Friday, July 07, 2006

An Interview with Russ Shade

Russ Shade, Democratic candidate for the 183rd state house district, recently took the time to answer some interview questions. For a district description and biography of Russ, see this previous posting.

Not to second guess, but wouldn't it have been easier to make sure your petition signatures were correct and in sufficient number?

The Department of State requires 300 signatures for a person running for a state representative seat. When DOS reviewed my petition, they determined that there were sufficient signatures.

My opponent’s campaign arranged for my petition to be challenged – that’s a perfectly legal tactic. I chose to not defend the petition because I knew I could easily secure enough write-in votes to garner the nomination. To my thinking, my funds could be put to better use in getting my message out to voters.

You do raise a most interesting point. I’d like to tell you about a Democrat named Jeff Hamer from Allegheny County.

Infuriated by Rep. Frank Dermody’s “Yes” vote on the pay raise and Dermody’s acceptance of “unvouchered expenses,” Jeff decided to mount a primary challenge. He walked into the Department of State with over 500 signatures. Dermody had the petition challenged and when the smoke cleared, Jeff was thrown off the ballot. If somebody wants you gone from the race, they will mount a challenge.

We used supervoter lists that we compiled from voter history files, but, as we learned, some of the signature gatherers allowed folks whose names were not on the list to sign the petition. We had some other unanticipated difficulties that I would prefer not to discuss. Yes, I will agree, we could have done a much better job and I accept full responsibility for the shortcoming.

The Morning Call announced that I was withdrawing from the race when, in reality, I only withdrew my petition. The day that article appeared my phone began ringing with calls from supporters who were shocked that I would drop out. After some discussion, we decided to mount a write-in campaign.

As it turns out, we got far more write-in votes than we did petition signatures. But, even more importantly, we managed to mobilize Democrats in the district in a major way. We intend to use that momentum to drive change in the November election.

You were the campaign manager for John Stoffa for the office of Northampton County executive and won over an opponent with much greater funding. What strategy did you use?

For the Primary election, the underlying principle was that county government belongs to the citizens of the county. We expected that the incumbent would not take us seriously – and that turned out to be the case. The party did not support us – we were orphaned. That gave us incredible flexibility to drive the campaign we wanted to run – and drive it we did. We defined the issues, we set the example, and we used our limited resources wisely and effectively to convey John’s vision to the voters.

The Primary forced both the Democratic and Republican structures in the county to re-examine themselves. Both had proved ineffective in advancing their endorsed candidates. We used press conferences to keep the campaign in front of the voters. We used radio to give the voters a chance to learn about John’s vision. We spent hours at community fairs talking with voters and, perhaps more importantly, listening to voters.

Our opponent frequently pointed to having important friends in Harrisburg as a reason for voting for him. When the pay raise hit, voters stopped considering that to be an important qualification. The fact that John was an outsider (not a politician) but had 30 years of well-respected administrative experience in county government was impossible for the voters to discount.

Had you been active in politics before managing John Stoffa's campaign? How?

I’ve been a professional taxpayer for over 35 years.

Over the years I have been very active – not as an activist, but rather as a gadfly. Frankly, I was like the vast majority of residents –apathetic at best, but willing to complain at the drop of a hat. I saw our role as voters to be essentially meaningless.

In the fall of 2004 I met a county-level politician from the western part of the state who told me that, in her opinion, it may already be too late for PA. That angered me. My entire family was born, raised, and educated in PA. We love this commonwealth and we love living in the 183rd district.

I turned to the Web to try and learn just what she meant – and I found it virtually impossible to uncover meaningful information about how the state government operated. I was horrified.

At the same time I discovered political weblogs – specifically, PoliticsPA. On 2/18 a fellow named Stoffa put up a post on their message board that he was disgusted at what was going on in Northampton County and was planning to challenge the incumbent executive in the Primary. I sent him a note and offered to sign his petition and contribute $100 to his campaign. He responded that he had to talk to me first. We met in my dining room a few days later. After we chatted a bit, I asked him how he envisioned his campaign. He replied that he was going to get more yard signs than he had used in a run for County Council a few years earlier. I gave him a book I was reading on running for local office and suggested he read it while on a trip to China that he was taking in a few days.

When he returned home, he called and acknowledged that a successful campaign was going to require more than yard signs, and that he intended to win this race. I showed him the rough strategy I had drawn up while he was gone. The rest is now history.

We were still in our post-primary doldrums when the pay raise got shoved through. As the arrogance of House leadership revealed itself, I first got angry at the voters who put these clowns in office year after year. Then it occurred to me that perhaps it was time to listen to the mantra I had been mouthing for years, namely, if you don’t like who is running, find somebody better to run… and if you can’t find anybody better, then run yourself.

I wrote a letter to my state representative Julie Harhart, asking her if she would vote “yes” on a repeal bill and if she would support a discharge petition to pull such a bill onto the floor.

She never answered. Frankly, if I was to remain true to my principles, I had no choice but to run.

Will you accept all donations or will you limit yourself to only taking money from certain populations or groups?

I presently am limiting the contributions I accept to those from


Sitting Democratic/progressive politicians whose platforms I can support

Labor PAC money

One of my biggest concerns about statewide and federal politics is the role that money plays. Without going into a lengthy discussion, we both know that effective campaigns require money to get the message into voters’ homes.

Frankly, I am a firm believer that the residents of the district should provide the financial support for the candidates of the district. I become suspicious about who my representative *really* works for when I see that more 94% of her contributions come from outside of the district – some of that money comes from out of state.

You think people should be taxed on what they consume not on what they earn. Does this mean food and other basic essentials would be taxed?

The plan is already on the table (see We build a price index on what it costs to live in this state – food, energy costs, housing costs, medical/prescriptions costs, etc., and we come up with a realistic deduction that will be indexed to reflect changes in the State’s economic climate. Once a person’s or family’s expenditures exceed that figure, the consumption tax goes into effect. The tax is levied only on the retail sale of new goods and services.

Besides being a taxation system that rewards savings, the Fair Tax eliminates the expensive tax collection bureaucracy. It also taxes those portions of the underground economy that have gone untaxed for years.

During my conversations with business people and workers, I have seen strong support for this approach to taxation.

What about luxury items bought over the internet or in other states and brought to PA?

If it’s a PA customer buying online from a PA supplier, tax it. If it’s a PA buyer purchasing from an out-of-state supplier, let the taxes at the seller’s location apply.

If elected, how long would you want to stay in office?

I am not looking to have a career in politics. My goal is to provide the vision, drive, and vote to help progressive Democrats effect the reforms voters are demanding. I will devote two terms to that effort. If my efforts are successful, I will leave the State House after two terms. If I am unsuccessful in my efforts, I will run for a third term unless the community advances another candidate that I can support.

Even though there are a number of colleges in the general area (if not in the district), the percentage of people in many areas of the 183rd with a college degree is around 10%. Would you like to see that improve? Why? If yes, how would you encourage it? (Source: stats). [Interviewer's note: He is correct that my statistics are for just a portion of the district.]

Slatington is but a small part of the district. The Whitehall area boasts over 29% of residents with a 4-year degree.

The Lehigh Valley is blessed with numerous 2-year and 4-year undergraduate institutions as well as a variety of technical training programs. There is ample opportunity for every resident to partake of their offerings.

I want to see every person in the district obtain as much education as they desire.

One frustration with the state legislature has been the lack of transparency - ghost voting so we don't know if our legislators are actually hearing the debates on bills, leadership slush funds to pay for campaigning costs, legislative pay and pension raises, the long lag time in the release of the House Journal, voting records not available, candidates promising to only stay in office a set number of years then running over and over again - what would you do differently?

Eliminate ghost voting provisions for the next session – forever, if possible.
Public financing of elections for ALL legislative seats.
Elimination of defined pension programs for all State elected officials.
No bill may be voted or acted upon until the Legislative Journal containing the most recent action on the bill has been freely available to the public (including the Internet) for three days. No exceptions.
Voting information available within 2 hours of the vote. No exceptions.
A state-maintained computer-based repository of past roll call vote information.
The voters determine how long a person stays in office. A term-limits law takes power FROM the people. If a candidate makes an unconditional promise to limit himself/herself to a specific length of time and then breaks that promise, the voters should acknowledge that violation with a refusal to vote for the candidate in the next election.

What do you think the legislature can do to encourage existing businesses to come to the state and entrepreneurs to start businesses here?

I think the best thing government can do to encourage healthy business growth is get out of the way. That being said, business can encourage State government to stay out of the way by

Paying their employees a living wage and adjusting it as necessary to prevent employees from “falling behind.”
Treating employees and customers with dignity and respect.
Refusing to shjp the jobs of Pennsylvanians overseas.
Refusing to hire illegal immigrants.
Enhancing the quality of life rather than inflicting environmental harm.

You've "reinvented" yourself a number of times - career changes, starting a research oriented nonprofit, and so on. Is that flightiness or flexibility and will it help or hinder you in public office?

I believe my work history demonstrates not only my flexibility, but also my ability to see “what’s coming” in time to do something about it. I truly enjoyed the work I did in industrial distribution; but then I saw the nation begin to ship the industrial base overseas – indeed, even the company I was working for was erecting manufacturing facilities in Mexico and China. As the computer became an increasingly important tool, I identified the need for a way to make the machines and their software more accessible to users. From a personal viewpoint, working in the computer industry was a smart move for me.

That being said, I have proved that I can function well in a variety of arenas. That has to be an asset for a legislator.

I truly believe that if we have a legislature with members who come from all walks of life, we will have a better-functioning, more representative Legislature.

If elected would you make the legislature your primary focus or continue your work as a writer and with research on parrots?

As long as the position of State Representative is a full-time position, I will devote my attentions accordingly.

Will I avoid making trips to the Andes Mountains? Absolutely not, but I will schedule those trips so they do not interfere with my responsibilities to the citizens of my district.

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

Why do you feel that the upcoming election may be the most important in Pennsylvania’s history?

Voters in Pennsylvania have a tremendous opportunity to reshape their state government in meaningful ways in the coming election.

With a few notable exceptions, our lawmakers have closeted themselves away from their constituents, preferring instead to advance the causes of the special interests that fund their campaigns. Instead of working to improve the lives and fortunes of all Pennsylvanians, they labor only to feather their own nests – hoping that the voters are asleep and will not notice their pay-grabbing arrogance. That approach has worked for decades.

Pennsylvanians deserve a public education system that does a better job at a lower cost, one that treats all students equitably – regardless of where they live.

With lower education costs in place, we will have the breathing room in which to develop a taxation system that spreads the cost of government services more equitably.

We need businesses that are dedicated not only to being successful economically, but which are also concerned with the success of the communities in which they reside.

We need to build a government apparatus that is efficient, transparent, and responsive to the needs and desires of its constituents, not one that acts like it is operated by a ruling class.

If we send the same people back to Harrisburg, we will have more business-as-usual.

Frankly, Pennsylvania has to progress if it is to remain a wonderful place to live and conduct business. Over the past 18 months we have seen the out-of-touch legislature that business-as-usual has given us.

Voters are angry and disgusted. If the voters express their displeasure at the polls in the general election and toss out those incumbents that were untouchable during the primary, I predict that 2006 will forever be remembered as the year that Pennsylvania citizens took back their government from the ruling class.

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