Voting Against Hellbenders

In 2019, thanks to the nearly-unanimous Act 3, the Eastern Hellbender became the official state amphibian of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. One of the six no votes in the PA House? Yeah, that would be our incumbent. And as foolish and short-sighted as that vote happens to be, it’s also a great opening into an examination of Rep. Roae’s track record of voting contrary to the needs of his constituents.

A vote against the Hellbender is a vote against Northwestern Pennsylvania!

First, the hellbender: it’s a gorgeous, gigantic salamander, and now our state salamander, that can grow to be two feet long. It’s known also as the snot otter, and the Allegheny alligator, and as a really important indicator species. If you have hellbenders in a waterway, as we do in our French Creek, you know the water quality is high. The hellbender is a distinctive, awesome, beautiful exemplar of the vibrancy of our local natural spaces, and of the quality of the water in French Creek.

In fact, when Republican state senator Gene Yaw first proposed the hellbender for this recognition, a large part of the reason was because of water quality. The schoolchildren working with him wanted to accent the important of both the hellbender and the waters within which it lives. Keeping those waters clean is important to all of us, and the hellbender is a lovely symbolic recognition of that need.

So when Brad Roae voted no on this recognition, he was signaling something about his commitment to water quality, just as he was voting against a distinctive creature that lives in our own backyard. This was a no-brainer vote, and one that a local rep should have seen as a way to bring important attention to our amazing French Creek — one of the most biodiverse waterways in the state — and to our commitment to keeping it clean. Frankly, the hellbender, as a charismatic sort of wild animal, could and should be part of the calling card for our region. Voting against this recognition was literally voting against positive recognition for part of what makes Northwestern Pennsylvania unique and wonderful.

But Brad Roae has voted in ways inconsistent with what we need plenty of times. A brief catalog:

  • In 2019 he voted in favor of HB 33, which sought to repeal the General Assistance Program, a powerful and effective way to address poverty program in the Commonwealth that gave needed money to significantly struggling folks. The program is defined as supporting adults with disabilities, or drug dependency, or who are fleeing domestic abuse. Meadville, the largest population center in the District, has a 24% poverty rate, so voting against General Assistance is literally voting against the needs of a huge portion of our community.
  • In 2011, Roae was a co-sponsor for HB 1261, the original bill that sought to repeal General Assistance. Roae has a long track record of opposing anti-poverty legislation.
  • In 2018, he voted no on HB 2060, a bill that ultimately passed (which means it had significant Republican support). The bill required that individuals with protection from abuse orders filed against them surrender their firearms to police. This bill offered a clear, common-sense way to prevent gun violence, since these orders are only written when an individual is an established threat to the life and safety of others. These individuals are the very people who we can see as direct threats of gun violence. Perhaps wanting to preserve his 100% pro-gun voting record, Roae voted to allow such individuals to maintain possession of the very weapons used all too often in domestic gun violence.
  • In 2018, Roae was a co-sponsor of HB 2154, which sought to exempt conventional, shallow-well oil and gas drillers from having to abide by provisions in the Safe Drinking Water Act. The bill would have also allowed drillers to spill up to 5 barrels of crude oil or 15 barrels of brine water (a drilling byproduct) without even reporting the spill. That’s 210 gallons of oil or 630 gallons of brine, without reporting the spill. The bill would have let drillers spread brine water on our dirt roads for “dust control,” which would effectively turn our many miles of dirt roads into hazardous waste dumps, and it would have repealed a DEP-required review of drilling impact on public parks and historical sites. In all, this was a deeply anti-environmental bill that put our rivers and streams and drinking water at risk, and demonstrated Rep. Roae’s preference for the needs of drilling companies over the needs of his constituents.
  • In 2014, Roae voted against Medicaid expansion, connected to the Affordable Care Act. And in 2018 he voted to establish Medicaid work requirements and other obstacles to lower-income Pennsylvanians in accessing affordable healthcare. Again, his district is a high-poverty district, so voting against Medicaid is a vote against the people of the district.
  • In 2009, Roae voted no on HB 1, which would have expanded access to government-subsidized health insurance for low income adults. (We’re seeing a trend here, aren’t we!?)
  • In 2008, Roae voted no on a Clean Energy Program, which would have invested $850 million in renewable energy and energy efficiency. It’s important to note that right now, as Chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee, Rep. Roae has been hearing testimony on the benefits of community solar. As he himself has said, opening the pathway for community solar would be of tremendous benefit to area farmers, who could have solar arrays offering some of the income they need to keep their farms. It would also offer important expansion of the sources of power in our energy portfolio, helping us move beyond our dependency on polluting non-renewable fossil fuels. Solar offered the same advantages back in 2008, when Roae voted against it, and we lost twelve years of development opportunity because of the short-sighted votes of legislators who have worked very hard to prop up a fossil fuel energy industry that everyone knows is not sustainable.

The big point: in addition to failing to write any significant bills that would have helped our region, despite fourteen years as our representative, Brad Roae also has a consistent track record of voting against legislation that would have actually helped the residents of Northwestern Pennsylvania. It’s not just the hellbender. But the vote against the hellbender makes it clear: we’re not getting representation that supports the things that support our region.

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