HARRISBURG - Call him Senator Dinniman.
Andrew Dinniman, the longest-serving commissioner in Chester County history, was sworn in as state Senator for Pennsylvania's 19th District last Monday.
But to the four busloads of supporters who traveled to the state house, Dinniman said the ceremony was as much about his constituents as it was about him.
"What we are celebrating today is Chester County's coming of age," he said. "Because we are not just looking at things from a political view anymore, but from our values and what is right. From day one, we said what our values are, instead of letting others define them and telling us that we have none."
Dinniman, the first county Democrat to be elected to the state Senate in more than a century, upset fellow Commissioner Carol Aichele with more than 55 percent of the vote in the May 16 special election.
He took 21,614 votes to Aicheleís 16,822, according to official election results.
Dinniman will serve out the remaining two-year term of the late Sen. Robert Thompson, who died earlier this year.
The victory marked a chink in the armor of county Republicans, one that Democrats hope to capitalize on in November.
Dinniman, the statistical underdog, proved that a Democrat can win in a region with strong GOP roots.
Democrats are outnumbered in the 19th District 83,632 to 48,787, according to figures provided by the county office of voter services. There are 27,173 voters registered in other parties or as independents in the district.
"Just like in business, competition is good in politics," Dinniman said. "I want to look at what happened as part of a movement. We formed a coalition of people who are concerned about education, labor and land, and who just wanted to see change. I believe and I think you believe that Pennsylvania and America can really be a light for the rest of the world."
The feeling was not lost on those in attendance.
"I didn't know that there were this many Democrats in Chester County," Charlie Grugan, a retired PECO employee from West Whiteland, said.
He said Dinniman's victory had energized a party that once struggled to find candidates and poll workers.
Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith, who is facing Republican Shannon Royer for the 156th District seat in the state house, said it was a sign residents were not blindly voting the straight party ticket.
"There has been division between Republicans and Democrats here, and now it is really about the individual candidate," she said. "Andy's win showed that Republicans are doing that, that it is OK to vote for the candidate (not the party)."
Despite party differences, several county Republicans and state lawmakers were spotted at the luncheon proceeding Dinniman's swearing-in.
"Andyís been my colleague and we work very well together, regardless of party affiliation. Now he is here and Iím sure weíll continue to work well together," state Sen. John Rafferty, R-44th, of Collegeville, said.
Magisterial District Justice Jeremy Blackburn delivered the Oath of Office to Dinniman last Monday afternoon.
Afterward, Dinniman planned to attend one of several rounds of meetings during the transition.
But on the bus ride from Exton to Harrisburg, he already sounded quite comfortable in the role of Senator, not missing a beat from stump speeches he gave weeks earlier.
Dinniman said the Democratic caucus had already assigned him to all the committees that he had requested:
*Environmental Resources and Energy;
* Local Government;
* Game and Fisheries; and
* Veterans Affairs and Preparedness, of which he is chairman.
"I think there is a confidence in me and that they realize that a Democrat from Chester County is a rare commodity and one that should be used," he said.
Dinniman said he targeted committees he could use to make a difference to the people of the 19th District.
He hopes to address deer management and the spread of Lyme disease.
"It is not a conflict with hunters. It is about destruction and disease. Deer management needs to be looked at from a public health perspective, an open space perspective and from a humane perspective," Dinniman said. "The Game Commission has not had a suburban voice, and there needs to be a local voice."
He said veterans in Pennsylvania receive significantly less benefits than those in other states, only because the Commonwealth does not actively assist them in pursuing those benefits.
"This is federal money," he said. "The state does not have enough people actively helping our veterans apply (for it). Using volunteers, we can show how many millions are lost, not just to our veterans, but also the Pennsylvania economy."
He also said the state needed to continue to look at property-tax reform.
"What was done was a first step, but we still have a long way to go. What local jurisdictions need is a menu of taxes from which they can pick ó diverse options, not one size fits all," Dinniman said.
On his first day in office, he was eager to roll up his sleeves and dig into the issues.
"It's good to be here," Dinniman said, as he plopped down behind the desk in his new Senate office. "I could get comfortable."
Dinniman, 61, has been a West Chester University professor for almost 35 years, while serving as minority county commissioner for the past 15.
He was born in Woodbridge, Conn., and grew up on his grandfatherís farm outside New Haven.
He has a bachelorís degree from the University of Connecticut, a masterís degree from the University of Maryland and a doctorate in education from Penn State University.
During the Casey Administration, he served on the State Transportation Advisory Committee and was special assistant to the Secretary of Education.
He and his wife, Margo, have a daughter, Alexis, 27.
The couple resides in West Whiteland with a French poodle named Henry.