If elections are competitions, Chris Gebhard is well-positioned for what’s ahead. You could even say that Gebhard’s entire competitive career has been leading up to this.
But if successful, Gebhard’s life will be forever altered.
Now, here’s the ironic part. If he wins the title he’s seeking, the continued pursuit of the activity upon which he nurtured that competitive nature will be severely curtailed.
Gebhard, one of the top amateur golfers in Lebanon County, is running for the state senatorial seat in Pennsylvania’s 48th district. The position became vacant on January 18 when then senator Dave Arnold died of brain cancer.
The special election will be contested on May 18. Gebhard, a 46-year-old republican who resides in North Cornwall Township, will be opposed by Democrat Calvin ‘Doc’ Clements, Independent Ed Krebs and Libertarian party candidate Tim McMaster.
“There’s going to be a winner, and numerous people who don’t win,” said Gebhard. “That, in it’s very nature, makes it a competition. I’m going to do everything I can to come out on top. I’m a competitive person. Honestly, it’s a whole new world for me. So far, it’s been challenging, for sure.”
In one way, Gebhard has already registered his first small victory in the political world. He was chosen as the Republican candidate for the special election from a list of seven other hopefuls.
“I also come from a business world that’s extremely competitive,” said Gebhard. “In the world I come from, you either win or lose. It’s (competitive golf) forged me in a way. It’s a world I’m used to. I think they’re characteristics that will serve me well. I also come from a world where you need to create relationships. I think we need more of that in the political world.”
Gebhard has never run for political office before, and if he’s victorious in May, he expects his life to change dramatically. Anticipated time constraints could affect his local amateur golf career moving forward.
“I’ll probably be playing less,” said Gebhard. “It certainly won’t be to the extent that I’m used to playing, and it probably won’t be as well. I don’t want to say it’s over. But I’ve had a great golf career. I’ve sort of moved out of the idea that it’s super important. I always did my best. But more recently I enjoyed the social aspects of golf more than the competitive aspects.
“In terms of the state calendar, June is by far the busiest month, because it’s budget season,” Gebhard continued. “There will be a significant time commitment. But I don’t think they’re in session on Saturdays and Sundays. I needed to come to grips with some of these things before I made this decision. There has to be some give-and-take. That (competitive golf) is one of the things I’m willing to sacrifice for the greater good.”
Gebhard has been playing competitive golf since he was a teenager. During his illustrious career, he has won just about every major tournament there is to win locally.
Just this past summer, Gebhard teamed with Jim Gardner to capture his second Lebanon County Better-Ball-of-Partners crown. Previously, he had been crowned the champion of the Lebanon County Amateur in 2003 and 1996.
“People’s priorities change,” said Gebhard. “To some people, golf is the most important thing. They’re most happy playing and competing in every event that they can. I think over the last five-plus years I’ve moved away from that mindset.
“I’ve come to grips with it,” added Gebhard. “Golf is one of the smaller parts of my life now. I’ve been thinking about how this (running for office) impacts my family. That is certainly my biggest concern.”
The highlight of Gebhard’s local amateur golf career came in 2017, when he and partner Noah Firestone won the prestigious W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners tournament at his home Lebanon Country Club course. It was Gebhard’s first Sullivan title, a feat he followed up with Firestone again the following year.
“I can say I won every big local event, but finally winning the Sullivan really sticks out to me,” said Gebhard, who’s the president of Hoaster-Gebhard Insurance. “It was my home event. If you would’ve asked me as a kid growing up what was the most important local event to win, that would be it. It was like my holy grail. It was the event I was always chasing.
“I think if I win (in May), it will change my life significantly,” Gebhard added. “It would be an understatement to say it’s going to be a sacrifice. There will be significant time demands. I think I can do both, my responsibilities with Hoaster-Gebhard and this new career, by adding some work load. I think I’ll have the ability to set my senate schedule first, and build everything around it. The things that are going to suffer are going to be my personal pursuits. I’m going to have to give up something, and golf is certainly one of those things.”
Despite being a rookie politician, Gebhard must certainly be considered the favorite to win the 48th District’s senate seat. The 48th District, of which Lebanon County is a large part, has a strong history of electing Republican candidates.
“I think maybe if I knew better, I’d be more confident,” said Gebhard. “I’m not taking anything for granted. I think we need to talk to as many voters as we can and find out what’s important to them. I was born and raised here. I think we have hard working folks in the 48th District, folks who want to go to work everyday and support their families. Central Pennsylvania is a great place to raise a family. We have good schools and we have good job opportunities. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve on them.
“Who am I?,” continued Gebhard. “I want everyone to know I’m going to do my best to represent all of the people of the 48th District. I will make all of my decisions on their behalf, not mine. My priorities don’t matter. They’re not voting for a person who’s career-driven or power driven.”
Chris Gebhard isn’t the person he once was, and that’s a good thing. Over the years, he has matured and grown. It’s process that may have been accelerated by the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
“Certainly, if you would’ve asked me 12 months ago if I saw myself doing this, the answer would’ve been ‘no’,” said Gebhard. “I have a pretty comfortable life, and this really wasn’t on my to-do list. But over the last 12 months, a lot of things have changed. I think how the government has responded to the COVID-19 crisis was a major problem. I have two young kids and they have greatly struggled during COVID-19. Honestly, it’s been difficult. For kids, it almost feels like they lost a year.
“Dave Arnold was a friend of mine,” concluded Gebhard. “When he passed away, I thought ‘Who would be a good fit for his position?’ I thought, ‘Maybe this is the time to get off the sidelines and get into the game. Maybe I should do more than talk about it.’ If Dave were alive today, I’d be supporting him. But these are the circumstances we’ve been dealt.”