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Ballot box revolution goes forth
Not all voters opt to join the Republican or Democratic parties.

Times-Leader Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE - Capitalists of Luzerne County unite. There are no Communists here.

There was one Socialist in Exeter, county voting records say. But he moved to Pittsburgh this year and became a Democrat.

Not everyone is as willing to join one of the two political parties that now dominate the county and the country 222 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Cheryl Gower is one of them.

Gower, 33, of Kingston, and hundreds of other county residents wage a quiet revolution each time they go to the ballot box as non-partisans, independents and members of third parties.

It comes at the cost of being able to vote in most primary elections and occasional pressure to change party registration.

Gower knows about that pressure. It's why she registered as a member of the Constitutional Party.

Her late father, Dean Brown Sr., was told he had to register as a Republican to be a police officer in Forty Fort, she said. He was no advocate of the party, but maintained his membership for years.

Yet, when he hurt his back, the politicians who demanded his support simply sent a letter to his home in 1990 to end his career, according to Gower.

"It practically killed him," she said. "He loved being a policeman and he didn't last long after that."

It was with her father in mind that Gower joined a third party while obtaining a new driver's license about two years ago. Yet, she considers herself more of an independent.

For instance, strict Constitutionalists are against any law impeding the right to bear arms. But Gower said, "I hate handguns."

Forty Fort Mayor Robert Megatulski, a Republican, confirmed that when Gower’s dad donned a badge more than 15 years ago "political appointments were made.’’ But the borough is now strictly business.

"Today, you have Civil Service and they (borough council members) go by the test,’’ Megatulski said.

Nevertheless, the mayor claimed, "It’s still done that way down at the (Luzerne County) courthouse. It’s still political. Whoever is in power down there favors their own people.’’

That’s been the experience of Jim Dalkiewicz, 44, of Shavertown.

The architectural engineer and developer said that after making an offer to buy three lots in Edwardsville, he was forced to sue the county Redevelopment Authority over 12 years because a Democratic politico expressed interest in the same land.

He also said a tax assessment appeal he made on his home was rejected several years ago, even though the county Assessor’s Office had already given a politically-connected neighbor a substantial reduction on a much larger house. Dalkiewicz claimed he eventually got the reduced assessment by threatening to tear down his existing house and erect an exact duplicate of his neighbor’s home.

"I shouldn’t have to be a contributor to a politician to be treated fairly,’’ Dalkiewicz said. "If we had five or six parties, the politicians would have to be more responsible to the taxpayer.’’

Dalkiewicz is classified in a county database of registered voters as being a member of an unspecified third party. "I think I probably put Perotista on the form,’’ he said with a chuckle. "I should have put Reform Party. They’re the first viable third party that I’ve seen.’’

Dalkiewicz never registered to vote before Ross Perot’s failed 1992 bid for the presidency and has not voted since. "The Republicans and Democrats ganged up to set Perot up,’’ he said. "It was like Nixon’s dirty tricks department. He was out there to try and fix problems and he couldn’t be bought.’’

Instead of voting, "I concentrate on making money, so I can have some leftover when the government takes a third of it. ...The bottomline is the politicians buy your vote with your own money through pork, like money for Steamtown or million dollar toilets in National Parks.’’

Bob Oeller, 60, of Harvey’s Lake R.R.1, was similarly disillusioned after Perot pulled out of the race. Registered as an independent, the Korean War veteran and disabled journeyman lineman said he had not cast a ballot recently because, "they’re all crooks as far as I’m concerned. They’re all out to fill their own pockets.’’

Research is the key to separating the wheat from the chaff, according to Conservative Party member William Jensen, 62, of Drums.

"I read up on the guys who are running for office,’’ the retired New York City policeman said. "I don’t vote for the party. I vote for the person.’’

Jensen said he and some friends on the force joined the Conservative Party years ago because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote a straight party ticket, but they never faced pressure in their jobs about it.

"I just wanted to be off to the side,’’ he said.

Saturday, July 4, 1998