Six days before the filing deadline for Pennsylvania’s May primary, a texting SUV driver swerved into the wrong lane and slammed head-on into Bill Troutman’s van.
|Three months into his recovery from a devastating head-on collision, Local 743 member and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Bill Troutman makes a young friend as he rides in a local Memorial Day parade.
“The crash shattered Troutman’s body, but not his resolve to run for state Senate.
His completed petitions were recovered from the wrecked van, and his Reading, Pa., Local 743 brothers continued to collect more – three times the number of signatures he needed to get on the ballot.
“A couple of days after my first surgery, I had a notary come to my hospital room so I could sign the petitions with an ‘X’ and get them mailed in time," said Troutman, a journeyman inside wireman and past executive board member at his local.
After eight surgeries, so far, candidate Troutman was holding court in his hospital room with his laptop, folding chairs and a core group of volunteers.
“Every Sunday night at 7 o’clock,” he said. “My last week in the hospital was our first meeting, then they moved me to physical therapy and we had our meetings there.”
Troutman didn’t leave rehab until May 16, and then only for a few hours – just long enough to roll into his precinct in a wheelchair and cast a primary ballot for himself, despite being unopposed in the District 36 race in south-central Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County.
“It was a good day to let everyone see that I'm still in the race, working hard and ready for the fight,” he said in mid-July, a few weeks after finally going home.
His fortitude comes as no surprise to those who know him well.
“He’s a tenacious guy, and a very kind-hearted guy,” Local 743 Business Manager Ryan Helms said. “He’s a hard worker. When he puts his mind to something, he gets it done.”
Troutman remained conscious after the accident and recalls it clearly. “I was on my way to work at six in the morning, came over the top of a knoll and there was a Suburban coming right at me,” he said. “My right hand got broken up pretty bad, my left tibia, my ankle, pelvis – they stopped counting broken bones at 40.”
When he tells people that the driver who hit him was speeding and texting, they assume it was a teenager. In fact, he was 40 years old, Troutman said, frustrated that the man was charged only with relatively minor traffic violations.
Troutman, meanwhile, is running a medical tab that could exceed $500,000. Even though he was driving a company van, he’s still battling for workers’ compensation, while private insurance companies squabble over who’s paying for what.
|Throughout his recovery after February’s crash, Bill Troutman’s door-hangers, signs and other campaign materials were readily available to volunteers and supporters via his home’s screened-in porch.
However the bills are divvied up, he knows he and his family will be OK financially thanks to his IBEW health care benefits.
“My bills will be paid,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about losing my house. A lot of working families don’t have that kind of protection, I want to fight for those families.”
That includes fighting for their right to join unions and bargain contracts that include quality, affordable health care, he said, as he had growing up thanks to parents who were both AFSCME members.
“My dad was an accountant at a children’s hospital and my mom was a custodian,” he said. “They didn’t make a lot of money, but they could pay the bills. They’d talk about things, about people struggling to keep their jobs, good wages, decent benefits, and I realized early on that unions were key to people being better off.”
His campaign slogan spells out his values: “Working Man Serving Working People.”
“I’ve seen what happens in communities when good jobs disappear,” he says on his campaign website. “When people are paid a fair wage for their hard work, families stay strong, local businesses thrive, communities grow and new opportunities are created for everyone.”
Pledging to fight for economic policies that help all working families, and against any attempt to pass a right-to-work law, he cautions online that “Politicians seek to cut bargaining power for workers, and that will result in lower wages for everyone, union and non-union alike.”
The Senate race, against a one-term Republican incumbent, is Troutman’s second run for office in as many years. Last November, he became the first Democrat in four decades to win a seat on the borough council in Elizabethtown, where he grew up.
“I’ve lived in the borough for 50 years and have been attending the council meetings for 30 years,” Troutman said. “It was time to get on the other side of the podium.”
He stayed away from hot-button political issues and focused on nonpartisan local concerns such as restoring the city’s main park and revitalizing downtown. He struck a chord, and soon after his victory local Democrats asked him to run for the Senate.
Helms, of Local 743, said he believes his IBEW brother has a good shot, even though Republicans have held the Senate seat since 1979.
“He’s a Democrat in a highly Republication area, and he won handedly because of the respect he has in his community,” he said of Troutman’s council victory. “I think the incumbent is going to underestimate him. I’m hoping by the time he figures out that he’s a got a real threat, it’s going to be too late.”