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The Weblog at The View from the Core - Monday, June 19, 2006
Meet Diana Irey
E. L. Core
The Monongahela River winds through the western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia through Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh, where it joins the Allegheny River to form the Ohio. On its way, the Mon passes the City of Monongahela in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1769, the community of 5,000 maintains an active business district. Many historic buildings line Main Street, whose current residents take obvious pride in maintaining and presenting their homes. At the western end of town, a small park featuring a gazebo is the site of everything from weddings to the recent Flag Day ceremony. The “aquatorium” fronts the river mid-town, where the annual Fourth-of-July fireworks light up the steep wooded hills across the river, with folks watching the show from boats as well as from bleachers. At the eastern end of town, Whiskey Point is the site of one crucial event of the Whiskey Rebellion, Aug. 14, 1794, the first armed uprising against the federal government of the United States.
Park Avenue stretches along Pigeon Creek from Whiskey Point back towards hinterlands of dairy farms and scattered villages. Over the years, the residents of Park Avenue have seen young Stan Musial playing baseball with his friends and Joe Montana the boy practicing how to throw the football. General Carl Vuono, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 1987-1991, grew up on Park Avenue, and so did Minnesota Vikings football great Fred Cox, inventor of the Nerf ball. These days, the headquarters of the Diana Irey for Congress campaign sits on Park Avenue in a small commercial plaza among homes overlooking youth soccer fields and a small rodeo round-up arena.
A Washington County commissioner, Ms. Irey is challenging Democrat Rep. John Murtha as the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional district.
Ms. Irey, 43, was born in Ohio but mostly grew up in Wolf Summit, West Virginia. She graduated from Liberty High School, outside Clarksburg, and then enrolled in a one-year program at West Virginia Business College. Afterwards, she was employed by Consolidated Natural Gas until she married Bob Irey at 22 and moved to Monongahela, his hometown. They have three children: Victoria, 16; Frank, 15; and Alexandra, 12.
“The personal challenge right now,” Ms. Irey notes, “is trying not to be white-knuckled as I teach my daughter to drive.”
Without previous political experience, she ran for county commissioner in 1995.
“I was sought out by leading members of the Republican party,” she explains. “I looked at it as another type of community service, so I decided to run. I had never even worked on a campaign before, so it was a new experience.”
In West Virginia, she had been a registered Democrat. Why is she a Republican now?
“My philosophical beliefs are more in line with those of the Republican Party. But I tend to be an independent thinker. If anybody has watched what I’ve done as commissioner, they can see that I think for myself.”
“I think that’s how it should be,” she continues. “There are times when the party system hurts us. I think when people are forced to look at each candidate and each issue, they make a more informed choice about who represents them.”
Ms. Irey is now in her third term as county commissioner. Why did she decide to get into the Congressional race?
“It was just before Christmas, and Mr. Murtha was saying we need to redeploy from Iraq, and I started thinking about what he was saying at that time. I talked to a few people about the length of time he has been in office – 32 years. And I spoke with people about his issues. I started getting phone calls from people in the district encouraging me to take a hard look at this race. So I did that. When I took a look at Mr. Murtha and this race, I decided that he doesn’t at all represent what the people in this area want. So I felt quite a responsibility to take him on.”
Petite Ms. Irey sits coolly in her dark-blue pin-striped suit, usually pausing thoughtfully and speaking in measured words. One topic, however, provokes an abrupt change, a torrent of words, arms and hands waving in expressive gestures.
That topic? Illegal immigration.
“A huge problem. It needs to stop. We need to secure our borders, first and foremost. We need to do something to deal with all the people that are here. And it drives me crazy when I hear that we’ve captured illegals and then we let them go.”
What about amnesty for illegal aliens?
“I don’t agree with amnesty. I don’t think it is a good idea. Amnesty violates our rule of law. And if we say it’s okay for them to violate our rule of law now, what’s to say they’re going to have any respect for any other laws we have, in the future? And if we allow them to violate the rule of law, how does the fellow who couldn’t pay his taxes and lost his home because he couldn’t pay his property taxes – how’s he going to feel? What does that say to that person? And what does it say to the person who’s going five miles over the speed limit and gets stopped and gets a ticket? I think we have to be very careful how we deal with this situation. The bottom line is they’ve broken the law.”
Ms. Irey’s opponent is a retired Marine colonel, and his criticism of the military efforts in Iraq sparked her entrance into the race. But she herself has never been in the military. What of that?
“There have been a few people who have said to me, ‘You have no right to speak out because you haven’t served’. True, I have not served in the military. I am offering myself for a type of public service, and that is in government. And I tell you that I feel as if – based on the letters and the calls and the e-mails – that I am representing many who have served, in this election. And their comments, I will keep in my heart, and I will remember what they have said to me.”
Because she is a woman running against a man, might she think to expect any support from the National Organization for Women?*
“I’m not sure what groups will be coming out and supporting me. Being the challenger, I don’t expect a lot of groups to outwardly support me. But I’ll tell you that many members of some of these groups are coming to me to support me. NRA. We’re receiving so many checks that are from individual members of NRA, and Mr. Murtha has been endorsed by that organization for a long time.”
And, what kind of support is she getting from the general public?
“The support here locally has been incredible. It’s been heart-warming, the number of people who have come out to support me. Nationwide, too, people are coming on to support me. I’ve received checks from all but two states.”
“The calls, the e-mails, the letters I’ve received,” she continues, “especially from veterans and families of active military folks – I feel a great deal of responsibility. It’s been overwhelming, the number of people who have come on board to support me.”
She has also received support from officials in the state and local Republican Party, including some fund-raising efforts. What about the national party?
“I have not really sought assistance from the national level,” she explains. “At some point, I will ask for them to help. But I want to make it clear that I’m running for the people. I’m not running for a party. And I’m not going to be tied to specific groups. I stand for what I stand for, and I believe in what I believe in, and that’s who I am.”
* Since first published, this tongue-in-cheek question has been amplified by the addition of the introductory phrase, to clarify why it was asked.
The author, a fleeting acquaintance of Ms. Irey, has never belonged to any political party. He is a resident of Washington County and of Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional district. He is an occasional freelance writer for the Tribune-Review (Mon Valley section).
P.S. Three of the images above are clickable to larger versions.
P.P.S. Thanks to Vets4Irey and to the following blogs for linkage:
[Follow-up: Diana Irey Speaks.]
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