2017 was a strange, controversial year for local lawmaker

Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station, speaks to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette editorial board. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station, spent much of the year keeping a low profile.

Or did it just seem that way?

The first half of 2017 saw many federal GOP lawmakers, including Marino, refuse to heed calls from the public to hold town hall meetings to discuss issues.

The town hall atmosphere had become particularly vitriolic for Republican congressional members who were getting shouted at by angry constituents on topics ranging from health care to newly elected President Donald Trump’s policies.

Calls by the Sun-Gazette to solicit responses from Marino over legislative issues sometimes went unanswered.

Some people began to wonder: Where was Tom Marino? Was he running for re-election?

In October, he suddenly, unexpectedly, became news — big news.

In fact, for a day or two, he might have become the most talked about political figure in the nation.

A story reported by the Washington Post and “60 Minutes” revealed Marino took campaign contributions from drug companies and subsequently sponsored legislation that critics say opened the door to the opioid market by stifling drug law enforcement. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act had been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.

At the time, Marino was strongly being considered to

become the nation’s next drug czar. He eventually withdrew his name from consideration amidst the flap over the issue.

For a time, Marino didn’t talk to local media.

Then, in November, he agreed to meet with the Sun-Gazette. He let it be known he felt his bill was a good piece of legislation.

Supporters say the law keeps medication available for legitimate patients and encourages collaboration between the industry and officials.

Critics, however, claim it prevents the Drug Enforcement Agency from prosecuting drug distributors.

The Post/“60 Minutes” investigation pointed to the law as a means for the drug industry to weaken DEA enforcement efforts against drug companies and referred to expensive lobbying efforts directed at key lawmakers.

Marino told the Sun-Gazette he was disappointed about not becoming drug czar. He felt it was his calling, he said.

He lashed out at his critics, including a former DEA drug agent who told The Post and “60 Minutes” that big drug distributors and senior politicians helped fuel the opioid crisis, leading to thousands of deaths.

Marino’s response was that some people with medical problems needed the drugs. He called for investigating the distribution centers instead of simply shutting them down.

With his hope of becoming drug czar gone, Marino made it clear he plans to fight on as a congressman representing the state’s 10th District.

A close look at his most recent campaign expense reports revealed that Marino gathered $47,210 in contributions from individuals and committees toward his re-election.

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2017, a total of $21,210 came from individual contributions and another $26,000 from committee contributions, according to Federal Election Commission records.

His campaign showed operating expenses of $116,468 for the nine-month period.

In early December, he said: “I am running for re-election to continue to fight for the people of the 10th Congressional District. I look forward to having serious discussions on the issues facing our nation and will remain focused on working closely with President Trump to pass tax reform, repeal and replace ‘Obamacare’ and fix our broken immigration system by building a wall. Out of respect for the upcoming holiday season, I will not be engaging in any campaign discussion or activity until the first of the year.”

About that time, Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko, a Republican, announced he was seeking Marino’s House seat.

He told the Sun-Gazette that the opioid issue was a big reason he was running for office.

“Rather than standing up for his constituents who have been hit hard by this epidemic, Tom Marino made the opioid crisis worse,” McLinko said.

He said Marino has been absent from the district too often and seldom is available to talk with voters.

Marino said he works three weeks of each month in Washington on serious issues that improve the quality of life of his constituents.

“During my time in office, my constituent services have excelled by answering thousands of emails, letters and phone calls with hundreds of office visits at my three constituent service centers,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to travel the district, meeting with small business owners, community leaders and everyone in between that encompass the 15 counties of my district.”

Before 2017 ended, Marino introduced legislation in response to the mounting sexual harassment cases involving political figures and other well-known people.

The bill would prohibit taxpayer funds from being used to pay settlements involving members of Congress. In addition, it would require the House Committee on Ethics to consider expelling those who commit such acts.

Marino said he simply felt sexual harassment is completely unacceptable.

Soon thereafter, he introduced a companion bill to reveal the names of lawmakers who have tapped taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims.

Marino, a former Lycoming County district attorney and federal prosecutor, is serving his fourth term in Congress.

He first was elected in 2010 when he unseated Democrat Chris Carney.