In Luzerne County House race, Republican challenger seeks to unseat first-term incumbent

Gun Rights

A first-term Republican state representative who was a businessman faces a strong primary election challenge from another businessman in the race for 117th House District seat.

Rep. Mike Cabell says he’s done a good job advocating for conservative values and deserves another two-year term. Challenger Jamie Walsh says he’s the “true conservative” in the race.

Cabell and Walsh are the only candidates because no Democrat filed nominating petitions. That means whoever wins the Republican primary will likely become the next representative, barring successful write-in or third-party candidates. The job pays $106,422.33 a year, but the salary will go up Dec. 1, based on inflation.

Before becoming a representative, Cabell, 39, of Butler Township, co-owned a 50-bed substance abuse treatment center in Mahanoy City, a mental health treatment center outside Philadelphia and a traffic safety and flagging company. He ran unsuccessfully in 2011 for the first Luzerne County Council before winning election to the House in 2022 after Rep. Karen Boback retired.

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Cabell said his business experience enhances his qualifications for his current job.

“Because there’s not a ton of people that have done both,” he said.

He said he deserves re-election because he fought for keeping high school boys and girls sports separate, opposed all new gun restrictions and promoted a voter ID bill. He also fought for new restrictions on “illegal immigration,” including a 10% fee on money “illegal immigrants” send to their native country, he said.

Walsh, 49, of Ross Township, co-owns a gutter installation business. Before that, he worked as a vice president of sales for a company that sold wheelchair cushions. He visited every state but Oklahoma and other many countries, but gave that up when he got cancer in his right eye. He beat the disease.

Walsh said he will pursue top priorities that include protecting gun ownership and parental rights, election integrity, term limits, better roads and bridges and school property tax reform.

“I can tell you from … going door to door (campaigning) through the communities where you’re standing at the door, and people are welling up with tears in their eyes, because they’re literally losing their houses,” Walsh said of high property taxes.

Two outside groups, Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania and Young Americans for Liberty, have spent thousands of dollars sending out political mailers that target him for defeat, Cabell said.

The two men have quarreled over Cabell’s attempt to get Walsh out of the race. Walsh says Cabell’s campaign manager offered him $10,000 for a future state Senate race if he would bow out of this race. Cabell denies that. Believing he and Walsh have similar philosophies, Cabell said he offered support Walsh in an unspecified future campaign but didn’t offer any money.

WVIA News contacted Cabell and Walsh to explain their positions on issues. Their answers are below.

ABORTION

CABELL: Opposes abortion except for saving the life of the mother and in cases of rape or incest. Believes life begins at conception, but favors passing laws, if necessary, to ensure access to in vitro fertilization.

WALSH: Opposes abortion except for saving the life of the mother and encouraging adoption in cases of rape or incest. Believes in encouraging life at all costs and that life begins at conception. Favors passing laws, if necessary, to ensure access to in vitro fertilization.

EDUCATION

PUBLIC SCHOOL FUNDING

CABELL: Believes the state needs a fairer school funding formula and thinks the formula proposed in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s latest budget isn’t fair. Wants rural school districts to have more say.

WALSH: Believes the state needs a fairer school funding formula because the current system benefits Philadelphia and Pittsburgh most.

SCHOOL PROPERTY TAXES

CABELL: Favors freezing property taxes for senior citizens and exploring a system that lowers them with higher sales or income taxes.

WALSH: Favors lowering or eliminating property taxes with some combination of higher sales or income taxes.

SCHOOL CHOICE/CHARTER SCHOOL REFORM

CABELL: Favors school choice. Regrets Gov. Shapiro vetoed $100 million in funding to pay for choice last year.

“We were pretty close to having a really good program,” he said.

Favors exploring cyber charter school funding reform because they don’t have the same expenses as brick-and-mortar schools. Favors requiring charter schools to test students.

WALSH: Favors school vouchers so students can choose their schools, including private ones.

“If the school district … is failing your child … and there’s a neighboring school district that’s got a lot better support for your child, that money should follow that child,” he said.

Favors cyber charter school funding reform because they don’t have the same expenses as physical schools. Favors requiring charter schools to test students.

ELECTION REFORM/TERM LIMITS

CABELL: Favors requiring identification to vote, citing polls that show Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly agree.

“It’s common sense,” he said. “I think it’s ridiculous that we’re still having this conversation.”

Says voter registration bureaus can issue voter ID cards so driver’s licenses or other forms of ID are unnecessary.

Favors ending no-excuse mail-in balloting and returning to absentee balloting that requires a valid reason. Favors banning ballot drop boxes.

Favors term limits and thinks maybe five two-year terms is enough, but is willing to negotiate the number.

WALSH: Favors requiring identification to vote.

“You need an identification card to do most everything in this life. And I feel like that voting is one of the most important things we can do as people and it needs to be as accurate as possible,” he said.

Favors ending no-excuse mail-in balloting and returning to absentee balloting that requires a valid reason. Favors banning ballot drop boxes.

Favors limiting state representatives to four two-year terms and pledges to serve no more than four terms if elected.

EXPENSE REIMBURSEMENT

CABELL: Favors replacing per-diem expense reimbursements for legislators with reimbursements based on actual expenses and receipts. Says he already rejects per-diems.

Favors banning gifts to legislators, though maybe allowing nominal gifts.

“I think there needs to be a reasonable limit,” he said.

WALSH: Favors replacing per-diem expense reimbursements for legislators with reimbursements based on actual expenses and receipts.

Favors banning gifts to legislators.

“I would just say no gifts. Let’s keep it clean and separate. A cup of coffee turns into a pot of coffee, which turns into dinner …” he said.

GUN RIGHTS

CABELL: Opposes any further gun regulation. Enjoys the endorsements of the Gun Owners of America and the National Rifle Association.

WALSH: Opposes any further gun regulation.

“We already have systems in place now that work fine,” he said.

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION

CABELL: Opposes legalization because constituents oppose it.

“I’ve seen the harms of substance abuse on … families. We need to focus on better mental health and I think that legalizing cannabis for adult use wouldn’t help that,” he said.

WALSH: Opposes legalization because more research is necessary, including studying the effects in states that legalized marijuana.

MINIMUM WAGE

CABELL: Opposes increasing the minimum because the market has already raised wages to $15 or more an hour.

“Why involve government any more than they already are?” he said.

WALSH: Opposes increasing the minimum because he believes government should no force higher wages.

“They need to stay out of small business,” he said.

NATURAL GAS EXTRACTION TAX

CABELL: Opposes the tax and favors concentrating on getting Pennsylvania’s gas to markets.

“We have the Saudi Arabia of natural gas under our feet and we’re being stifled by restrictions on pipelines and fracking in certain areas,” he said.

WALSH: Opposes the tax and favors concentrating on getting Pennsylvania’s gas to markets. Thinks the tax is meant to promote green energy.

The 117th district includes Black Creek, Butler, Conyngham, Dennison, Dorrance, Fairmount, Foster, Hollenback, Hunlock, Huntington, Lake, Lehman, Nescopeck, Ross, Salem, Slocum, Sugarloaf and Union townships and Conyngham, Dallas, Freeland, Harveys Lake, Jeddo, Nescopeck, New Columbus, Nuangola, Penn Lake Park, Shickshinny and White Haven boroughs.

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