After a couple of years of uninspired leadership and some infighting, the Berks County Republican Party has united behind a new chairman.
It couldn't have come at a better time. The party is poised to regain majority control of the Berks County Board of Commissioners and needs to focus on the crucial 2008 election year, which features a presidential race and contests for the Pennsylvania Legislature.
Mark M. Gillen, a Bob Jones University graduate who has done a lot of mission work abroad, was the unanimous choice for chairman by the county Republican Committee.
He succeeds Ron Stanko, who took a leave from running the day-to-day affairs of the party months ago to pursue a seat on the Berks County Court of Common Pleas.
All I can say about Gillen's elevation to chairman is that it's about time.
I have nothing against Stanko or his predecessor, Larry Medaglia Jr., but you can't do the work of a party chairman in a competitive county, hold down a full-time job and run for elected office at the same time. Something's gotta give.
Stanko is running against fellow Republican Tim Rowley, who won the Democratic nomination for Berks County Judge in May. Although both men ran a positive campaign in the primary, the race could cause a rift in the GOP. Having the party chairman involved in a contentious race (even if he stepped down temporarily) was not an ideal situation.
Gillen and the Berks County Republican Party have a lot work ahead of them. Democrats have been making inroads in county government in recent years and have controlled the county Board of Commissioners for the past four years.
What has four years of Democratic Party control brought Berks County residents? Higher taxes, rising crime and deteriorating quality of life for starters.
Priority No. 1 for the Berks GOP is to take back majority control of the three-member county commissioners' board. The party has two good candidates in incumbent Mark Scott and newcomer Christian Leinbach.
Another important November race is Recorder of Deeds, where longtime party worker John Fielding will attempt to keep the post in GOP hands.
After the fall election, Gillen better get moving to reorganize grassroots workers and infuse new blood into the party. No disrespect to folks who have spent decades working on behalf of the party, but take a look around at a Republican Committee meeting and you see a lot of white hairs and gray hairs.
The Republican Party has not done a good job of getting younger people involved. The old-timers have to take younger members under their wing if they want the party to have a future.
The election of Gillen, who is 51, is a step in the right direction. The party needs to be energized for the 2008 presidential election.
The Berks County GOP also needs to find good candidates to challenge Sen. Mike O'Pake and state Reps. Tom Caltagirone, Dante Santoni and David Kessler.
The three Democratic dinosaurs -- O'Pake, Caltagirone and Santoni -- have spent a combined 75 years collecting hefty paychecks from taxpayers and enjoying the lavish lifestyle of career Harrisburg politicians.
All three Democrats voted for the July 2005 pay raise for themselves, have supported numerous tax hikes and have failed repeatedly to deliver on their No. 1 promise: Property tax relief to Berks County residents.
Kessler is the "accidental candidate" who won Rep. Dennis Leh's seat in eastern Berks. The phony reformer can be beaten in 2008 with a decent Republican candidate from the 130th District.
It's time for a change and Gillen appears to be the right person to lead the party in the crucial years ahead.
P.S. --- Mr. Gillen, find somebody in the party who knows something about computers and get a Web site going for the county party. It's 2007 and the party acts like it's 1955.