Wait. Brenton Davis likes the community college now?

When you think of the words “Brenton Davis” and “Erie County Community College,” what comes to mind? Fervent opposition? Seething hatred? For me, it’s Gerard Butler standing on a mountain pass with a spear and a loin cloth fighting to his inevitable, righteous death to thwart the Persians’ quest to dominate Spartan civilization.

Brenton Davis valiantly opposing the forces of the Erie County Community College, circa 2020.

As a reminder, ushering the Erie County Community College application through to approval was no easy task. There was a non-profit formed to advocate for it, an application made and revised and debated for three years, a preliminary vote from the state board of education, then finally, a COVID-delayed final vote of 10-5 in favor.

There was opposition at every turn. Points of contention included a feasibility study with a couple minor typos (was the projection for 226 full-time students, or 229? Was full-time tuition projected at $3,528, or $3,538?) and a dispute over whether Erie County already had a community college (an argument led by Joe Scarnati – the president pro tempore of the PA State Senate and, conveniently, a founder of the online-only Northwest PA Regional College that purported to serve Erie County – an assertion with which the PA board of education disagreed).

Throughout this entire saga, Brenton Davis led the charge against the community college. Here’s a snippet from the “About the Candidate” section of Davis’ campaign website:

“I founded Taxpayers Against the Erie County Community College and invested my own personal funds to hire a Harrisburg law firm to oppose Empower Erie’s application for the creation of a standalone Community College.”

Brenton Davis

That’s right. He founded an opposition group and forked over his own money for a law firm to fight this tooth-and-nail every step of the way. Erie’s own Leonidas crusading against the rather modest use of public funds to advance the educational prospects of Erieites.

Fast forward to the first debate between Davis (R) and his Democratic challenger for Erie County Executive, Dr. Tyler Titus (D). You knew this issue would come up. With all this history against the college, Davis would surely be ready when it did:

“I fully support the community college with the hiring of Dr. [Chris] Gray,” said Davis, referring to the college’s president. “I believe where he came from and the programs that he’s implemented truly can be transformational.”

Brenton Davis, Sept. 16, 2021, Erie Chamber debate.

Wait, what?! He supports the thing he crusaded against one year ago? How does he explain that? From the GoErie article:

“Davis dismissed his past opposition by insisting a ‘true leader never sets their feet in concrete’ but has the ability to move with the ‘changing of the tides and currents.’”

He cited the changing of the tides? Listen. Of course people can change their minds over time. I’m reminded of an old Winston Churchill quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

The issue here is that the facts have not changed. The community college has been in operation for one month!

As I recall, Davis’ chief complaint was the planned use of gaming revenues to fund the initiative. Indeed, back to his “About the Candidate” blurb:

“While the Community College is now here to stay, my opposition was to have another organization that requires taxpayer dollars to fund its existence. I have made a pledge to the hard-working taxpayers of Erie County that under my leadership as County Executive, absolutely no taxpayer dollars will be used to support the Erie County Community College.”

Guess what? Our community college’s funding plan has not changed, either. It seems Davis “supports” the community college while vowing not to fund it, because if not for the taxpayers, where on Earth are a community college’s funds supposed to come from?

All of this leaves us to sift through a pile of nonsense in search of what Davis actually plans to do. Is he the anti-community-college crusader he’s been for the past few years? Has he “moved with the changing of the tides and currents” like he said two weeks ago? How much stock do we put in his campaign website of today, which still touts his prior opposition and vows not to fund it but nevertheless says it’s “here to stay?”

And finally: if Brenton Davis can’t be coherent on this — his signature issue — why should he be trusted at all?

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