After concluding a successful legislative career and selling his self-built business, John Kennedy could have retired to the warm, sandy beaches of Florida and left the fight to reform Pennsylvania’s state government in the hands of others.
Instead, the energetic 71 year old entrepreneur and family man from Cumberland County has decided to saddle up for a ride back into public life, declaring his candidacy for the office of Lieutenant Governor in the May 2010 Primary Election. Kennedy, a well-known advocate of legislative reform and good governance immediately joins Philadelphia pastor Joe Watkins in the top tier of a field that may contain as many as a dozen aspirants.
"My campaign is going to be about positive things," says Kennedy. "We’re not in that bad of shape in Pennsylvania, but we need to make ourselves more competitive and I think I’ve got the background and ability to help us achieve that."
Kennedy, a Republican, is banking on his knowledge of the private sector to convince voters that he is the man best suited to serve as Lieutenant Governor. As an entrepreneur who founded Kennedy Railroad, he says that his company "built sidings for industries and laid and repaired a great deal of track in places like Philadelphia along the waterfront." Kennedy’s company did business in 63 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Kennedy seeks to be an advocate for small business people and their employees. "Think about it," says Kennedy. "There are three and a half million people who went to work this morning in a for-profit company owned by an individual or family that is not a public company. They produce about 70 percent of our state’s jobs and have no seat at the table. I intend to be their voice and bring them to the table."
Serving in the State House from 1981-1989, Kennedy kept a campaign pledge to retire after four terms. During his eight year legislative career Kennedy fought hard to raise the level of awareness that something was wrong in Harrisburg. He advocated for a Constitutional Convention, helped deep-six a pension grab by the politicos, and stopped a few pay raises along the way.
He has also held fast to a promise made during his 1980 campaign to refrain from taking a state-funded pension, health care benefits, or any other perks. By his own calculation he has single-handedly saved taxpayers approximately $800,000 over the years by refusing the benefits and privileges offered to legislators.
In 2005 Kennedy reemerged as a leader in the fight to repeal the legislative pay raise which cost many incumbent legislators their seats and stoked a grassroots brushfire statewide. Kennedy contributed to the movement by helping craft and lobby for the pay raise repeal legislation, HB 1945. It was at this point Kennedy realized that much of the work he started in the 1980s—especially the push for a limited Constitutional Convention to address the systemic operations of state government—was more important now than ever and in need of a champion. Specifically, Kennedy is seeking a Constitutional Convention to address Article II (the Legislature), Article III (Legislation), and Article V (the Judiciary).
"A Constitutional Convention would really fire up the citizenry. I stand with both feet on a convention," Kennedy said. The former legislator believes that a Constitutional Convention will only be effective with high quality delegates and an understanding that the final work has to go on the ballot to be approved by voters. Most importantly, says Kennedy, "you cannot let the professional politicians of either party dominate it."
Other candidates who have either announced or are considering seeking the position of Lt. Governor next year includes Republicans Kennedy and Watkins, Erie County Executive Rick Schenker, 2004 state Treasurer nominee Jean Craige Pepper of Erie, Chester County Commissioner Carol Aichele, York businessman Steve Johnson, Dauphin County Commissioner Nick DiFrancesco, State Rep. Tom Killion of Delaware County, Bucks County Commissioner Jim Cawley, State Rep. Karen Beyer of Northampton, and Philadelphia City Councilman Frank Rizzo, Jr.
The only announced Democrat thus far is former Philadelphia City Controller Jonathan Saidel.