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Bob Roggio.
In Their Own Words

Bob Roggio
Democratic candidate for Congress (PA-6).

-- Dan Loeb

Businessman Bob Roggio played key roles in Southeastern Pennsylvania for the Kerry and Casey campaigns. He is the Democratic candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania's Sixth Congressional District running against incumbent Jim Gerlach. The Philadelphia Jewish Voice recently interviewed Bob Roggio.

Audio of Interview is available.

Why did you decide to run against Jim Gerlach in Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional district?

Well, I think the bottom line is I am just very unhappy with the direction the country is going and I have always had an interest in community activities and helping out as much as I can locally, and I decided I would like to take this nationally.

Jim Gerlach was considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republican congressmen both in 2004 and 2006, yet he defeated Lois Murphy twice. Why has he proven so resilient?

Well, I think he is very skillful at getting out an image of being a moderate Republican, which actually sells well in our area, in the Sixth District, but I think there were some things that today versus that make it more interesting for people in district six to go with a Democratic candidate. We got demographic changes, we have got issues that are coming to the forefront of the political debate right now, which are primarily issues that Democrats have been talking about for years, and we have got these six years of Jim Gerlach, seven years of just deterioration in America of everything we want and stand for, and I think he’s got to be held accountable for that. I think people are starting to believe that is going to happen.

Is he in fact a "moderate Republican"?

No, it depends on issues. If you’ve watched recently, he’s been voting and changing his mind on a lot of things in order to try and get reelected, but if you go over his whole record, he is absolutely a conservative. He does not have a strong environmental record, even though he emphasizes the one area he has actually done well, which is open space, but he certainly has not been a voice for global warming. He is not strong on healthcare in any way, he has talked about healthcare in the point of view of the free market solving this problem, and the free market will not solve this problem, certainly not when I am alive. He has not addressed these things and he has taken a conservative position, and I think we are going to have to point that out to people and I think we can do that.

What do you think you’re going to do different from Lois Murphy, and how do you think you will succeed where she has failed?

We’re going to do a couple things differently. We will still point out to everyone that he has been a major supporter of George Bush for the last six years, including all his voting records where he’s voted for big oil and things like that. We will also point out something Lois did not and that is that we have these serious problems in America, we’ve had them for many years and basically we are going to talk about his inaction: the inaction of Gerlach and the inaction of George Bush. Sometimes, to me, inaction is actually worse than making the wrong action, so we’re going to emphasize a little different tack on that and say, "Look, here is what you guys really care about in the Sixth District. These have been ignored by Jim Gerlach and George Bush.”

I believe this is the first time you are running for public office, but you have had experience in politics as volunteer coordinator for the Kerry campaign. What lessons did you learn from that?

Well, as volunteer coordinator in Philadelphia, it was a national campaign for John Kerry. I had four thousand people, all volunteers with the exception of a small staff of my own, that we coordinated for all major events in Philadelphia. I don’t think that my biggest experiences there, or my best experiences there, would translate to running a campaign.

I think I learned a lot more with the state campaign with Senator Bob Casey, where I was both a surrogate and his coordinator in the suburban Philadelphia area, which included the sixth district. I had all the four counties surrounding Philadelphia plus Berks County, and there I not only saw the strategies and how we did it, I spoke for him at many events. I coordinated all the efforts with the local Democratic committees, so I had a base with the Democratic committees before I decided to run, which is, I believe very strongly, one of the reasons I ended up with 85 percent of the vote in Chester County when they endorsed me, and 75 percent of the vote in Montgomery County when they endorsed me.

In fact, Bob Casey won the Sixth Congressional District, even though he’s better associated with Western Pennsylvania which proves that Democrats can win the Sixth Congressional District.

Yeah, he did do that. Today, as you are probably aware of, Montgomery County is now a Democratic county. With all the registration changes, Democrats have actually taken a lead there, Chester County has changed registration from Republican to Democrat 10 to 1, and it’s been something like 6 to 1 in Berks County. I think Berks County is also starting to be very well organized in their Democratic committee, which I saw in 2006 when I was working for Sen. Casey, and I’ve been working with them now obviously, since January. I believe they’re really going to be able to turn out the Democratic vote this year, also.

Are you planning, or perhaps you have already started coordinating your campaign with those of Democrats in other districts: Joe Sestak, Allyson Schwartz, and Patrick Murphy, for example?

Only to the point of conversations. I’ve spoken to everyone you’ve just mentioned and even Sam Bennett who’s a challenger here in the 15th. I’ve talked to those people; I’ve talked to Tim Holden’s chief of staff, Tim Smith. So we’ve had some conversations and how we’re going to do this, I’m not quite sure, but it’s certainly something we will try to do. These campaign will coordinate not only with us, but also with the Presidential, I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of action in Pennsylvania from whatever Presidential candidate the Democrats have, so our campaigns are going to be coordinated and it’s going to be somewhat driven by some of those activities. I’ve already talked to Joe, I talked to Patrick just a couple days ago and he and I are getting together in June for an event, and I’ve talked to Allyson a dozen times and we’re going to try to do something there. So, yes, we are going to, I just can’t give you a definite plan at this point because we don’t have one. They see the potential here, but they’re also running there own races, so it kind of makes it difficult to find timing and get things together like that, but we will.

Presidential Politics

In terms of the Presidential race, which you alluded to, do you have a “horse” that you’re “betting on”?

No, I’m totally uncommitted. I think we have two great candidates and I do hope it ends pretty soon so we know which one it is, but, no, I have no pick there.

Do you believe the party can come together after this divisive primary?

Yes, straight off here, but I think the biggest thing that’s helping me with this kind of primary to where it’s gone so far is the issues. They have brought to the forefront the issues that America cared about. They’ve debated about them; they’ve had a lot of information about healthcare, about Iraq, and about alternative energy sources, and when things are discussed like that, I think that helps me because they have a voice that’s powerful enough to get the media to talk about it day after day, which I certainly would not have had at this point. So they have helped me by identifying these issues and by giving some clarity to what we, as Democrats, what we might be able to do to solve these problems with. So, I’ve think they helped me and I’m ready for it to end now, but before that I think it’s actually been helpful. The only negative might have been some of comments that have been made between them, but I don’t know if that’s going to hurt Democrats in terms of the sixth district, and I’m not abundant to know what’s going to happen in the national district because of those kinds of things.

There seems to be a debate in the party between Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy and the approach of others like James Carville concentrating on swing states. Can you comment on that?

Yes, but not with any expertise. I understand the philosophies of both of them and I think some of that is going to depend on whom the candidate is. I think if the candidate is Barack, he might lean towards the 50-state program, and if it’s Hillary it might lead the other way to the major states.

An interesting dynamic I’ve noted this year is many of the Republicans have been retiring. Obviously, some of them because they are afraid they are not going to be reelected, but some of them in fairly safe seats seemingly because they seem no longer interested in serving in Congress if it is just to be part of a minority. Can you comment on that? What can somebody contribute to Congress if they are part of a small minority?

Well, I do think that some of that word will get out there Jim Gerlach honestly has been able to some of the organizations in our area, nonprofits, some of the schools, some of the projects that people are building and so forth. He has been able to facilitate some help there, particularly financial help. Obviously, promises that are made now are going to be much harder for him to actually come to fruition because he’s going to be in the minority party. Even though he has six years, it’s not going to overcome the fact that he will not be part of the majority, which will make it much more difficult for him. So I think that people who feel like, “Wow, he can do this for us” are going to be surprised when they start to think about what his position will be in the next Congress.


Turning towards policy, how many troops do you believe should remain in Iraq, and when do you think we should be drawing down our commitment?

Well, I think the question you just asked is an incredibly complex question. It could take us hours to discuss all the options, but I’ll try to give a general philosophy on what I think should happen there. Circumstances could change dramatically there from day to day, so it is very difficult and to me it’s the most complex problem America’s facing today. I think we should have a redeployment plan in place by January of 2009 and it should be accomplished within six months. That is my feeling with the information that I have today, and I believe I’m one of the people that believe that if we do set a goal for the timelines that we will be putting pressure on the Iraqi government and we would also be putting pressure on the other surrounding countries there: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and so forth, who will know it is in there best interest to have a peaceful solution to this thing. So I’m thinking that my thinking is the way to go, but I want to make it clear that it’s a complex issue and the circumstances on the ground, and even politically, could change, but bottom line: let’s get them out of there as quickly as we can, let’s do all the diplomatic things we have to do both in Iraq but also the surrounding community, and I do think a Democratic president in January will help facilitate that because they will be able to increase their diplomatic pull in Europe and in the Middle East because I think they’ll gain some respect back from these countries.

So by "redeployment", do you mean moving all the troops out of Iraq while remaining in the area?

I’d like to move them all out of Iraq, that’s what redeployment means, and to surrounding areas, but certainly not the force we have now or maybe close to half of it. I’d like to see the concentration go back to Afghanistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and do what we should have been doing right from the beginning and make sure that we help their government in Afghanistan stay stable and become back where it was. I think the Taliban is rising, from everything I’ve read, and we have unrest there that could have been squelched had we concentrated on that target right from the beginning.

However, both Clinton and Obama have stated similar positions where they would withdraw most of the troops in Iraq, but keep residual forces there to do anti-terrorism work, to defend the embassy, and for training missions. Many people estimate that would be a quarter or a sixth of the current deployment. It sounds like you’re saying that that might be too much.

I am saying that based on what I know, but I’m telling you as a Congressman, you have to get into the detail and the nuance of this and some of the reasons that I could change that is the influence of the military leaders, what circumstances we find ourselves in January 2009. Nobody knows those answers. I just don’t want to see any more deaths of American soldiers in Iraq after January 9th and I hope not to see any before that, but that is my number one priority. Let’s put it this way, the war was unnecessary and it was senseless, and I want to make sure that the American people and the military men are protected.


Our readers are obviously very concerned about the peace situation between Israel and the Arab countries. Recently, former President Jimmy Carter visited the Middle East and met with representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah, and this visit was denounced by all three presidential candidates and the Israeli government. Can you comment on that visit?

I think it was a huge mistake and I will denounce it as much as they have. I don’t think that it benefited anybody. I think it was actually the wrong thing to do. I actually think, if anything, it gave hope to Hamas that we were going to switch sides or at least lean somewhat to them, and it’s absolutely ridiculous. We are not going to do that, and the United States’ support for Israel is paramount and it will continue to be that way with me and I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be that way with no matter who is President of the United States.

What should be the role of the United States’ government working for peace in this region?

I think that we have to be more active in diplomatic situations there. I think the Bush Administration lost that opportunity for the first seven years and they are trying to scramble now, and it’s too late. They don’t have the credibility, they can’t bring the diplomatic forces from even other countries, and they just put themselves in a much less powerful position than we were seven years ago. I’m hoping that is restored by a new administration and that we can work closely with Israel, understand their need, which I think I understand pretty closely, and then get the Middle East countries to understand why their cooperation is needed here. I think the roadmap is a good idea, I just don’t think there’s some diplomatic efforts made at any level really, but certainly the president of the United States and Israeli Operations have to be very, very involved as Bill Clinton was.

Now, Israel has been a leader in the world in research on energy independence and alternative energy. Do you think that the United States can learn anything from Israel in this regard?

Well, it does seem, from what I read recently, that they’ve been, in all technical areas, people that have been able to develop things we are currently using in the United States. In alternative energy, I have to say yes, but I think there’s a worldwide competition that’s going to help us develop alternative energy, and we are going to be behind Europe and Israel if we don’t change some of our priorities in this country, which would mean changing some of our tax programs and incentive programs in order to put as much resources as we can and ask our corporations to put their resources into developing it. I think we can do some major work, a lot of ingenuity in this country; we have a lot of people who are well trained in this type of thing, and can do these things if they have the proper incentives. Of course, our world is a corporate world, so those incentives have to be tax incentives or some types of grants and so forth, so people will be willing to invest in these alternative sources, and that way we will be able to develop much faster.

Separation between Church and State

Our current administration has invested heavily in faith-based initiatives. Do you think these are appropriate recipients of federal dollars?

No, I think our country is becoming incredibly more diverse every single year, and the more we try to combine church and state, the more dangerous it becomes to our democracy. I think we are clearly a democracy that should separate church and state, and I think it’s more important today than it was for our founding fathers because we do have a larger diverse base and we certainly don’t want to offend anybody or make a minority of people behave differently because of their religious beliefs, so I think we should emphasize separating church from state.


We mentioned healthcare plans before. Michael Moore recently criticized both the Clinton and Obama healthcare plans claiming they maintained the current system by which HMO’s are set up to deny medical care to people. Is this a fair criticism of our healthcare system?

It’s a fair criticism of today’s healthcare system. As far as Barack and Hillary’s programs are concerned, I think they are doing what is politically viable, and there are many different types of thoughts out there on healthcare, a very complex issue also, but I think they’re going in the right direction. You can’t jump from where we are today, which is basically an open free market system, to a government-run system of universal healthcare. I think we have to take our time and head towards that direction, but it will be interesting to see if the new aggregate, the way their putting people together in the much bigger numbers, actually force our healthcare quotes down. There are many reasons to think that will happen, and I think the priorities they put on helping and subsidizing low-income people so that they can get affordable healthcare, I think those are the right priorities. So I think their priorities are a good step in the right direction, but it’s almost like a learning step, we’re going to take this step and lets see if some of the things we predict are going to happen and if there’s unintended consequences, like there frequently is, and then move from there. But the bottom line here is that the healthcare system in our country is broken. People’s costs are going up dramatically, we’ve got 47 million people without healthcare, so I‘m saying we’ve got to sit in a room and talk to all the experts and we’ve got to make a move, and at least Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are talking about a move that addresses these problems.

The Economy

With the recent downturn in the economy, some would say a recession; I’d like to ask you a few questions about that. Do you think the financial industry needs to be more tightly regulated?

Yes, I think what happened is that they kind of got around the normal financial institutional regulations the banks have by packaging mortgages as financial investments and bypassing some of the regulations we have in place. I’m not going to go out there and say, “regulate, regulate, regulate”, but every single industry in a free market has some regulation; it’s not a free, free, free market. There are laws that people have to abide by: there’s tax laws, there’s other types of considerations that we have, and I think the idea of minimizing regulations for an industry is right, because I used to run a business and I know what that feels like, but we’re talking about something more important than corporate profits and that is the welfare of the whole country. I think it was wrong to allow these companies to do what they did in terms of the sub-prime market and the way they sold the commodities afterwards.

I see the economy in a recession or very close to it, and I believe that some of the short-term things we’re doing to help people that are going to be most effective are the right things to do, but what America has to do right now is do what I did in business, and that’s invest for its future, and the priorities for the investments for the future have to be education all the way starting with preschool through college, we have to make that much more accessible. It has to secondly be through infrastructure, or infrastructure in which this country was built on, building the highways and the railroads as our history, that has to become a priority again so their businesses can thrive. And the last thing we have to do is the alternative energy sources, we have to invest there to enact incentives, major programs, incentives to colleges, and so forth, to get, even in that case, grants to colleges in order to get more scientists to work on this because that in itself, our dependence on foreign oil, can be one of our most vulnerable points and we’ve got to move very quickly on that, If we make those three investments, which will hurt a little bit today, we will be able to secure a much better economic future for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren.

What steps should be taken to improve some of our International Trading Agreements?

Well, I think that the people who make the points that our trade agreements are unfair are correct. I think the American people understand that we’re going to be in for a global economy, and we’ve got to compete in that economy, but when we agree with those companies, which put us on an uneven playing field, I don’t see the point of that. If we make an agreement, they should have free labor laws, they should have to have OSHA Laws, they should have environmental constraints in their companies, and that not only makes the world a better place, it does allow our people to compete. I think when you put our people on a competitive field, which is as fair as you possibly can make it, we’re going to do fine. I’ve seen in happen in America over and over again if you read the history books, so I’m not concerned about making these agreements. I think they can benefit this country and I think certainly we’ve seen some benefits, but I do say for the benefits of our workers and our middle class, which is what everyone is concerned about, in terms of diminishing, we’ve got to make sure they’re on a playing field where they really can compete.

Final Remarks

Finally, I’d like to act you if you could comment on your experience and familiarity with the Jewish Community. Do you have any Jewish advisors, have you visited Israel, or do you have any final remarks you would like to leave with the Philadelphia Jewish Community?

Well, I’ve never been to Israel, but I would love to go. I have been following the situation for many years, including back in the Jimmy Carter era, but I do have several people who are helping me with the Jewish program, and, of course, I’ve met with some of the Jewish organizations like APAC, and I would say that I’ve been educated mostly by a woman named Betsy Sheer and I’ve met with her several times, I’ve read a lot of which she’s asked me to read, I’ve become much more familiar with the geography, the history, I’m very familiar now with the threat of Iran and why it’s so significant, I’ve seen things that I didn’t know about before, so I’ve been studying, and I’m not studying because you and I are meeting today. I’ve been doing this for months and I’ve actually become very passionate about it. I just think when you look at the geography and you look at the history and you look at Iran, it’s a very difficult situation and we have to make sure we come down on the side of Israel because they’re the only democracy, they’re the only true democracy out there, and I think that they are under attack verbally, but I’m very concerned about the nuclear weapons in Iran. I believe that they are trying to develop them and we have to do everything we can, which would start with diplomatic efforts and the significance of letting other people know why it’s significant to them, not only Israel, but to Jordan and to Saudi Arabia and to Syria, why all of them should be concerned about this, and the whole play that in itself will change some things. If not, I would be, as a last resort, saying we have to take military action rather than let them have nuclear weapons.

Previous Interviews

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