Visitors at the Warren County Fair on Wednesday afternoon had the chance to meet the man challenging Republican Congressman Glenn Thompson for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
State College resident Charles Dumas, who is a professor at Penn State University, is running on the Democratic ticket. Dumas said he waited before entering the race in the hopes someone else would run against Thompson, because he doesn't see himself as a politician.
"I don't have a lot of political experience," Dumas said. "I never thought of myself as a congressman; I think of myself as a teacher."
Photo by Jacob Perryman
Charles Dumas, right, is running as a Democrat against incumbent Fifth District U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson. He is joined by Janet Peterson, vice chair of the Warren County Democratic Committee.
Dumas isn't entirely a neophyte when it comes to government though. He served three years as chairman of the Human Relations Commission of State College Borough. Dumas, who received a bachelor's degree in political science from State University of New York (SUNY), also served approximately six months as a congressional intern in Washington before going on to receive a Juris Doctorate from Yale University. According to Dumas, even his short time as an intern allowed him to "learn the ropes in Washington."
Asked what prompted him to run, Dumas replied, "When I was watching the Republican debates, the only thing they could agree on was the president is the problem and if you get rid of him all of the problems go away. The only way you get through problems is you sit down and you solve them, you work together. I think you can stand up and fight, but, at the end of the day, you sit down together and work things out. You don't go, 'I'm going to torpedo everything the president does, anything that makes him look good.' I'd feel the same if the president was a Republican. This country is based on the idea of community and I just didn't see that. "
"Congressman Thompson has a pretty big war chest. He's pretty well thought of by the people who have a lot of money and so he can raise more money," Dumas said. "No one wanted to go up against him."
Dumas said he hopes to overcome Thompson's financial advantages by running a campaign based on being accessible to voters. He said he believes a "personal touch" can make all the difference.
"Independents are the key here," Dumas said. "Everyone's important, but I think they're ready to see people work together. They realize it's not a football game."
Dumas said providing voters opportunities to meet him one-on-one could bring up inherent bias in a district where 96.5 percent of the population identifies itself as white. Based on demographic figures, Dumas estimates Warren County only boasts approximately 84 African Americans, but he said he feels it won't be a major factor.
"As you might have noticed, I'm black," Dumas said, "but I don't think it matters. I think we're at a point in America where people look me in the eye and listen."
Dumas said he supports Democrat ideals in general, but did make some distinctions and clarifications as to where he diverges and why he holds the positions he does.
He said, "I am supportive of the Democratic platform, but there are some places I diverge.
"I think increasing the taxes of the top one percent to 35 percent isn't enough. I look at this country coming out of the Great Depression and when our economy was strongest during the fifties, and it was around 50 percent or higher. So I think we need something more drastic. I would urge the president to increase toward that 50 percent and use that money to pay down the debt. Then create jobs, and not just busy work, pay the teachers, pay the firefighters. I would also work on infrastructure development. I believe maybe we should focus a little less on job creators and more on the job workers. They built this country. If the rich folks aren't doing it (creating jobs), and they aren't, then let's do it collectively. Let's create those jobs as a nation. I'm not against developing individual opportunity, but at the same time we need to look out for each other.
"I'm a Catholic. I consider myself a 'work in progress' Christian. I believe some of those Christian values translate to government.
"I'm a strong union supporter. I like to tell people I belong to the same union as Charleston Heston and Ronald Reagan.
"I believe we need to leave the world a better place for our children."
Dumas said he supports the Second Amendment and owns a rifle and shotgun.
"I have no problem with that," Dumas said of owning firearms for hunting. "I don't see the need to own a bazooka. As a congressman, it's your duty to uphold the Constitution. The right to bear arms is in the Constitution so I would uphold that. All we're talking about is where the line is."
Dumas also discussed his views on abortion, describing it as, "the other issue you aren't supposed to talk about as a Democrat." According to Dumas, he would uphold the law as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"As a congressman, it's my duty to uphold the Constitution. My personal opinion doesn't matter," Dumas said. "I know it's difficult, but I've prayed a lot about it. I've thought a lot about it."
Dumas has taught constitutional law at SUNY. He also served as chairman of the board of directors of Mid-Hudson Legal Services and worked in corporate law for IBM.
One issue not often seen in the national spotlight Dumas highlighted was gender equality in pay.
"I am very much in favor of fixing a wrong that was wrong when it started and is still wrong," Dumas said. "I am very supportive of equal pay for equal work regardless of gender."
Dumas said he would bring a congressional office to Warren County if elected in an effort to increase accessibility.
"It's a big district," Dumas pointed out, "but that's important."
According to Dumas ,he brings unique insight on the people of the Fifth District to the table.
"I learned the Fifth District by meeting their kids (as a professor)," Dumas said. "These are hard-working, good kids and you don't have that without hard-working, good people."