Monday, March 20, 2006

An Interview with Paul Lang

Paul Lang, Democratic candidate for the 6th state senate district (previously profiled here), kindly sat down to answer some questions. He not only provided very thorough answers, he also provided links to further information. My thanks to him and his campaign staff for taking time to do this. The residents of the 6th district will surely be able to expect the same level of service. My favorite answer to any of these questions is the one on veterans running for office. However, this sentence stood out for me as a good single sentence summation of his answers: The challenges presented in representing a district whose integrity and pride outweigh their income involve doggedly advocating for their economic needs through improving education and increasing the minimum wage.

There are a number of areas in your district labeled “industrial park.” What are these areas? Are they an asset, a liability or an opportunity?

These industrial parks are a latent opportunity as they are perfect places for small business incubators. One of my biggest supporters owns a small business that is involved in engineering and manufacturing large heating and cooling systems. They are located in an industrial park and have thrived through hard work, persistence, and determination. I certainly understand that we can’t have employees without employers. Thus, in addition to being a strong advocate for workers, I will be an equally strong friend to creating tax incentives and greater opportunity for our small and mid-size business.

I also think it has taken too long to bring large and mid-size companies back to the district. Recently, Lenox (the giftware company) moved its headquarters to Bristol to occupy the old Dial soap factory. This move will bring 400 employees to the area. Needless to say, the Lenox relocation is a huge success and I congratulate Governor Rendell and Bristol Borough’s revitalization efforts. This accomplishment, however, is only a start. As the next state Senator, I will make it a priority to bring similar companies to such appealing locations to create better jobs and a high quality workforce.

The 6th district borders on but does not contain the Willow Grove Naval Air Station. How will the future of Willow Grove affect the 6th district?

The potential loss of Willow Grove will greatly affect the area. Not only is the presence of the Air Station a homeland security and national defense comfort to the area, but it is also a strategic asset to our protection. Furthermore, many veterans reside in my district. Thus, with Willow Grove’s closure, my district will lose many solid contributing citizens/soldiers.

If the closure does occur, we need to smartly capitalize on the use of the area. I advocate for an independent board to handle all proposals for purchase and use of the property. Surely, the land is very appealing to developers, senior communities, educational facilities and business. It is imperative that we evaluate all proposals objectively and find out how to best use the land to preserve and enhance the community.

There are some small medical facilities in the area. Is your district especially affected by the medical malpractice controversy? Will you encourage growth in the health care area?

Each area of the state is affected by the malpractice controversy. Bucks County, in particular, is specifically affected because malpractice payouts in the Philadelphia area are among the highest in the state (which surely extends out to the suburbs).

I was present at the celebration in the summer of 2005 when Power Medical Interventions moved their manufacturing operations to Langhorne. The move to Bucks County created 153 new jobs and retained 43 jobs. Governor Rendell’s Action Team, consisting of a team of economic-development professionals, is largely responsible for this success. I will continue to engage the Governor’s Action Team to continue this growth as these jobs are vital to the improvement of my district.

The 6th district houses Philadelphia Park racetrack. How will the recently passed gambling legislation affect the district? What will it mean for the state senator of that area? Will slot machines in the district affect Sesame Place and other family oriented attractions?

Approximately 5000 slot machines will be brought to the racetrack by 2007. My opponent trumps this accomplishment as one of his greatest legislative achievements. He has, however, failed to address the important details of the gambling legislation.

Philadelphia Park is situated on Street Road in Bensalem Township. If anyone knows the area, they know that Street Road is terribly congested. With thousands of visitors traveling Street Road to gamble, traffic will be a nightmare. I have visited numerous businesses throughout the area to determine the gambling impact. Their biggest complaint is that traffic will prevent easy ingress/egress to their stores, businesses, and restaurants. In addition, they have complained that the state and Gaming Control Board have not done more to involve them in the promotion and planning of the slot machines. Overall, they are hopeful for the business the slots will provide, but they wish the state government would provide more concrete plans and projections.

Citizens are very concerned about how the state government plans to spend the gaming revenues. Needless to say, they are skeptical. There is no cohesive or comprehensive plan to specify how the funds will be spent. Will the state use the revenue for tax relief, improving our schools, our first responders, or will it be ferreted to pet projects?

Currently, no engineering study has been conducted to determine the slot’s impact on our roads, community, and government infrastructure. Thus, we are left guessing at what needs to be done to ensure public safety. Why hasn’t a study been done to determine how much our police force must increase in size and what equipment will need to be purchased? Again, the answers to these questions will ultimately impact the surrounding homes and family oriented attractions. When elected, I intend to find out through a thorough study and thoughtful action.

The I-95 and Pennsylvania Turnpike intersection – why can’t this get off the ground? What would you do to stop it from being built or to assist it in being built?

This may be a long answer, but the situation is complicated. I wanted to get first-hand information on this issue, so I called KCI Technologies, Inc. who performed the Federal Environmental Impact Statement and Edwards and Kelcey who is overseeing the design stage. Currently, Edwards and Kelcey are working with 8 different designers on contract with the Turnpike to develop preliminary designs for 8 different sections.

Excluding the bridge, the project is estimated to cost somewhere between $600 and $700 million, depending on gas and steel prices. Bids for construction are to begin this Fall on the overhead bridges. Thus, the project is moving forward.

It is my understanding that the Lower Bucks Chamber of Commerce believes that the intersection will provide a great business opportunity for the area. It will create smoother exit/entry into the area which will thus introduce the region to outside consumers. In addition, it will entice many visitors to experience the various heritage and cultural offerings in the 6th Senatorial District. Finally, traffic from Route 1, Route 13, and some of 413 will be alleviated from the intersection.

From my understanding after the research, the project is taking a long time due to two major issues. The first was the impact statement, which took around 10 years to complete. The second is that there was a concern about displacement of some of the homes and the impact on the area at the intersection.

A recent meeting regarding the interchange drew hundreds of residents from Newportville and Fergusonville. Many questions were left unanswered because the preliminary design phase is not complete. I spoke to a leading member of the Newportville-Fergusonville Civic Association and he voiced many concerns over the vague answers received from the project planners. The citizens are concerned about the lack of information they are receiving--they have not seen a table model that fully describes the height of the ramps and they do not know the traffic/economic/real estate impact of the project.

At this time, I cannot support the I-95/Turnpike intersection until the preliminary design phase is completed. As a state Senator, I will be an untiring voice and remain very sensitive to the protection and mistreatment of homeowners and the community. The people need answers and they have not been given them. I fully intend to evaluate the proposal (expected in Fall 2006) and come to a conclusion after talking to the residents, local businesses, and civic organizations of the area. If the proposal adversely impacts the quality of life (including noise levels, total number of cars along Ford Road, New Falls Road, and Newportville Road), I will stand to protect the rights of the homeowners and ensure their quality of life.


You’ve been very public about having broken your back in the Coast Guard. Will your spinal mobility or other physical limitations affect your ability to travel back and forth to Harrisburg and around your district?

I’ve been given a second chance at life. Thus, no physical limitations will prevent me from living my life fully. To be honest, I was in really bad shape for the first three years after the law enforcement accident. The service understood my situation as I missed a lot of work due to the pain and my occasional inability to drive or walk. During this time, I was going to a lot of physical therapy, seeing various doctors, and working hard at rehabilitation.

Today, I still grit my teeth in the morning when I get up and I still have aches and pains throughout the day. I’m not able to do activities like jet-ski, but I can do everything else the campaign requires. Thus, my back will not limit me in any way from performing my duties in Bucks County and Harrisburg.

There are a number of veterans running for office this year. What aspects of military experience provide good training for elected public service?

While many incumbents have been smoking cigars with lobbyists and attending wine and cheese events with their high-dollar donors, we veterans have been to hell and back. We were dedicated to public service when the pay was low, dangers were high, and our personal lives were disrupted for months at a time. In this sense, the service and sense of duty we lived and breathed every day translates well into being good stewards, advocates, and leaders for our constituents.

Your family was active in politics. Do you remember a specific event or realization that awakened your own interest in politics or was it always a part of your life?

My parents are longtime committee people for the Bucks County Democrats. I grew up getting paid with ice cream for doing literature drops, working the polls on Election Day, and helping put up campaign signs. This type of political action and involvement were instilled in me as a patriotic obligation.

The event that awakened my interest in politics is also somewhat embarrassing. I traveled down to Washington, D.C. with my parents and a contingent of Bucks County Democrats to attend President Clinton’s Inauguration and the Inaugural Balls. I was able to move my way through the crowd with a friend to a close spot* to see the swearing in ceremony. The view was amazing and I was able to watch President Clinton, the austerity of the ceremony, and the awe-inspiring buildings in D.C. that really awakened my view of government and its power to do good for society.

*Full disclosure: I climbed up onto a port-a-potty to view the event.

A number of the state representatives and the federal congressman for 6th state senate district are Republicans. Will you be able to work with them?

I am running for the state Senate not to make friends, but to make changes. I am willing, however, to extend my hand across the partisan aisle if it will benefit my district and the state.

At one point you were being considered as a candidate for the federal congressional seat; if the Democratic frontrunner, Patrick Murphy, wins would you be able to work with him, even though at one point the two of you were in competition for the Democratic nomination?

I have a great relationship with Patrick Murphy, Andy Warren, and Fred Viskovich and I look forward to campaigning and coordinating efforts in the General Election with the Primary winner. All of the candidates have heartily endorsed my efforts and have given great support in my transition. Whoever wins in the Congressional Primary, I promise you that we will light up the district in passion and energy.

Incidentally, a common problem for Patrick and I are that we are similar in backgrounds and, so I’m told, in our appearance (unfortunately for him). Andy and Fred are sometimes mistaken as my distant uncles. Despite the similarities, I’m O.K. with the confusion as long as all of them know that I can beat them at arm wrestling.

Has your experience in Coast Guard and with potential anthrax exposure while working in Washington, D.C. shaped your views on domestic defense and terrorism issues?

The most important lesson I learned from my anthrax exposure and my subsequent participation as a founding member of the Department of Homeland Security is that legislators are too often reactive to domestic terrorism and threats. It isn’t popular to discuss events that “might” occur, but it is popular for politicians to stand in the aftermath and pledge solutions. These common problems run through both parties and up to Harrisburg.

In my district, for example, Bristol Township recently had four bomb threats in one week. The principal of Truman High School said to CBS News, “I’m constantly worried about if the building is secure.” Bristol Township is left dealing with the fallout of a myopic vision from our legislators. If we had exhaustively studied and listened to the concerns of the school administrators, we would not be facing the cameras and scrutiny of the media and parents.

Here are just a few of the security weaknesses that have yet to be addressed – unprotected drinking water supplies, underfunded first responders, and limited security in schools. My question is: Are we going to exhaustively study the security weaknesses before breaches occur or are we going to create a patchwork of agencies and temporary solutions after the disaster? Upon taking office, I vow to appoint an independent auditor to conduct a thorough analysis of all security threats. Then, I will work with PEMA to ensure all reasonable measures have been taken to limit and minimize our domestic terrorism threats.

Have the same experiences shaped your views on health care and medical insurance?

I was fortunate enough to be sent to Washington, D.C. after my accident to advocate for the military as a member of the Coast Guard’s Congressional Hearings Team. While there, I was able to be treated at two of the best military hospitals –Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Medical Center. I was given the honor of being retired as a Lieutenant, thus providing me with lifetime health care provided through the Veteran’s Administration and the military’s TriCare Program. With these experiences in large-level medical care, I saw the potential for expanding such a program to other areas of society.

With this background, my primary focus when I win will be on providing comprehensive health care to all children. CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) was established in 1993 and has accomplished a lot in providing coverage to children whose parents are not covered by an employer and cannot afford health insurance. There are still limitations to CHIP. As of January 1, 2005, CHIP enrollment was 138,198 but, there are still around 240,000 uninsured children in the state. The Democrats have introduced program provisions that would create a more vigorous approach to locate and enroll these uninsured children. In addition, Governor Rendell’s proposed budget would provide health insurance for virtually every child in Pennsylvania. At the least, one provision, that I advocate, is a system of “presumptive eligibility”. This presumption would immediately provide a child in need the appropriate healthcare without the bureaucratic and administrative burdens that could frustrate the child’s ability to receive care.

Another important issue is the cost of long-term health care. Too many seniors, like my grandmother, save money throughout their lifetime only to have their savings depleted by steep monthly costs at nursing homes or long-term care facilities. If a family scrapes and saves $25,000 in a lifetime, their savings can be gone within 5 months of nursing home care. This is unacceptable. We need to provide seniors with dignity and respect in their twilight years. This starts with creating affordable, long-term health care that preserves their savings and quality of life.

The 6th district is one of the most populous in the county but residents have lowest incomes. What challenges does that present?

The residents of the district have been largely ignored by state government. Despite repeated promises from the state Senate, Lower Bucks County has lagged behind the rest of the state. For example, when I left home at age 18 for the service, the state legislature was promising for property tax relief. Now, at age 29, these knuckleheads are still promising property tax relief. People are fed up with being left behind.

The challenges presented in representing a district whose integrity and pride outweigh their income involve doggedly advocating for their economic needs through improving education and increasing the minimum wage.

First, I believe the basis for economic prosperity is a foundation in quality education. In Bristol Township, the school district was recently determined to be “most in need” based on their performance on the standards established under the No Child Left Behind Act. This outcome is a byproduct of the Republican-controlled state Senate continually watering down education bills with nominal funding increases and excluding Governor Rendell’s and the Democrat State Senate’s educational reforms. Without a concerted emphasis on improving the schools in the district through embracing increased funding for Head Start tutoring and equality of education for low income areas, the economic conditions and the incomes of the residents in my district will never improve.

I also believe that a tide rises all ships. Thus, I will be a strong advocate for increasing the minimum wage. Here’s some quick “back of the envelope” math: According to the National Low Income Housing Association, Pennsylvania requires the 18th highest wage in the country to afford a two-bedroom home. A single mother making minimum wage in Bucks County would have to work 111 hours a week/52 weeks a year in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment. My opponent, Tommy Tomlinson, has been an enemy to working families through his resistance to any minimum wage increase. Back in 1997, he voted to deny working families a raise in the minimum wage from $4.25 to $6.60. Now, we are facing the Governor’s call to raise the minimum wage from federal minimum of $5.15 to $7.15 by January, 2007. I will proudly vote for such an increase as I believe it is a critical step (but not the last step) in improving the economic situation of my district.

What are the greatest challenges facing the 6th district and how are you best suited to meet them?

The greatest challenges facing the 6th district are the same for all struggling Americans. They are jobs, healthcare, and taxes.

To take a campaign slogan from Shirley Chisholm, the first African American Congresswoman and first African American Presidential candidate, I am “unbought and unbossed”. Thus, I bring a vision to Harrisburg unfettered from special interests and corporate connections. My previous service in the military, legislative work, homeland security experience, and my longtime knowledge of the county bring a unique perspective and unbiased advocate to the state Senate. I will reach across the aisle and throughout my own party to find solutions to increase jobs, create affordable health care, and look for ways to create an efficient government that doesn’t sacrifice service.

How long or how much of your life have you lived in the 6th district and what about the area appeals to you?

I’ve been a resident of the 6th district most of my life. As you have mentioned, my district is the “heritage region” of Bucks County. The heart and soul of America is captured in the district’s ability to retain its small-town allure but exist near a large metropolitan city. From local parades to firehouse beef and beers to cultural festivals (I heartily recommend the free birch beer at the Bensalem Fall Festival and the sausage at Bristol’s Italian Day), there is no better place to enjoy everything that makes our country great.

What question didn’t I ask that you would like to answer?

What keeps a future state Senator going on the campaign trail? God, family, friends, and caffeine (in that order).

Will you win? Yes.

4 comments:

albert said...

wonderful interview jane and thoughtful answers by paul. i know paul personally and i'm learning more great things about him every time i speak with him on the campaign trail and read about him through interviews like these and press clippings.

i wish i could vote for ya.

AboveAvgJane said...

Albert,

I've been reading about your troubles with the election bureau. Yeesh!!

albert said...

yeah, not so pretty.

eRobin said...

Great questions! And Paul certainly is impressive. I liked the answer to the 95 interchange question the best.