Thursday, April 17, 2014

Notes from Willow Grove NAACP 13th Congressional Debate (3/17)

It has taken quite awhile to get these debate notes written up.  Some weeks ago I attended a 13th congressional district debate featuring 3 Democratic and 1 Republican candidates.  Initially questions were aimed at one candidate but later questions were opened up to all the candidates.  There was not a moderator per se, and many questions came from the audience.

As always, this is not intended to be a transcript but are merely notes I took during the debate.  I have made an effort to capture the gist of questions and answers but interested voters are encouraged to contact individual campaigns with questions.  My apologies in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Willow Grove NAACP 13th Congressional Debate

March 17, 2014
First Baptist Church of Crestmont


Opening Statement [arrived late and missed some of these]

Q1:  to BB, about legislation on protection from abuse orders

BB:  I introduced a 5 bill package changing responses to domestic violence (92% of domestic violence victims are female).  Good friend of mine and my chief of staff victimized.  Today we make a victim render service to her attacker with protection from abuse order.  The bottom line – make it easier for victims to come forward.  Among women aged 15-44 domestic violence is a leading cause of death.  Every other day in PA a woman died because of domestic violence.  The bill is moving forward.  Majority of homeless are women, women with children are often homeless because of domestic violence.

Q2: to DL, people who live around here more often unemployed, between 1940 and 1980 5K in prison, 1990 [missed these stats]

DL:  Sen. Greenleaf and I passed Justice Reinvestment Act, stop putting people in prison for marijuana arrests.  Decimating minority employment.  American used to think big.   The governor negotiated with Grover Norquist over what would be acceptable transportation funding.  New economy is green technology.

Q3 to VA, public education

VA:  Education is the most important thing we can do.  Distressed by education cuts.  DC should not do unfunded mandates.  NCLB does nothing.  Teachers need flexibility.  Raising a generation that can take tests but can’t learn.  Respect teachers.  Be careful of new common core.  Money going to private testing companies, get that money back to the classroom.  Make sure kids don’t come to school hungry.  Mandatory pre-K.

Q4 to BB, education, early education, achievement gap

BB:  I introduced legislation for free pre-K programs and make kindergarten mandatory.  Only 5% of 3 year olds have access to pre-K.  The return on investment on public dollars is best for early education.  The federal government has not made proper investment in education.  Why can’t we have more leadership in DC.  Falling behind other countries.

Q5 for DA:  voter id, what should federal role be

DA:  Important that every voter be able to vote.  Determined by states.  Cautious of feds determining state rules.  There should be some level of id.  18 year olds need id to buy cigarettes.  Doing something as important as voting, we should be able to prove who is voting.

DL:  Fed has huge role in fighting voter suppression.  They voted against the Voting Rights Act.  No evidence that people impersonate others at the voting booth.  ID is usually driver’s license.  Easily identifiable demographic groups don’t have a driver’s license – poor, elderly, students, who usually vote Democratic.

BB:  People have shed blood for the right to vote.  Major problem in PA is too few people are voting.  In minority with no form of early voting or same day registration.  States that have done this sine the 1970’s have no evidence of voter fraud.

VA:  Voting is most fundamental activity we can do as Americans.  Move election day to weekends.

Q6:  support US Postal Service and 6 day delivery?

DA:  as described would support USPS

VA:  Support USPS and 6 day / week delivery

DL:  Support USPS, up until 1967 the post office did simple banking.  Poor people use check cashing agencies, payday loans.  Let USPS do what they used to do.

BB:  The 2006 law has manufactured this crisis; without that law the USPS produces a profit.

Q7:  US lead in reducing greenhouse gases?

All:  yes

Q8:  Support or oppose Keystone XL:

DA:  support

VA:  oppose

DL:  oppose

BB:  oppose

Q9:  1 year universal military service

DL:  oppose, but support universal public service

VA:  oppose, but do think we need to address that most in the military do so for economic reasons, children of Congress not serving.  Make sure vets can get jobs.

DA:  could support universal service not military, concerns of infringing on individual liberties and freedoms.

BB:  could support universal service, liked Americorp.  Imagine public as part of free college education.

Q10:  partisanship, compromise

BB:  It is a serious and distressing problem.  First Democrat elected in my district.  Formed, with some GOP (Tom Murt and others), a legislative group for Eastern Montco and NE Philly.  Let’s pick out a few areas where we do agree and work together, such as transportation.

DL:  I too have tried to find opportunities to work together, for example medical marijuana for kids (epilepsy) with a Republican.  Passed B-corp bill with Senator White.  Difficult, moreso, in Congress.  Here’s why – gerrymandering.  Only person who matters is the person who draws the map.

VA:  Gerrymandering is a state problem not in Congress.  Congress partisan gridlock.  I was there recently working on the Affordable Care Act.  Women in House get together in bipartisan fashion to work on women’s issues.  Also, there are 17 doctors in the House but they do not gather in a bipartisan group. 

DA:  Gerrymandering – I agree.  Look for mutual goals.  Only restriction – can’t conflict with fundamental beliefs or principles.  Social security / medicare not properly funded.

Q11:  alcohol privatization in PA

VA:  current state liquor store system provides living wage jobs.  Keep current system.

DL:  Voted against liquor privatization.  $500 million comes to the state, where would we get that money from?  Corbett won’t let sick kids have medical marijuana but wants it to be easier to get alcohol.  Don’t believe in privatization.

BB:  On House liquor control committee.  I was against the plan to privatize.  It makes no sense economically.  It brings in $522 million in revenue.   Tom Corbett wants to sell them off for $1 billion.  It didn’t make sense from a public health perspective.  MADD and the police chiefs organization are against it.  PA has the fewest alcohol related deaths in the nation.  Part of an effort to demonize the public sector.  Before social security 46% of seniors lives in poverty, now [missed this] %.

DA:  Social Security enacted in the Depression.  I do believe in the private sector.  Like to have a government run at the local level as much as possible.  Liquor is still a state issue.  Let the state decide.  Government is an expense.  It consumes wealth. 

Q12: diversity

BB:  This is enormously important.  I grew up in a diverse neighborhood, and I’ve always had a diverse staff.  In my office we’ve helped 12,000 people.

DL:  I grew up Jewish but  don’t have a Jewish last name or Jewish appearance.  I could health things, discrimination is still a huge problem.  I watched the civil rights movement on tv.  It is still a battle, for LGBT equality.

VA:  I grew up in a community almost entirely white.  I wanted to be a doctor even though my mom asked who would marry me if I became  a doctor.  I worked in inner city hospitals and universities.  Data is staggering between care for people fo color and mor affluent areas.  People just want a fair shot at the American dream.

DA:  All men are created equal.

Q13:  term limits

DA:  I’m with ya!  Already had my career so can’t be a career politician.  Terms between 12 and 18 years.

VA:  yes, in current gerrymandered system.  If open elections we won’t need them.

DL:  Against.  In states with them there is a disaster.  You end up with a Speaker of the House who has been in office just 4 years.  I shouldn’t tell people they can’t have the representative they want. 

BB:  I ran against a 20 year incumbent.  I’m opposed to term limits.  Artificial limit on democracy.  Right cause wrong cure.  Need campaign finance reform.  For public finance system and clean money.  The Citizens United destructive effect.

Closing Statements

BB:  Thanks.  All believe in American dream.  Work hard, play by the rules, opportunity to do better than our parents.  In past 10 years the average middle class family is worse off.   The gap between 1% and 99% greater than at any point in the nation’s history.  Making less than 10 years ago with $60K in student debt.  Elect people of integrity and intelligence who have studied the issues.

DL:  Thanks.  If I were voting I’d want a Congressional representative who was progressive, have a record to evaluate them on.  I’d want someone willing to fight for lost causes, someone with vision and creativity.  I’ve demonstrated that over 12 years in office and before than an activist.  Threat to democracy in Citizens United and voter id, tipping point of climate change, your zip code determines your life, gun violence

VA:  Thanks.  I took an oath to always put patients first.  I was an economics major in college.  In the late 1990’s I took over chairmanship of department, just as Allegheny Bank went under.  The department was in debt, and I turned it around.  17% of GNP spent on health care.  I am the only candidates with recent experience in Washington DC.  I will draw on that experience to be effective in Congress.  No Congressperson does it by themselves.  It takes all of us.

DA:  Thanks.  I’m the one person here who is a businessman.  I looked at the national debt.  Afraid for the future of the U.S.  In favor of term limits, can run again after out of office for a few years.  I’m a job creator.  Fiscal policy that makes sense.  All about the American dream.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cillizza on the Ideological Middle

Chris Cillizza writes an interesting column for the Washington Post on the decreasing number of moderates in the House and Senate.  ("The ideological middle in Congress is dead.  So, who killed it?" 4/15).

One very interesting point, gerrymandering gets blamed for the increasing partisanship in the House, but it shouldn't affect the Senate as those are statewide races.  Hadn't thought of that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sins of the Father: IRS Style

In an alarming story of government overreach and lack of accountability and transparency, the Washington Post reports a story, "Social Security, Treasury target taxpayers for their parents' decades-old debts," by Marc Fisher (4/10/14).  People are finding their tax refunds are intercepted to recompense for overpayments by Social Security going back decades, sometimes to when the person was a child and the payments were to their parents.  No proof is given that the person benefited from the overpayment.  One example given is for a woman who is charged for a nearly 40 year old overpayment, back to the time she when she was four.  Neither of her two surviving siblings, one older and one younger, were charged.

It's all because someone put a sentence into a farm bill doing away with the statue of limitations on recovering overpayments.  I really think there should be a way to find out which of our elected officials added that sentence (or which lobbyists actually wrote it and has someone add it to the bill).

This is scary.

Update:  On Monday the Social Security Administration said it would stop this practice (see "social security stops trying to collect on old debts by seizing tax refunds," by Marc Fisher 4/14).  I will want to know who started it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

See Tracks? Think Train!

from the inbox:

It’s a matchup no person or car will ever win
— a hit from an oncoming train. Yet every day, people across the Greater Philadelphia
region attempt to beat those odds by making the risky choice of walking along train
tracks or driving through grade crossings when the gates are closing or are already down. 

“No one can outrun or outdrive a train,” said Scott Sauer, SEPTA’s director of System Safety and a board member for Operation Lifesaver Inc., a national organization dedicated to rail safety. “And no one should ever assume that there is a time when tracks are completly clear of train traffic. A train can come on any track at any time.” 
 According to Operation Lifesaver, across the country, a person or vehicle is struck by a train approximately once every three hours. In 2013, more than 908 pedestrians were injured or killed while walking on or near railroad tracks, up almost eight percent from 2012. Of the rail-related deaths, 95 percent involve drivers trying to beat a train, or people trespassing on railroad tracks. 
 “The majority of train related incidents are preventable,” said Sauer. “A moving train can’t steer out of the way of an object or person in the tracks and it takes more effort and time to slow or stop a train. By crossing the tracks instead of using a dedicated overpass or underpass or driving through the grade crossing when the gates are down, people are putting themselves in imminent, and unnecessary, danger.” 
 To remind the public that train tracks are not the place for people or cars, SEPTA is partnering with Operation Livesaver on the organization’s new “See Tracks? Think Train!” initiative. This public service campaign, which launches today, is aimed at reducing the number of pedestrian and driver injuries and fatalities around railroad tracks by highlighting risky behaviors. SEPTA’s System Safety officers will feature information from the program in the many Operation Lifesaver rail safety presentations they make across the Authority’s service area. 

For more information see:

Monday, April 07, 2014

Ruth Damsker Runs for State Senate

from the inbox:

Two term Montgomery County Commissioner Ruth Damsker announces that she will run as a candidate for State Senator in Pennsylvania’s 12th Senatorial District. Ruth seeks to replace 36 year incumbent Republican Stewart Greenleaf.

Damsker has served in Europe with the US Army Community service Program and was Cheltenham Finance Officer and Controller for 12 years as well as Montgomery County Commissioner from 2000 to 2008. In addition to her role as County Commissioner Damsker has also served in leadership roles in the American Cancer Society, Rotary International, the American Association of University Women and the United Parent Group.

Damsker is a member of the League Of Women Voters and was appointed by Governor Rendell to serve on the Pennsylvania Intra-Governmental Council on Long Term Care and the Pennsylvania Targeted Community Revitalization and Crime Prevention Committee.
Damsker will be a fresh new voice with innovative ideas. As State Senator Damsker plans to restore education funding including early childhood education for all children; introduce a fair share extraction tax on natural gas; protect state lands, forests and streams; create jobs and grow the economy of Pennsylvania by providing grants and loans for small businesses--such as those using renewable sources of energy.

“My opponent, 36 year incumbent Senator Greenleaf has gone along with the right wing agenda of Governor Corbett, voting for a $1 billion cut in education funds, supported the tax giveaway to natural gas drilling companies as well as placing state lands, forests and natural resources at risk.” said Damsker. “Greenleaf supports Republican policies which are hurting hard working Pennsylvania families.”  

A resident of Upper Gwynedd, Damsker was married to the late Dr. Jeffrey Damsker for 35 years, a Radiation Oncologist. She graduated from Temple University and has three sons, Jason, Keith and David, who are physicians and a daughter, Rebecca who is a secondary Social Studies teacher. Damsker is the proud grandmother of 6.

Philadelphia Budget Resource

from the inbox:

Council President Darrell L. Clarke has unveiled the City Council Budget Center, an online hub of documents, transcripts and video of the FY2015 City of Philadelphia budget hearing process.

Departmental budget proposals and hearing testimony, transcripts and video will be added to the City Council Budget Center – – as they become available. The City Council Budget Center also has information on the FY2015 budget hearing schedule, which is subject to change. 

Council President Clarke encouraged members of the public to use the City Council Budget Center as a tool to stay informed about the FY2015 budget process as well as opportunities to attend public hearings and testify on Mayor Nutter’s spending proposals.

CeaseFire PA Report on Gubernatorial Candidates

CeaseFire Pennsylvania, a gun safety organization, has released a 19 page pdf report on the six candidates running for governor.  Given that the two Republican candidates (Bob Guzzardi and Gov. Tom Corbett) did not respond to their questionnaire, the report focuses on the four Democratic candidates.  For those who do not want to read the entire report, the short answer is that Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz and Katie McGinty both received a 100% rating, Rob McCord 84%, and Tom Wolf 79%.  You can read the full report at:

Equal Pay Day Legislation

Tuesday is Equal Pay Day, indicating that women must work a year, three months and eight days to earn as much as a man does in a year.  The bipartisan bicameral Women's Health Caucus is sponsoring two bills:

The bills are H.B. 1890 and S.B. 1212. They would update the conditions under which employers could pay different wages because of a factor other than sex. These factors would include specific, job-related attributes such as education, training and experience. The bills would also strengthen anti-retaliation protections for employees attempting to bring a pay-equity lawsuit against their employer and those who share information about their pay.

The group is also distributing an infographic showing the discrepancy between men and women's income in Pennsylvania counties.  It is available at: 

Update: Which State Representatives Post Their Monthly Expenses

Update:  Rep. Stephen Bloom was unintentionally omitted from the list.  He has been added.

In August, 2011, I posted a list of state representatives and state senators who posted their monthly expense reports.  Earlier this month I updated the list of state senators.  This evening I update the list of state reps.  In 2011 there were 20 state reps on the list, seven Democrats, and 13 Republicans.  Following my standard practice I linked to the individual legislator's sites from the and pages.

Things have changed since 2011.  There are now four Democrats, and 22 23 Republicans.  Some of the Republican representatives use a special "monthly expenses" icon on the page, others put a tab on the left hand menu bar.  The Democrats all use the menu bar.  Seeing the discrepancy I went back and spot checked some of the Democratic sites again, just in case I had missed something.  It is possible that I overlooked a listing somewhere as I didn't review all the sites a second time but I did make an effort to be thorough.  I encourage the curious to check for themselves; if there are errors please let me know. There are several state reps running for higher office.  Interested voters might take note of whether or not they are on this list.

There is an aggregate increase in the number of state reps posting their expenses but I am disappointed in the party discrepancy.

Here is the list:

Madeleine Dean (D-153)
Jared Gibbons (D-10)
Sid Michael Kavulich (D-114)
Patty Kim (D-103)

Ryan Aument (R-41)
Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-199)
Jim Christiana (R-15)
Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-108)
Joe Emrick (R-137)
Mindy Fee (R-37)
Keith Gillespie (R-47)
Keith J Greiner (R-43)
Glen Grell (R-87)
Joe Hackett (R-161)
Sue Helm (R-104)
Dave Hickernell (R-98)
Fred Keller (R-85)
John Lawrence (R-13)
John Maher (R-40)
Jim Marshall (R-14)
Kurt Masser (R-107)
John McGinnis (R-79)
Steven Mentzer (R-97)
Mark Mustio (R-44)
Justin Simmons (R-131)
Rosemarie Swanger (R-102)

Dan Truitt (R-156)

Thursday, April 03, 2014

SEPTA Updates

Two notes from our friends at SEPTA:

  • Some of the Regional Rail lines are shifting their schedules starting on Sunday; new timetables are now available.
  • Progress was made tonight during an informal meeting attended by  SEPTA management and TWU Local 234 negotiation team leaders. A possible two-year contract is being discussed. Talks will continue tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. at an undisclosed location. 

Keystone Progress PAC Endorses Billy Smith

from the inbox:

The Keystone Progress Political Action Committee (KP PAC) announced today that it is endorsing Billy Smith in the 164th Legislative District.
KP PAC is the political action committee of Keystone Progress.  Keystone Progress is a multi-issue progressive organization with over 200,000 members.  This is only the third endorsement by the progressive organization since it began making endorsements earlier this year.
The following is the endorsement announcement from KP PAC:We are honored to announce that the board of directors of the Keystone Progress Political Action Committee (KP PAC) endorses Billy Smith for State Representative in the 164th district.
We are proud to be able to make this endorsement because of Mr. Smith’s clear support for progressive values, including civil rights, workers’ rights, voting rights, protecting our environment, supporting public education and affordable health care.  These are the values that our members want to see championed in Harrisburg.  We believe that Billy Smith is the best candidate to assure that working families in the 164th Legislative District will have a strong, progressive voice in the House of Representatives.We look forward to working with Billy Smith as the next State Representative from the 164th district.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Eric Nagy to Bucks County Dems

The Bucks County Democratic Committee has named Eric Nagy their new executive director.   According to the press release:

Nagy has spent the last eight years managing top-tier campaigns – from State Representative to County Judge to United States Congress – all around the country. Nagy, a native of nearby Easton, PA and graduate of Ithaca College, returns to Bucks County having managed the Commissioner slate during the 2011 cycle