gov. Tom Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley in November.
As the state’s burgeoning natural gas industry continues to be a hot topic in environmental and political circles, Smith has seen the good and bad impacts first-hand.
As Bradford County became number one in the state for Marcellus Shale development, Smith became well versed on the state, regional and local impacts of the natural gas industry. While the deep-pocketed industry is quickly becoming a major player in the Northern Tier, Smith refuses to accept donations from industry political action committees.
The 1996 Athens Area High School graduate has also been an outspoken critic of the Corbett administration and state Department of Environmental Protection for what he has deemed failures to properly engage with county and local leaders on the oversight and regulation of the natural gas industry.
Smith has been a strong supporter of an extraction tax on natural gas. He said levying a 5 percent rate would greatly benefit the state and match taxes charged to drillers in other states.
On other issues, Smith said he supports a major investment in early-childhood education and higher pay for teachers.
He’s also pro-union and has drawn endorsements from some powerful locals across the state and locally including the Building Trades Councils in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and the Lehigh Valley, and several locals of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, including 163 in Wilkes-Barre.
He is unequivocally pro-choice and says birth control should be readily available to those who want it. He also stands behind gay marriage. His vocal support on this issue cost him a spot in Christian rock band One Floor Away, which last year told him he would have to quit as lead guitarist unless he changed his position.
He wouldn’t and his ties with the band were severed.
Smith, who recently married the former Jane Clements, a native of Shavertown, said his upbringing gave him a unique perspective that has guided his decisions. Raised by a single parent, he lived in a trailer, received free lunches at school and went to the food bank at times.
“I lived the lifestyle that helped me learn sometimes people do need a little bit of help,” he said.
Before entering public service, Smith was an industrial design engineer. He studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and then at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. He is taking classes with the goal of earning his MBA from Western Governors University.