After an upset victory by less than 100 votes to unseat incumbent Ron Beimel, newly-elected Elk County Commissioner Janis E. Kemmer is settling in as one of the county's three commissioners.
"I've always believed in good government and I just thought that perhaps I could make a difference," Janis said, "not that it was bad, but I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to give something back to the community."
~ Starting out ~
A longtime advocate of "good government," Janis said that once her children were past "that baby stage," she began to work and function outside the home and discovered "how important it was that government work to the benefit of all the people."
Eventually, a friend approached Janis and suggested she run for a vacant jury commissioner position in the county.
"After serving on a jury, I thought that I would like to be a part of the system," Janis said. "The jury selection process had moved very smoothly and I was impressed with how efficiently that portion of government worked. I ran for the position and served for six years.
"While in that position, friends and colleagues in the community encouraged me to run for county commissioner. Not wanting to just 'plunge in,' I spent a lot of time in thought, prayer, and in conversation with my pastor before making the decision to run."
~ A night of contemplation ~
The night of the Nov. 8, 2011 general election ranks among the longest minutes of Janis Kemmer's life.
"It was so exciting and you almost don't want to anticipate that end because you don't want to be counting the chickens before they hatch," Janis said. "I just told everybody to let me know at the end, I didn't want to know what was going on every five minutes."
With two precincts from Weedville the last to report, election turnout numbers compared to registered voter figures suggested Janis had too large a lead over Ron Beimel.
"They were driving me insane and it was very exciting," Janis said. "That is definitely an adrenaline rush, I must say."
Shortly before 10:30 p.m. on election night, preliminary figures with all the precincts reporting indicated Janis had won the third seat.
"I guess I was very humbled when I realized what had happened and I just got very quiet," Janis said. "It's a humbling thing when people put their trust in you and I guess I felt very blessed. It was very close, not a landslide by any means. I guess I didn't have any predictions, I just kept thinking to myself and I kept telling the people, 'It's what God and the people want.'
"I thought that either way, if it's God's will that I not be there, that's OK too because there is a reason. I believe there is a reason for everything and for whatever reason there is that I was chosen to be there, I hope I can fulfill that obligation, whatever that might be."
~ A new starting point ~
A good beginning for Janis is that she herself is in fact quite a fan of county government, even before she immersed herself in it.
"I am impressed with the government functions in Elk County," Janis said. "Having worked in township government [Ridgway Township] for several years, I know that government comes in 'layers'-- I'm learning more about that as I go.
"Most serving at the county level have a passion for what they do. They are very dedicated. I think the taxpayers in Elk County are blessed."
For Janis, Elk County means living in an area where people are able to work together, something that she feels will surely lead to success.
"Money is always an issue with everybody, they always want more," Janis said. "The problem will be to work within our means and to work with what we have, even though some money has been cut.
"The challenge is to not offend any one program so that folks who need these programs can still benefit from those."
Economic growth is something the new commissioner hopes to see in her lifetime.
"I think there is certainly room for economic growth," Janis said. "I think some of the companies that have sent their jobs overseas and their factories overseas are now seeing that the work ethic isn't the same than what the American people have.
"Some of them are returning, so it may take a while for that procedure to come full circle, but I think they'll be back."
~ Transparent government ~
During her term in office, Janis hopes more taxpayers will be able to glance through the cellophane and gain a better understand on how government works for the people.
"I want to have transparent government-- not that I have a specific goal or one thing-- I want to represent the people in a fair and honest way," Janis said. "I want that transparency and friendliness, and I don't want people to think we're not approachable-- that's not the intent at all for me, I just want to be 'one of the boys.'
"If I see somebody out at dinner and they have a question, have at it-- that's why we're there."
Despite a willingness to be approachable and helpful, Janis admits local, state and federal governments aren't brimming with eternal happiness; they all have their issues.
"I think overall there is just too much government," Janis said. "It's just become a massive web and one thing connects to the next and to the next again-- it's just like every phase of your life is covered by some program and that was never the intent of government, it was to protect your rights and property.
"But at the same time I think it's good that government processes take longer, that way decisions aren't made at a whim or without thought. I think it costs the public more than it should."
Moving forward as state and federal budget plans are reworked, Janis said she has some fears regarding who will benefit.
"It seems that a lot of the money benefits the same group of people and that perhaps once they get on that 'gravy train,' they just hop from program to program and they're able to take advantage of each and every one, and maybe some people consider that good government-- I would rather see people have personal responsibility rather than sitting with their hand out waiting for somebody to care for them," Janis said.
Larger problems lie further ahead in the White House.
"The federal government has a lot of big decisions to make," Janis said. "One of the problems is being $16 trillion in debt. I don't even think I can fathom $1 trillion, let alone saddle my grandkids with that bill.
"The state is in debt as well and even though they're making cuts, which are good, I think, it's certainly not a balanced budget and someone down the line is going to have to pay the freight."
Money problems aren't the only issues, however.
At the state level, Janis said she would like to see the term of state representatives lengthened to four years.
"It seems that the reps work one year and then campaign one year," Janis said. "I feel they would be more efficient with a four-year term of office."
The largest problem the new commissioner sees at the federal level is partisan politics.
"It seems to me that the bulk of their time is spent grandstanding party politics rather than working together for the good of the people they represent," Janis said. "I've always said that 'I love government but I hate politics.'"
While she hopes to represent Elk County's residents in the "most transparent and honest way," she is adamant against raising taxes.
"I think spending should be cut rather than taxes raised," Janis said.
However, she'll be the first one to remind you that nothing is free, a concept instilled in her by her parents.
Pick up a copy of the Monday, March 19, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.