Capital-Star Q+A: Gov. candidate Jason Monn thinks Harrisburg needs an everyman

The self-described a ‘nobody from nowhere’ talked vaccine mandates and his leadership style

By: - October 15, 2021 7:19 am

Jason Monn (Courtesy of Monn campign)

Editor’s note: It’s still 2021, but the 2022 field for Pennsylvania governor is starting to develop. The Capital-Star is trying to sit down with as many candidates as possible to ask them about their campaigns, background, and issues impacting Pennsylvanians.

Feel free to email [email protected] with any questions you’d like to see posed to candidates in the future.

Jason Monn is a 42-year-old restaurant owner and former mayor of Corry, Pennsylvania from 2015 to 2016  — a borough of 6,300 people in Erie County.

Monn acknowledges he has long odds and little name recognition in the race, but thinks he brings a touch of the common man to the race to be Pennsylvania’s next chief executive.

Capital-Star: The first question I ask everyone is: Why do you want to run for governor?

Jason Monn: I could lie to you and I could give you my top three things. I could, “Y’all I want to cut taxes I want to, you know, improve education. And I’ll be honest with you, Steve. The reason I want to run for governor, it’s not that simple. 

I’m a simple restaurateur. I live in a very small community — we’re about 6,400 people in our city. And doing what I do for a living, provides me the opportunity to talk to hundreds of people every day. You hear a lot about the personal lives of people, and I know most of the people in our area — their real stories … I’m a former city councilman where I live, and a former mayor here. And I ran for those offices way back — 100 years ago it seems — because I cared about our community and what was happening here. And when I did that, I did that because of listening to people. And listening to people now, literally, I mean constantly you’re basically just hearing that people are begging for elected officials to understand how hard any given day is in their lives.

What I mean by that is, I think in politics, you try to knock it down to four main issues that you stand on. And not that those issues aren’t important. Nobody wants to pay high taxes. Nobody wants to have a bad school for their kids. Everybody wants to have a good job. Lots of those things are important, but I also think that important issues are issues that affect our everyday lives that sometimes seem to get pushed aside. 

And I think that — I know that I’m a nobody from nowhere. But I also think that maybe it’s going to be the nobody from nowhere, who’s needed to take the Commonwealth somewhere. So, I know it’s a really long answer to your simple question. I can give you the top three things everybody says, but we all say that. What are we actually going to help affect the daily lives of folks?

C-S: What are the issues that you’re hearing from everyday folks maybe aren’t being talked about in the four bullet points every politician talks about? Can you be more specific about what you’re hearing from folks that aren’t on that thumbnail sketch?

JM: One of the questions that I’ve always asked politicians. I remember at one event — I believe it was in Reading — I was sitting with the then-mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter. We were discussing things. And the question I always ask bigger politicians is, “You guys still remember what a gallon of milk costs?” because I think that that makes you a real world person again. You know, if you have to go out and buy your own milk, that makes you real.

Another thing I think people forget is … we all have the same problems. Whether we’re in Philadelphia or whether we’re talking about Pennsylvania [or] we’re talking about my little city — Corry. The biggest difference with all of us is the number of zeros at the end of those problems.

Most people are, you know, you got X amount of dollars a month to spend. You’ve got your bills, you’ve got your car payment, you got your rent-slash-mortgage. Now what do you go spend your money on? What do you buy when you go to the store? Do you buy milk, do you buy bread, do you buy whatever? That’s a big problem that you hear about is just the lack of understanding of what it’s like to live on an everyday income.

Another big issue of course is schools. People talk about schools all the time and of course we live in such a divided time right now. You know the issues, whether we’re talking about masks, whether we’re talking about vaccines, I think, an issue that a lot of people have is just the ability to make their own choices. I think that’s a question that people have. It’s a legitimate question on both sides — should you be allowed to make your own decision based on how you feel, or should you be able to make a decision based on what better protects the whole? Both of them are legitimate questions, but that’s a big issue that’s talked about right now.

C-S: You brought up mass vaccinations. Those are basically the two options — do people have the right to make a choice for themselves or do we have to protect the whole? What would you do if you’re the governor in that scenario, because it doesn’t seem like COVID is going to be going away by 2022, whoever wins.

JM: I’m a big supporter of free will, free choice, the free market. Are you asking me personally, if I wear a mask, do I wear a mask? Anywhere I go where they ask “Jason, would you please put a mask on?,” I put a mask on. Because I believe that people have the right, if they own a business, if they own a place, if it’s in their house or whatever, they want you to [wear a mask], that’s what makes them feel comfortable, I will do that.

I also believe that other businesses who say ‘Hey if you don’t want to wear a mask in here, don’t.’ Okay.  I’ll tell you I’ve been in businesses that won’t let me in them — some are not necessarily mean — But won’t let somebody in because they’re not wearing a mask …

…If people don’t want to go someplace because they don’t want [to wear] masks to go there, then they won’t go there … And if you were not allowed in a place because they want masks to be there, that’s their choice too, and you’ve made a choice not to wear a mask, and that’s fine. They’ve made a choice to say, ‘You’re not allowed in here if you don’t have a mask,’ that’s okay too. That’s how the free market works, let people make choices for themselves.

C-S: If you were elected, what would be your top priority? On your first day, what would be the first thing you’d be pushing in Harrisburg?

JM: I think the biggest thing that Harrisburg needs to have done to it is to remember that Harrisburg does not take care of Pennsylvania. What Harrisburg is supposed to do is that they need to remember their job — which I believe is the government’s job — is to facilitate progress without dictating how to do it.

And I think that, right there, governmental reform is a humongous priority. Is that the only priority? No. But I think that that’s something that has to be taught because that’s how I would look at it from being the governor. We provide opportunities for folks. We don’t — I can’t make or break you. Okay, that’s not the government’s job. Government’s job, again, is to facilitate progress without dictating how to do it.

C-S: You said government reform. What would be some of the ways that you think that the state government could be reformed?

JM: I think one thing that’s been talked about for a tremendous amount of years is, of course, lessening the size of Pennsylvania’s government. I honestly — I don’t know what that means in specifics. One thing you’ll learn about me, Steve, is I’m a very honest guy. If I don’t know an answer, I mean I’m not gonna pretend to B.S. you here.

Do I think that we have an over-staffed government? Sure, we might. And then you know what?  I can also tell you this — I don’t live it every day. Somebody could look at my restaurant [and] say “Man, why [does] Jason have so many people working? He shouldn’t have that many people working.” It’s hard to say what should or should not be done someplace, but I can tell you from looking from the outside and it does look like maybe we can lessen the amount of representatives we have. 

C-S: I wasn’t able to click it to get more details but you referenced judicial reform on your website, or something?

JM: So, judicial reforms-slash-victim rights are a big thing for me. If you looked at our website, you know that about six years ago now, we went through a process through the court system. My daughter was sexually assaulted from between the ages of eight and 12, give or take. And the gentleman who did it, unfortunately, is my father-in-law. 

And there [were] three other victims as well. And we went through a system that honestly, I didn’t realize it was as messed up as it was. And what I mean by that is — we elect judges to do a job … And then after a year-and-three-month process we were informed of a plea bargain that was presented. And then that turned into a judge getting to look at a piece of paper.

I don’t think most people understand that when the judge issues a verdict, there’s guidelines, of course, and he literally looks at one call and one column and runs them together like you do in Battleship. And that’s what he’s allowed to give sentencing for.

Now I don’t think that’s right. I listened to this judge who had to take this plea bargain, and wasn’t able to adjust things., And he was irate about it — what this gentleman had done and was getting away with …That’s a common problem that most judges have. 

And I think that we elect these people to do a job, let’s allow them to do the job. Now, should there be rules? Of course, there should be some limits. I mean you don’t want somebody sentenced 20 years because they stole a pack of bubble gum, I mean there’s, there’s nothing wrong with limitations on certain issues. But again we elect them to do a job, let’s allow them to do their job.

C-S: A lot of the Republican Party is being driven around by [former President Donald] Trump and where people kind of put themselves in regards to Trump. So I’m curious; what is your opinion on Donald Trump — as the president and as someone in the Republican Party.

JM: So are you asking me if I voted for Donald Trump two times? I certainly did. Why did I vote for him two times? Because I enjoy his policies. I enjoyed the things that were happening in our business, in our community. I was seeing positive growth all over the country with things. 

Now all that being said, do I wish Donald Trump would shut up sometimes? I did. You know. But I don’t vote for a man, a woman, a person — I vote for their policies and what I think is better going to further the causes that I believe in. And I think that should be the way you look at any candidate is [to] find the person that best represents who you are and how you feel about things. 

Should Donald Trump, maybe have tempered some of his comments? Maybe he should have. But again that was also what won him a lot of appeal. I can’t judge what a man does. I can judge what I know.

C-S: I don’t think a lot of people think about Corry, Pennsylvania when they’re sort of looking at a map. I don’t think there’s been a governor from Erie since the 90s with Tom Ridge. Do you think that’s part of your appeal is that you’re not just from Philly, Pittsburgh or, I guess, like, York?

JM: I don’t think it matters where I’m from. Please understand Stephen, when I got into this, I know what I am in this race. I’m not a big name, I understand that completely — I’m not naive to that fact. 

For the last week-and-a-half, I’ve been traveling all across the state. It was our first elongated tour of the state, and we go on weekends because again I’m a regular guy. I have a regular job during the week. We went on a fair tour. I can’t even tell you how many fairs that we’ve been at in the last week and a half., But I literally talked to thousands and thousands of people.

And I think the biggest thing that they like about me. Again, it’s not because I’m located in Erie County, it’s because I’m really just a regular common person, that’s who I am. I’m nobody. I go to these events, I’ve got my polo on, and I’ve got shorts on, you know what I mean. I live on a small farm, I’ve got goats, chickens and ducks. You know , I run a restaurant. I literally live their lives. 

I think the one lady who gave me this like a warning I say when I talk to folks is because this lady said, “I look at you, Jason, I really feel like I’m looking into a mirror.” And I think what she meant by that is I’m just a regular person. I’m a nobody, I don’t think I’m anybody. I think that has the biggest appeal. That’s what I think that people will like about me, Steve.

C-S: It’s important to have that outsider perspective, I’m sure, from your point of view but also a lot of governing is learning how things work very quickly. How do you think you’ll tackle that? You know, you’re saying you’re the common man. How is the common man [going to react] when they have to learn really quickly about the issue of a dam break somewhere or education funding or all these complicated issues? How are you going to tackle that process?

JM: As a common guy, first of all — and I’m not saying you’re implying this at all, I don’t think that means that you’re not a smart person.

C-S: Yeah, yeah. Not at all. 

JM: But I would say that as a former mayor; as a restaurant owner of, approximately, on average 25 employees here in my restaurant; as a father; and just as a normal human being; every day of your life you have to do things that bring people together.

As an owner of a restaurant, I can’t control every aspect of this restaurant at every second and what you do is you build a team. And, again, I’m not naive enough or arrogant enough to tell you that I know things that I don’t know. That’s why you bring in people with knowledge on certain things to help you make those decisions. 

I use this as an example, ‘cause I’ve been asked this question quite a bit. I own a restaurant and I know just about everything here. But sometimes something breaks, Steve, and I don’t know how to fix it. So you know what I do? I call an expert. Okay. And sometimes I call two or three experts and I bring them in. And those folks give me ideas on what to do, how to fix that problem. I take all that knowledge they’ve given me, and I try to take that and make the best decision that I can then make that I think we’ll better further this restaurant. I think it’s just that simple. 

If you can build a team, and if you can bring the right people in, and realize that you’re not a god — you don’t know everything and it’s okay to say you don’t know everything — and you bring people in who are experts in that situation.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is the Capital-Star's House reporter. He previously covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter. You can reach him at 845-891-4306.

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