Republican Dean Browning, a business executive and former chairman of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners, announced Monday his candidacy for Lehigh County Executive.
Browning, in a prepared release, said he is the candidate who would be best prepared to manage and reform Lehigh County’s $360 million budget and 2,000-plus employees.
“While I have long been a constitutional, economic, fiscal and social conservative, I don’t believe compromise and bipartisanship are dirty words,” said Browning, of South Whitehall.
He outlined a four-point plan to grow the county’s economy and create jobs, to balance the county budget, to streamline government operations and to break what he says is "the current grip of ideology-fueled gridlock and dysfunction" in Lehigh County government. Among his ideas: link county spending and wages to the rate of economic growth in the county.
Browning is the second Republican to declare his candidacy for Lehigh County Executive. County Commissioner Scott Ott announced last week that he will run.
Browning is chief financial officer for New World Aviation at the Lehigh Valley International Airport and former chairman of the Lehigh County Republican Committee. He lost a re-election bid in 2011 when targeted by a slate of four Republican candidates, including Ott, following a controversial county budget showdown. Patch ran a profile of Browning during that campaign.
At the time, Browning's critics said he had compromised his conservative principles by allowing a 16 percent tax increase. His defenders said he was a “profile in courage” when he refused to side with fellow GOP commissioners on a political maneuver designed to distance them from cuts or a tax increase.
Browning took the controversy head-on Monday in his release announcing his bid for county executive. He said he expects Ott to bring up "the same misleading attacks" again.
“The facts are clear: I never voted for a budget that increased property taxes – and that statement is beyond dispute,” said Browning. “What I did do was vote to reject a Washington, DC-style budget gimmick that even its supporters admitted was all about partisan politics. Unlike them, I just don’t believe it’s ‘conservative’ to call for spending cuts without having the courage to identify what you would actually cut; and I don’t believe it’s ‘conservative’ to pay for tax cuts by driving up the deficit.”
Browning's full release is here.
Under his four-point plan, Browning said he would:
* Enact spending reforms that balance the county budget, while pursuing "responsible" tax cuts that don’t add to the deficit, such as, he said, was done this year. He'd link county spending and wages to the rate of economic growth in the county.
* Implement the findings of a comprehensive review of county government done in 2011 that he co-directed, which identified specific programs and services mandated by the state and those that can be improved, reduced, eliminated or privatized. He'd empower taxpayers and voters to approve or reject new county borrowing for large capital projects.
*Establish a roundtable of county business leaders and educators to develop and implement a strategic vision and plan that would develop a skilled workforce and make the county a destination for job creators.
* Enact term limits for all county politicians. He'd resurrect a plan to put a referendum on the ballot giving voters the ability to limit county politicians to two four-year terms.
Browning earned his bachelor’s degree from Denison University in Ohio and a master’s degree in industrial management with a concentration in finance from Georgia Tech. A job at Air Products and Chemicals brought him to the Lehigh Valley in 1979, where he worked in financial analysis until 1986. For the last 12 years, he has worked at New World Aviation at the airport.
The Lehigh County Executive position is now held by Bill Hansell, who is filling out Don Cunningham's unexpired term. Cunningham went on to lead the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.
Browning's website is www.BrowningforExecutive.com.