The End of the Road…And…Then…

We didn’t win. And that’s a bummer. But we worked hard, stayed off the low road (even when the trolls hurled flaming poo sandwiches at us), and ran a campaign of ideas. So the election is over, and we might be stuck with the same useless rep in District 6, but things are looking up nationally. I’m proud to have been on the same Democratic ballot as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and I will be proud to call them President and Vice President. Our future is brighter today.

Thanks for being on this journey, everyone!

I am grateful to everyone who supported my campaign. Many of you spent your time volunteering, or helped boost messages through social media, or talked to your friends, or sent welcome words of encouragement. Change is a team effort, and we can keep working toward the world we envision. Thank you.

As for the future? Well, watch the spaces of the campaign. They might shift a little, into a new project with ambitious, vital, longer-term goals. America needs a fresh movement of humane, empathetic, serious rural citizens. My home turf has been taken over by the right wing trolls, is ignored by most progressive politicians, and has suffered a long history of insult and exploitation. More than anything, that’s what I vow to fight. It doesn’t need to be that way. And I’ve got some plans…

Be good. Do good. We’re still in this together.

Yeah, They’re Against You

This post was originally written and released on April 22, 2020. Nothing has changed. In fact, the Alt-GOP has leaned harder and harder into their destructive refusal to do the work that could have responded to the dual crisis we continue to face: economic struggle is real AND Covid is real. They have been pretending the latter doesn’t exist so they can use the former as a re-election cudgel. It’s cynical, and it has hurt us all. Remember that on Nov. 3.

This one’s going to be long, folks, so buckle up. And let’s just get to the TL;DR right here: the GOP wants to cast your decision to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 as your personal moral failure. All this we have to let the economy open up safely stuff happening in Harrisburg, other legislatures, and the DC pit of cravenness? It’s part of a long game that is absolutely, 100% not in your favor and cares not one whit about safety and, instead, is part of a steady, coordinated attack on the well-being of regular folks to benefit (drumroll) super-duper rich people. Not you. And any politician pushing it is, well, not in your corner. Whether through ignorance or cruelty, they abet a system that counts your body and your mind as expendable parts of a machine designed to net massive profits for…let me say this again…not. you. 

Note: Picture added 10/27/2020 for a visual cue that I am not having it with this ongoing alt-GOP assault on Pennsylvania. Every other word is as written and published in mid-April of 2020. And, sadly, nothing has changed.


Part I: The Legislation. Let’s focus just on Harrisburg, because that’s the place where I’m trying to head, where the politics are most pertinent to our lived, daily lives in the 6th, and where our feckless incumbent plies his trade. Trade probably isn’t the word. Fills a seat, perhaps. Anyway. The Bill is SB 613, which was taken up in the House for final votes on April 14th, pushed forward by the GOP in strict partisan form by a 107-95 vote. The quick and dirty description of the bill is that it would bypass Governor Wolf’s essential-businesses-only Covid-19 response and force the Commonwealth to follow what GOP reps keep calling the “federal list” for what businesses can be open.

Point A: There’s no list. Really. Look for one. You won’t find it. Just some relatively vague guidelines that reduce essentially to, all businesses can be open if they follow some equally vague suggestions about social distancing and worker safety. Both of these points are crucial. Don’t forget ’em.

Point B: If you take the time to look at the voting session record for SB 613 in the House on April 14, something I’d wager the GOP really, really doesn’t want you to do (so tick ’em off and read them here), you’ll see that several versions of the bill came up for vote with Democratic amendments. They were all voted down in…wait for it…strictly partisan form. What were these amendments? Oh, things like actually guaranteeing worker safety. The amendments included guaranteed sick leave, increased minimum wage for workers toiling on these pandemic frontlines, the required supplying of protective equipment for those workers. Since these amendments were from the Democrats and, probably more so, because they would force newly-opened businesses to actually weigh whether being open while protecting people was actually worth it, economically (it isn’t, economically or morally), the GOP majority squashed them. Because the part of their desire to let the economy open up safely that they actually don’t believe in is “safely.” Sure, they’ll say they care about safety, but they refuse to legislate safety for workers. Safety, you see, isn’t profitable.

Point C: When we start putting these things together, we can see that the GOP drops some disingenuous language into their PR around a bill that boils down to: open the economy, whatever it takes. People are on their own for safety. Which is to say — and this is the shocker, right? — they don’t care about the safety of Pennsylvania workers, just that the economy opens. Just that profits again flow to the people who enjoy them. Which, another surprise, is not you.

Interlude: I keep typing the letters GOP, followed by some heavy criticism, and that pains me a little, because I want to be clear that I am not opposed to the Republican Party per se. The one that counts Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and several intelligent, compassionate members of my family as members. That Republican Party is/was noble, and full of integrity, and while it might still have argued with me about some finer points of policy, it would have done so without the wholesale absence of substance that currently exists as an absolute insult to the GOP of yore. I long for the return of that GOP. So, for the rest of this piece I’m going to call this new profanation of the GOP the Alt-GOP.

Point D: The Governor vetoed SB 613, which the Alt-GOP totally knew would happen. And they moaned that the Governor has no right! Even though the Constitution totally allows it, and for which the looooong history of American state-level government shows plenty of precedent. Still, even before this veto happened, our local incumbent offered a public pondering on the merits of everyone just ignoring the Governor’s legal emergency stay-at-home orders. Oh yeah, our incumbent led that pondering with a throw away, “I am not promoting this but I am not preventing it either,” before going on to totally promote it. Later, when someone called him out on his call to law-breaking, he sputtered that she should read his first five words, as they put him totally in the clear. His other 451 words, which were all about the horror of liberal Democrats and, even worse, moderate Republicans (see Footnote1), just happen to make a case for defying public health guidelines against Commonwealth law. But he said just kidding before pulling the fire alarm in the crowded theater, so it’s okay!

Footnote 1: Our incumbent rep sees the remnants of the old GOP that actually governed responsibly as an obstacle to his vision of Pennsylvania. Think about that if you count yourself as a moderate Republican, who uses your mind to consider issues, and who cares about Northwest PA. The incumbent in the 6th discounts your worth as much as he discounts the worth of anyone who dares be a Democrat or Independent or Green.

Point D2: The Alt-GOP knew Wolf would veto this bill, and probably hoped so, because they knew they couldn’t overturn the veto, and they knew a veto would put a two week delay on any implementation of the plan that they know is a terrible affront to public health (why else would they be wearing masks and practicing social distancing themselves, many of them voting from home electronically, on that very day?). They did this because a) once Wolf vetoed they could blame the Democrats for not opening the economy safely, even though the Alt-GOP doesn’t care about the safety (see Point B), and they know opening the economy and putting people at risk is probably bad for, y’know, the economy. They did it so they could blame the Democrats. And then, if things miraculously get better on the health front, and Wolf safely and wisely opens the economy, the Alt-GOP can say, We made that happen! We told you! And if things don’t get better on the health front, and we continue staying safely at home, they can…again…practice their tried and (not)true political strategy of blaming Democrats. That’s their platform.

Part II: Where We Think About the History of Alt-GOP Initiatives That Connect To This Moment In Time When Soulless Politicians Take Advantage of A Public Health Crisis To Make Political Hay At Your Expense

Item a) The Alt-GOP has long fought to align public assistance with moral failure. This is not shocking news. They hate “welfare” and love to claim that scores of people on unemployment are milking the system. Honest people work. Only dishonest people leeching from the system don’t work. That’s their mantra.

Implication a1) If the Alt-GOP “allows” businesses to re-open during a public health crisis, and then someone decides it is unsafe to work and stays on unemployment (which is mercifully allowed under current Covid-19 guidelines), the Alt-GOP can call that person a moral failure, because they “refuse” to work. It’s that simple. If people can work, because businesses are open, and they don’t work because they’re not stupid and don’t want to risk the health of the community to chase a buck, the Alt-GOP can castigate them and, more than likely, seek to remove their unemployment benefits. Put even more directly, this is precisely where the Alt-GOP plays a gambit that equates the protection of public health as a personal moral failure. This is where you get lines like this one from the Texas Lt. Governor: “there are more important things than living.”

Implication a2) If the Alt-GOP “allows” businesses to re-open during a public health crisis, and a business decides it is unsafe to be open, that it wants to protect its workers, the Alt-GOP can call them a moral failure. Plus, there’s a strong chance that said business’s stop-loss insurance will not apply because they can be open and choose not to. Plus plus, said business could be putting their own Covid-19 related unemployment protections in jeopardy, if the interpretation of “allowed” to open suddenly, mysteriously, exempts a person from applying for that aid.

Implications a1) + a2) The Alt-GOP has thus offered a “choice” to “allow” businesses to open and to “allow” workers to work which, in fact, forces businesses to open or risk going broke and forces workers to make a choice between getting sick or going broke. It might even force a choice between going to work against a worker’s own best judgement or risk being fired from that job for refusing to show up. And, when you get fired, you can’t claim unemployment. Get it? It’s grotesque. It’s what they’re doing.

Squinting at a1) + a2) It’s almost like the Alt-GOP wants to pass legislation that undermines public assistance and throws a bone to Big Insurance. Couldn’t be, though, right?

Squinting again: It’s almost like the Alt-GOP would rather completely destroy the Commonwealth’s very reason for existing, to eliminate the power of the state to protect Pennsylvanians in the interest of the common good, and instead remove public health and worker protections by making pandemic work a “choice.” Yeah, it is that.

Side note a) This will surprise you. One of the Democratic amendments that the PA Alt-GOP blocked in the House? It would have prevented retribution against workers that choose to stay off work for reasons of reasonable fear of sickness.

Item b) The Alt-GOP hates public education. Vehemently. They love to undermine it whenever they can.

Item c) The Alt-GOP hates agency for women, and cannot bear living in a world where women are granted the right to make their own choices about their own bodies.

Item d) The Alt-GOP hates the environment, because clean air and water are apparently bad for business, and even though the conservation of our natural resources saves money and makes people healthier, said conservation prevents short term profit for companies that want to make a quick buck by, like, poisoning us and leaving billions of dollars of public liability leaking methane across the state.

Item e) Would it surprise you to know that the PA Alt-GOP wanted to sneak in a surprise attack on education funding (it never came up, because the moderate Republicans our incumbent despises recognize the importance of local control of strong public education), did sneak in a backdoor attack on reproductive rights, and did move forward with bills undermining environmental conservation, all under the guise of a Covid-19 response?

Item f) It would not surprise you, because you understand the wise words of Maya Angelou, who told us: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

Conclusion: If You’re Still Reading, Thanks.

The kicker: pay attention to the echoes across state legislatures. Pay attention to how the current bluster about fiscal responsibility and economic reality is just a cover for the same old same old modern Alt-GOP attack on education, women, environment, and workers. These politicians don’t actually care about the you part of getting you back to work. They care about how you produce wealth for the wealthy companies and billionaires who, right now, though personally unaffected by the crippling weight of wage loss, really don’t like not making money. On your back.

Plus this: a humane response to this public health crisis would have seen legislators working hard 1) to provide ongoing public assistance for everyone, so that workers could stay home without going broke and feeling the pinch; 2) to freeze rents and mortgage payments during the epidemic (if you’re worried about landlord impact, see item 1 in this list); 3) to protect front line workers from exploitation and harm; 4) to recognize the need for universal healthcare.

What we get instead is politicians using a crisis to kick us in the shins. Then asking us to applaud them for doing it.

Matt v. Brad: An Annotated Forum

First the tl;dr…watch the video, even just a few minutes. You will get an immediate sense of how different we are. I truly appreciated the civility of the discussion, but there were also mega fireworks under that surface. In the annotations that follow, I will explain several key moments, add context and commentary, and shine the spotlight in a few areas that illuminate how our visions for NWPA differ. But, seriously, watch the video!

Thanks to the Meadville Tribune, Cool 101.7, and Armstrong for hosting and broadcasting!

5:00 Forum actually starts. But feel free to listen to five minutes of catchy jingle.

6:45 Brad Roae’s opening statement begins.

7:04 Roae: “Ever since goin’ to Harrisburg, I’ve always had the approach that I’m gonna vote how the majority of the people in the District would vote if all of you got to go to Harrisburg.” Commentary: This is a KEY point for the whole night, which illustrates Rep. Roae’s philosophy. He literally begins his night by saying he is purely partisan, reflecting a philosophy of governance that doesn’t try to consider the interests and needs of ALL of the people in his District. He further illustrates the point by listing the platform “issues” of his tenure in Harrisburg, which are all pretty bland and tired right-wing clichés. The takeaway, which is deeply troubling: he is not interested in representing you if you don’t already agree with him.

7:41 Roae: “My Democratic opponent…” Commentary: this is another KEY point of the night. Rep. Roae literally never calls me by name. Ever. On one hand, that’s rude. But whatever. It also makes clear that he is not running against ME; he is running against an imaginary Democratic Bogeyman, with a presumption that an imaginary pure Republican is always better. This is also troubling, from a representative perspective, because he signals that he’s not interested in the issues of the District…just the issues of D vs. R.

7:42 Roae: “…he supports increasing the personal income tax…” Commentary: C’mon Brad! This is the beginning of a quick salvo that reiterates what he did last week on his Facebook page. He offers narrow and distorted claims about my positions. I describe later in the forum my position on tax revenue, and the importance of exploring the Fair Share Tax proposal, which actually lowers or holds-the-same the state income tax for 86% of District residents, while raising $2 billion in the first year. More later on this. The takeaway is that Rep begins his night trying to goad me into a generic D vs. R debate, and by trying to mischaracterize who I am and what I stand for. No worries. Most of those issues come out in more detail later.

8:48 Roae repeats his mantra that he votes how “most of you” would vote. Which, let me add, I don’t think is true. He votes how most of the loud trolls on his Facebook page would vote. Otherwise, he relies on the general support of Republicans who have voted straight ticket in the past.

8:51 Roae: “My opponent, his position on issues seems to be more like he would be representing Philadelphia rather than our local area here.” Commentary: I almost LOL’d at the forum right there. This is both predictable and ridiculous. He’s trying to cast me, again, as the Democratic Bogeyman and, even worse, as a Philadelphia Democratic Bogeyman! There are just so many ways this is a false and lazy characterization, intended to provoke a rise in folks who see Philadelphia as the ultimate arch enemy of Western Pennsylvania. And, hey man, I grew up an hour from Pittsburgh, a Penguins, Steelers, Pirates fan! How DARE you! LOL. Also, the issues of Philadelphia — high poverty, limited opportunity — are actually issues shared by the people in District 6.

9:01 Roae goes into the listing of his biography. Like the flier. Trying to frame himself as the only legitimate rep because of his birth zip code. You know the list.

9:34 I begin my opening statement.

9:52 Matt: “I grew up in Indiana County…” Commentary: the point here is clear, I think, but I’ll accent it a touch. My birth county is identical to Crawford County. I grew up on a farm, did farm things, know that world. And I also recognize that Indiana County and Crawford County are a lot more than the narrow clichés some might repeat. And both have struggled from departing industries, have college towns, and need a complex rep to help find solutions for complex problems. I am no different than the people of District 6, no matter what Rep. Roae tries to spin.

10:54 I emphasize investment in the future, and in the public good. This is everything to my campaign. We struggle because no one will invest in us, and that includes (sadly) our legislators. They’re fine with the issues we have: Crawford County ranking 56th out of 67 PA counties in per capita income, 1 in 4 people in Meadville living in poverty. I’m not fine with that.

11:15 “I am running tonight and talking to you tonight not as the Democrat Representative of the District, but to be the representative for all the people in the District. I’m not interested in partisan politics. I’m not interested in talking points. I’m not interested in supporting corporations. I’m interested in going to Harrisburg to stand up for the people of Crawford and Erie Count(ies). This is an enormously complex District that runs from Fairview to Meadville.” Commentary: Yeah. This. This is it. Also, notice “Fairview.” Rep. Roae never mentions Fairview even once in the night. And he’s supposed to represent them too. All the people in the District. That’s the key takeaway here, and one of the biggest contrasts to Rep. Roae’s opening statement, perspective, and legislative record.

12:38 Roae: “School funding is an interesting thing.” Commentary: Indeed.

14:55 Matt: “Pennsylvania has one of the most inequitable school funding models in the country.” Commentary: Which is not good!

Commentary: probably just listen to this sequence. You can likely guess who wants to create equitable funding for schools, and who wants to reduce budgets, and who mentions that Fairview exists.

17:06 Here comes the question of the governor and “checks and balances” on emergency declarations.

17:21 Matt: “First of all, governor Wolf is not on the ballot this year. We need to talk about…what did the legislature do. What were our elected state representative doing to work within the system we have?” Context: the whining all summer from the House majority was an abdication of duty and a bad faith effort to play politics instead of solve problems. The bills written all summer were written to-be-vetoed, and we know that because the GOP refused to allow amendments that required PPE, hazard pay, and paid time off for front line workers. In short, they didn’t want bills that would be acceptable to the Governor or that would gain full bipartisan support in the legislature. If they had worked as a legislature, negotiating within their own branch of government, they could have passed bipartisan bills that would have helped workers and small business owners, and it would not have mattered whether or not the Governor vetoed them. True bipartisan bills would be able to overturn a veto.

18:49 Matt: “We need to recognize what we’re going through right now, with people losing jobs, having economic problems, is because the legislature didn’t work all summer. And that’s why you’re probably not going to get to have Thanksgiving with your extended family this year.” Commentary: To me, this is huge, following up on the previous point. The fact is, we are experiencing record Covid cases right now in the Commonwealth and here in Crawford County. But because the legislature failed in the duties of its work, we are not in a good spot. So, to stay safe and mitigate spread, people will need to make the agonizing decision to skip big family get togethers this Thanksgiving. Otherwise, we run the risk of a further escalation of spread. Here’s an article that frames that issue within the context of Canadian Thanksgiving, which took place in early October, and which led to case spikes.

19:08 Roae: “I encourage everybody: see your extended family at Thanksgiving. The government cannot tell you to not see your family at Thanksgiving.” Commentary: Rep. Roae is either missing the point or ignoring the point. I’m not saying the government will (or could) mandate that folks can’t get together. I’m saying that we are in a state of pandemic that makes such gatherings risky, and that risk has been exacerbated by the legislatures failure to act AND by some politicians’ repeated suggestions that public health measures should be ignored or disregarded. As he did here.

19:40 Roae: “The five liberal Democrats and two moderate Republicans on the PA Supreme Court made a decision…” Commentary: Rep. Roae makes it clear that he doesn’t see value in either Democrats or moderate Republicans, and cannot recognize a unanimous court decision that upheld the Governor’s decisions. This dovetails with his comments about how he views his role as a representative. He appears to only value, and represent, and vote for the interests of right-wing individuals and, more so, the PACs that fund his campaign.

Further commentary: notice through this section how the ONLY person Rep. Roae talks about is the Governor. He won’t address the legislature, and is really running against the Governor. Who is not.on.the.ballot.

21:36 Rep. Roae suggests schools saved tons of money because of the spring shutdown. He also says Pennsylvania schools spend too much, relative to the US average.

23:08 Matt: “It’s true that Pennsylvania ranks #10 in school spending in the country, but it’s also true that Pennsylvania ranks #10 in outcomes for their students. You get what you pay for.” Commentary: I think that one’s pretty self explanatory!

23:26 I talk about the financial impact of the shutdown, how saying it saved money ignores the significant extra costs incurred to retrofit the schools for Fall 2020. PPE. Ventilation. Technology. Context: Schools had to spend a lot to keep our kids safe, in an uncertain health environment, that could have been greatly improved if — it bears repeating — the legislature had worked in the interest of public health. Their desire to open everything up in the summer kept cases at a high baseline, which meant we started the fall behind the eight ball. Their decisions had consequences that mean students have to balance hybrid ed, and parents have to balance monitoring their kids learning from home while they work from home, and we all have to worry about the potential for outbreaks.

24:03 I hit the Fair Share Tax proposal in full, and I speak back directly against Rep. Roae’s misleading opening statement that I want to raise taxes. It bears repeating: 86% of District 6 residents would see the same or lower taxes in that plan (I misspoke at the forum, by the way, apologies!), and even folks who make 104-215k would only see slight increases. And we would raise $2 billion by taxing the very wealthy, which could help our immediate school revenue shortfall, and help address overall revenue shortfalls next year, and set us up for a stronger ongoing future.

25:00 A question on the minimum wage. This is an important question, and the answers are illuminating.

25:32 Matt: “I definitely favor the increase.” Commentary: I speak about a living wage, too. Here’s the link to the MIT data I reference. A single parent with one chid in Crawford County needs $22.28 an hour for a living wage.

26:23 Matt: “The point is, all work has dignity. And if we don’t pay people at a rate that allows them to live and afford to live, we’re not affording them dignity. Whether they’re working at a fast food restaurant, or whether they’re painting someone’s house, or whether they’re a physician, we need to honor all work of all Pennsylvanians and make sure they have enough to get by.”

26:51 Roae: an interesting series. 1) He states that Governor Wolf made the minimum wage zero when he closed businesses (so…umm…who is on the ballot again?); 2) He says only 1.5% of jobs pay minimum wage, which is fewer than 100,000 jobs; 3) he wonders why adults would be working minimum wage jobs, which seems to be blaming folks who do, which is pretty nasty. Commentary: This bears a minute or two. First of all, to say that only 100,000 people or so are being exploited by minimum wage jobs is to say you’re okay with 100,000 people being exploited. That’s not okay, period. Plus, Rep. Roae is skipping over the significant wage space between $7.25 an hour and the $15 an hour proposed new future minimum. For example, a person getting $10 an hour is struggling, right now, and they would also get a raise (obviously) with an increased minimum. In fact, the per capita income in Meadville equates to less than $12 an hour. Admittedly that includes some folks who are out of work, so the actual number of people working in Meadville at that low rate is not, well, everyone. But the per capita income of Crawford County (remember: 56th out of 67) indicates that a significant percentage of the folks in the District are receiving substandard wages. They too would be helped by increased minimum wages. In fact, 1.75 million Pennsylvanians make less than $15 an hour.

31:44 Matt: “When I talk to people up in Fairview…” Commentary: the rep for this District ought to, y’know, mention Fairview, which is a part of the District.

32:17 Matt: “Gerrymandering destroys democracy, because…it allows incumbents to run without opposition, and they don’t even have to think about the opposition, because they have a lock based on the registration of their district.” Commentary: refer back to Rep. Roae’s comments at 7:04. That’s how gerrymandering works, and how it leads to representation that ignores a large portion of a population…because it can, without consequence.

41:25 The question comes about open carry at the polls. This is another section worth listening to (well, listen to the whole forum!). I accent, again, that I am not an outsider to guns and gun culture, but that it is totally reasonable to have people leave their guns in their car or truck when they’re voting. Open carry in a poll is, without a doubt, voter intimidation. Rep. Roae’s response is to talk about concealed carry, before getting to the point on open carry…when, oddly, he seems to agree with me. Hmmm.

45:16 Roae: (fidgets with his collar, because the question asked has him pinned…the question is about term limits) “Y’know, I kind of take it two years at a time…as far as term limits go, I have never said that, y’know, I never made any pledge or anything about term limits.” Commentary: Brad Roae in 2008: “I introduced a bill establishing a 12 year term limit for Legislators.” So, I guess that’s not a pledge, per se…but c’mon.

47:43 Matt: “I think the civic duty of every voter is to look carefully at the record of every person, every year they run, and see what they have accomplished, see what they are saying, and make a decision at the ballot box.” Commentary: that’s really all I ask.

52:25 Brad: “There’s still around a billion dollars of federal funding that we haven’t spent yet.” Commentary: Yeah. About that. This is CARES act money that Roae and the legislative majority have been sitting on, which could have already been allocated to help workers and businesses. He tosses this off as a sidelight, but it’s a huge deal. Read this. In this section of the forum, Rep. Roae is talking about budget shortfalls, and he seems to be suggesting cuts as the way out. That will, without a doubt, put pressure on municipal and school district budgets. And that could very well mean increased local taxes to cover the state’s austerity. Such moves are a way to pretend you are against tax increases, when you just make other people levy the increase.

54:16 Matt: “Pennsylvania has what is called an upside down tax system.” Commentary: when you add up sales tax, property tax, and income tax, low and middle wage earners pay a higher share of their wages in taxes than high wage earners. That’s upside down, and that’s what the Fair Share Tax proposal seeks to remedy. As well, we need to end the Delaware Loophole that lets companies dodge PA taxes through legal accounting manipulations. We have immediate revenue shortfalls from Covid, and ongoing revenue issues to address. Catering to the ultra-wealthy isn’t working for most Pennsylvanians, and definitely not for most in District 6. Plus, billionaires have been doing great during Covid, even though most of us are getting hurt. That’s not fair, or right.

1:02:23 Matt: “One of my biggest frustrations of the state response is that we pretended that it was a choice between two difficult problems. Is it an economic problem? Or is it a public health problem? It’s been both problems at the same time.” Commentary: So much this. Covid is not an either-or. It is a serious health problem, and a serious economic problem. Opening up fully ignores the former, and refusing to offer financial support for workers and small businesses ignores the latter. Plus, opening up fully makes the health situation worse AND the economic problem worse. All it does, really, is make it your fault if you go broke, because you’re “open.” If people don’t actually eat at your restaurant during a pandemic in the volumes you need (and, likely, they won’t), regardless of how open you are “allowed” to be you will suffer economically. But since you’re allowed to be open, suddenly the legislature doesn’t need to help you out. It’s your fault your restaurant is failing. Of course, it’s not. It’s. A. Pandemic. Government shouldn’t try to make your life harder, which is what Rep. Roae and the legislative majority have done.

1:02:55 Matt: “We’re also right now at a record day for new cases in Pennsylvania. We’ve seen here in Meadville a really concerning spike.” Commentary: the fall spike is here. Even during the day I wrote this, it got worse, with Crawford County having it’s own new record day. This is the problem, exacerbated by politicians who decided to make Covid a political issue, who suggested guidelines should be ignored, and did not push hard for everyone to wear masks, which are simple, cheap, and effective. No one likes them. That’s not the point. And Legislators needed to lead, and Roae and the House majority chose, instead, to campaign all summer by squandering the time and cultivating anti-mask sentiment. They have made our fall and winter more difficult.

1:03:17 Matt: “We should not have been forcing workers and businesses to make a decision between whether they open up and risk getting sick, or don’t open up and risk going broke.”

1:04:42 Matt: “I’m hopeful we’ll have consistent public messaging from elected officials that we can take this pandemic seriously. One of the things that has caused the pandemic to increase is the number of politicians, in the state house and also in the federal government, that perpetuated the hoax that Covid is a hoax.” Commentary: this should be a major consideration for every voter in every race. The core duty of government is to keep the public safe, and they failed. They failed because it suited their own purposes.

1:05:23 Matt: “If we can’t get it together as a people to look out for fellow Pennsylvanians, we’re gonna be in a really rough spot economically and in public health.” Commentary: I’m talking about Covid here specifically, and how we really are in control of our own fate, even as myopic politicians try to blame everyone but themselves. But this sentence holds true for it all. This is my campaign in a nutshell. We have to look out for each other. We have been led astray by elected officials who want us divided, who literally say they only vote with a single faction, who demonstrate no care for the Commonwealth. Here in NWPA, that sort of cycnial and destructive “leadership” has held us back economically for a very long time. How we care for our neighbors tells us a lot about how our future will take form. When we turn away from the community, we turn away from our better future selves.

1:07:12 Roae: “It doesn’t make any sense to force healthy people into quarantine. That’s not how things are usually done. Usually sick people are placed into quarantine, so they don’t get other people sick. The flu virus is gonna go around this year also, just like it always does, so are we gonna do all this for the regular flu?” Commentary: Gaaaaaaa! Either Rep. Roae doesn’t understand how Covid works (quite possible) or he’s willfully distorting how it works (scary if true). A) Covid is not usual, and the whole issue of Covid is that you Don’t.Want.To.Get.It, and preventing its rapid spread is crucial to preventing the wildfire growth it demonstrates. You can seem healthy and be a carrier, so everyone needs to work together to look out for other people. That’s what makes it hard for fierce individualists. You can’t muscle through this. You can only get through it by caring for someone else first. If you only think of yourself first — the perspective of the kind of right-wing ethos on display in Rep. Roae’s track record — Covid wins. It is a disease that can be battled only through humility and mutual care. B) It is NOT.THE.FLU. I think Rep. Roae knows this, yet he’s creating the false equivalency to scare folks with the specter of ongoing government control. It’s lazy and cynical. C) You know what? If we made sure everyone had paid sick leave, including paid family sick leave, we could control seasonal flu outbreaks a lot better than we do. Many vulnerable folks needlessly die every year from flu because we refuse to give people the tools to prevent its spread. Maybe it’s time to stop calling cruelty a fiscal strategy.

1:07:45 Roae: “We need to live our lives” Commentary: I agree. And needless death is not living. We are fast approaching 9,000 Pennsylvanians who are not living their lives, very much because politicians refuse to take public health seriously. (Obviously, Rep. Roae means something very different than that in this segment. Which is why I am asking for your vote.)

1:13:30 Matt: “I actually don’t think the Republican party, from a fiscal perspective, and an economic development perspective, has done well by rural American either. It wants to divest from public investment, when we’re the very places, particularly here in a post-industrial part of the country, where we need reinvestment in order to move forward.” Commentary: Yup. The whole Never.Voted.For.A.Tax.Increase boast is really a way for Rep. Roae to say he is not interested in public investment. That is a way to say he’s fine with things as they are. Well, 1 in 4 in poverty, and 56th out of 67 in per capita income. Things are not fine. Without investment they stay not fine. And the stated platform of our incumbent is to keep them exactly as they are, resist public investment at every turn, and keep cashing the fat public checks we pay for with our tax dollars. We need help in Harrisburg. I want to go there and demand the investments we need.

1:14:04 Matt: “If we continue…to have rural representatives that just don’t want to be at the table for those conversations and yoke themselves to special interests who donate quite a lot of money to rural reps so they vote in favor of dying energy industries, we’re gonna be left out again. And their our economy is gonna collapse even further.” Commentary: In 2019 Rep. Roae raked in $34k from special interest corporate PACs, a large portion of which were fossil energy groups. The latest campaign finance report, which covers late-June to late-October (so, the meat of the general election campaign) shows another $25k from those same PACs. Only four actual human beings donated money to Rep. Roae in this finance period. What does that signal about priorities? What does that signal about representation? If more than 60k comes from PACs (and maybe more…the reports from January to June are not available online for some reason), it would stand to reason that the votes are going to be made for the PACs, not for us. As always, check this info yourself. The public information is available via the state department here. Search both of our names, and see who is contributing to our campaigns. I am people-backed. Roae is PAC-backed.

1:14:58 Roae: In arguing that Democrats would be bad for the state, he cites the problem of their priorities, which include “more funding for mass transit.” Commentary: Mass transit is a major issue in rural Pennsylvania. Rep. Roae is trying to make this an urban issue, and a sign of why Dems are scary, but our own CATA is a valuable community resource for lower income residents, the disabled, and our older neighbors. Yet their funding is deeply threatened by the legislature, which will be quite bad for us here at home. Just another moment where Rep. Roae signals myopic understanding of local issues, and tells us quite honestly which of his constituents he cares about.

1:15:18 Roae: “When the Republicans have the majority, things are a lot different. We keep spending under control, keep taxes under control, protect our freedoms….We try to promote personal responsibility.” Commentary: The utter emptiness of this statement is mind-boggling. First of all, 1984 wants its GOP talking points back. Second, when Rep. Roae says “when the Republicans have the majority” he should be saying, “the Republicans are always in the majority because we gerrymandered the %&*&^ out of this state.” Did you know that the PA Senate has been a Republican majority EVERY YEAR since 1994? And the House has been a Republican majority EVERY YEAR BUT FOUR since 1995? They have had the “trifecta,” with Republicans as the majority in the House and Senate, alongside a Republican governor, for 12 of those years. If there are persistent problems in Pennsylvania — and there are! — and if the Republicans have been in almost total control of the government for a decade and a half, please explain to me how GOP majorities are clearly the better choice? They’re not. Good, decent, smart elected officials are the better choice, regardless of party.

1:20:49 Matt’s closing statement: “We are not one thing. You are not one thing. I am not one thing….I am running to be the representative for everyone in District 6…. I am asking for your vote so that I can be an advocate for Northwestern Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, because we are largely ignored. No one is paying attention to us, because we don’t have people fighting for what we need to redevelop, and grow, and thrive together.”

1:22:09 Roae’s closing statement. Just listen to it. Decide for yourself if you’re included in how he views the definition of representation.

Super Ultra Liberal Left Man!

This is an origin story. Of the forces of hope and action facing off against the banality of an evil so mediocre it defines itself only through opposition to the greater good.

Super Ultra Liberal Left Man will never submit to the morass of despair cultivated by the Mediocre Right Wing.

(Pause narration: so, yeah, you know…that other dude has taken of late to just using various stacks of adjectives to define me as, well, a Democrat. And that’s all he’s got, it seems. It’s a pretty weak effort to repeat a tired DemocratsAreBad platform. But whatevs. When you’re an incumbent having a hard time explaining what you’ve done to help, I guess you lean into partisan division and hope no one pays close attention. And when the insults he slings just mean he’s criticizing a desire to help people, it’s a pretty clear indicator of the wide separation between the candidates.)

Back to our show: Super Ultra Liberal Left Man is farm-raised and publicly-educated! He stands for hope, equity, justice! But when we looks upon the landscape of his home, he sees:

One in four Meadville residents living in poverty.

Public education under constant threat.

Politicians supporting rollbacks of environmental protection.

Super Ultra Liberal Left Man wants to help but alas, he must face The Mediocre Right Wing — his nefarious arch-nemesis, formed when a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead fell into a vat of Fox News simmering in processed cheese. The Mediocre Right Wing, enemy to Democrats, moderate Republicans, union members, and common decency, sends out his Trolls.

The Trolls shout loudly: poverty is just laziness! Who needs public education!? Poison the water!

But Super Ultra Liberal Left Man has allies. The voters have ballots! And they will vanquish The Mediocre Right Wing, and the Trolls will disappear in a squeal of irrelevance.

(Pause narration: Like, seriously? How does a force like The Mediocre Right Wing even exist in America? The contempt for fellow human beings is hard to fathom, and the misinformed anger of the Trolls is a sight to behold. But as loud as The Mediocre Right Wing and his Trolls happen to be, we know they’re just noise. We know they’re just trying to distract us from the care we can offer. We know they’re trying to make sure we don’t vote them out of existence. They have no real power, if we don’t give it to them.)

November 3rd. We’re superheroes. Let’s do it. Vote for the world we can have. Super Ultra Liberal Left Man needs your help!

Showing Up

Showing up. Not much could be more important for a representative. The entire job is to show up for your district, and to use your position to advocate for your neighbors. Unfortunately, some politicians get so cozy in their jobs, or view their role in such cynical terms, that they show up in ways that hurt the very people they’re supposed to represent.

On the day I made the above video, incumbent Brad Roae literally did not show up for a candidate forum at Allegheny College. Why? Because he thought it more politically useful to bash the College, which serves as an important cultural, economic, and community foundation for the district. That is not showing up.

A week ago, Brad Roae used his position as a legislatively-appointed member of the PASSHE Board of Governors to vote in favor of merging Edinboro University with Clarion and Cal U. That merger puts another foundational educational institution in peril, it threatens jobs, and it removes local options for our high school graduates. That is not showing up.

Public campaign finance records show that Brad Roae raked in more than $34,000 from energy PACs, insurance PACs, and other corporate special interest PACs (despite making a big deal in promising, when first elected, that he would never take PAC money). That is showing up for the wrong people.

Brad Roae bragged on his Facebook page that he has a 100% rating from Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing corporate libertarian organization whose entire aim is to advocate for the prosperity of corporations, and corporate profits. They’re climate change deniers and oppose environmental protection. They are anti-union and work to undermine workers’ rights to organize. And they’ve been linked to several instances of voter suppression. Being proud of that rating is showing up for the people who exploit our region.

Brad Roae spits out lots of talking points from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council another right-wing organization that writes “model legislation” for members, so they don’t even have to bother thinking about the needs of their districts. ALEC coordination across state legislatures has been linked to efforts to force far right ideologies into the mainstream. And, of course, one of the founders of ALEC was one of the Koch brothers. This is not even showing up and showing up for the wrong people.

Brad Roae brags about having a 100% pro-gun voting record (which includes voting no on a bill that required the surrendering of weapons by people with protections from abuse orders filed against them), and tried to make political hay out of my F rating from the Firearms Owners Against Crime group. That group is run by a dude considered too extreme even for the NRA and opposes any common sense gun safety laws. Recently, he’s advocated for people to open carry firearms at the polls on election day. This is showing up for extremists.

Brad Roae has repeatedly voted against helping low income Pennsylvanians get affordable healthcare, and has bragged on his Facebook page about throwing folks off welfare. He represents a District with a poverty rate above the state average, where one in four Meadville residents live in poverty, and where Crawford County ranks 56th out of 67 PA counties in per capita income. That is not showing up for people who need help. And it is not showing up for his District.

Brad Roae wants to shunt public money away from public schools. He regularly rags on teachers. And he’s fine with cyber charters fleecing the budgets of our local districts. That’s not showing up for our kids.

The point is, we need a rep who will show up for the residents of District 6. That’s why I’m running, because we’ve been stuck with politicians who don’t show up for a very long time. They’re happy to cash their fat checks, and happy to stir the pot to divide the community, and fine with pretending they’re doing their jobs. They’re not. He’s not. He isn’t even showing up.

I’m proud to be endorsed by the teachers and support professionals of PSEA, whose members show up for our kids every day.

I’m proud to be endorsed by the AFL-CIO, whose members show up to work every day as the backbone of our community fabric.

I’m proud to be endorsed by One Fair Wage, who shows up to advocate for wait staff and tipped employees, to fight for the pay they deserve.

I’m proud to be endorsed by APSCUF, whose member professors and coaches show up to provide exceptional education for students enrolled in our state owned universities.

I’m proud to be endorsed by Moms Demand Action, who show up for common sense gun safety regulations that can help prevent avoidable injury and violence.

I’ll be proud to show up for the people of Crawford and Erie Counties every day as your state representative.

November 3. Show up then, so we can have a rep who shows up for us all.

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.

On Unhappiness

This weekend, someone backing the other dude put out a little gleeful dig post, which included this line about me: “he seems like such an unhappy person.” Nope. Not at all. In fact, I’m running because I have hope for a better future, which is a stance based on optimism. But let’s catalog the things that do make me unhappy.

Portrait of unhappiness?

I am unhappy that one in four Meadville residents live in poverty.

I am unhappy that Crawford County ranks 56th out of 67 Pennsylvania counties in per capita income.

I am unhappy that so many of our neighbors live one paycheck away from personal financial disaster. And that so many have to work two jobs, or sixty hours a week, or rely on overtime to make ends meet.

I am unhappy that so many Pennsylvanians face the specter of medical bankruptcy, because healthcare costs so much, and insurance is not universal, and that we lack the political will to do something about it.

I am unhappy that BIPOC residents of Crawford and Erie Counties face inequity, and that too many other residents pretend racism is not a problem, and that too many refuse to listen to those who experience racism, that a Black Lives Matter sign in a yard inspires vandalism and shot out windows, and that many shrug and ignore what that tolerance of intolerance tells us about ourselves.

I am unhappy that LGBTQ members of our community face prejudice and intimidation, that they lack the protections of an anti-discrimination ordinance that would guarantee their civil rights, and that too many gleefully hope to overturn their right to be married, to be whole, to be human.

I am unhappy that state legislators have voted to weaken clean water protections, and allow unreported spills of crude oil and brine water, and have thrown billions of dollars of public money into propping up the very industry that keeps us tethered to boom-bust economic cycles and threatens the quality of our water, our woods, and our air.

I am unhappy that lots of folks will shout about the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution, which is not under threat, but completely ignore Article I, Section 27 of the PA Constitution, which guarantees environmental protection, and is consistently violated and ignored.

I am unhappy that “pro life” has become an empty term that signals only a desire to strip women of their right to make choices about their health and their bodies and ignores the threat to life presented by generational poverty, by lack of access to healthcare, by environmental destruction, by systemic racism, by domestic violence, by hate speech that provokes violence.

I am unhappy that teachers are treated as lazy grifters on the public dole when, in fact, they are highly trained professionals who work incredibly hard, log long hours, and care deeply about our kids and their futures.

I am unhappy that wanting better for our region can be somehow seen as a bad thing, or as a threat to what we hold dear in our community.

I am unhappy that anyone’s sense of joy and happiness in this life is so weak and fragile that it cannot see honest critique, and the desire for improvement, and the commitment to integrity, as optimism and hope and, instead, is so threatened by the recognition of persistent problems in our representation and politics that the hope for a better future is somehow seen as a state of perpetual personal unhappiness.

Most of all, I am unhappy that some people define their own happiness in terms that require a social structure that guarantees other people will remain unhappy. That’s a weak and cruel “happiness,” when satisfaction is derived from the suffering of others.

I believe in the pursuit of happiness as a perpetual goal, and that a fair and honest assessment of what isn’t working is a crucial way to chart a course for a future that allows more happiness for more people. I am optimistic, and hopeful, that we can build a future where happiness is not regularly denied to so many.

On November 3, vote happy.

Mailing It In

Ballots are coming to your mailbox soon! And since this is such an important election, we need to ensure that we vote in overwhelming numbers, and do so mindful that unscrupulous political operatives are working hard to prevent that. This week’s Monday Morning sketch session was all about that. Highlights below the video.

  • Voter registration deadline: October 19
  • Vote by mail registration deadline: October 27

Voting Options:

1) At the polls on November 3. If you have applied for Vote-By-Mail, you can still vote in person if you change your mind. You must take your mail in ballot to the polls and give it to the workers, who will invalidate it, then you can vote regularly.

2) By mail. Ballots will arrive in the next week or so. Best to fill them out right away, and either mail it back (you can track progress of your ballot at or take it to Voters Services at the courthouse.

3) You can vote early in person: just go to Voters Services, where you can request a mail-in ballot and fill it out, all in one stop. This is an option many are unaware of!

When You Vote By Mail

Make sure you: a) use a blue or black pen; b) place the ballot in the smaller security envelope and seal it; c) place the security envelope in the outer addressed envelope and seal it; d) and sign your outer envelope. Missing any of those steps will mean your ballot can (and probably will) be tossed. Your vote wouldn’t count.

Legal battles, Blue Shifts, and Right-wing Shenanigans

At the moment, mail in ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, and can arrive after November 3. The vote-suppressing alt-right majority has appealed this to the US Supreme Court, however. (Yeah, really…because suppressing voters is their plan to hold the White House, apparently).

The legislative right-wing majority has also been blocking reasonable plans to let election boards begin pre-canvassing mail-in ballots early. The Governor requested a 15 day pre-canvass (this is when the envelopes are opened and prepped for scanning, but not actually counted). The alt-righters would only accept three days, and only if drop boxes were prohibited…because, again, helping people vote easily is apparently their greatest fear. And overworking county elections boards and forcing them to process massive numbers of mail-in ballots in short order, well, I guess the alt-righters are into that.

The counting of mail-in votes cannot begin until Nov. 3, even though other states safely allow for counts to begin earlier. That means, without extensive precanvassing, we likely won’t have returns on election night, and we’ll see what’s called a “blue shift.” Since many more Democrats vote by mail than do Republicans, the counting of those ballots shifts the vote tallies toward blue. Neither suspicious nor rocket science but…

…in an atmosphere of cultivated mistrust (ahem, the Prez…and alas, our incumbent state rep), that shift might be spun as “suspicious.” This could be one of the ways those who wish to undermine faith in our election will raise spurious claims of “fraud.” Look how the vote totals changed in totally predictable ways! Let’s call that fraud! For a terrifying, illuminating read, have a go at this article in the Atlantic. It posits several ways the delay of vote counting might be seen as an intentional gambit to set the stage for accusations of a “stolen” election, as a way to steal an election.

To be clear: mail-in voting is reliable and safe…both in protecting the integrity of our elections and in keeping people healthy as we continue to face the coronavirus pandemic. Curious how the same people who call Covid a hoax perpetuate the hoax of fraudulent voting, isn’t it.

Above all else, don’t let your vote be taken away this year. Make a plan for how you’re going to vote. And if you hear anyone making stupid claims about how vote-by-mail is a scheme to cheat, talk back. Let them know how dumb they sound, and how we’re not going to be intimidated away from an overwhelming repudiation of the ugly, harmful politics that have taken rotten root.

You Deserve Healthcare

The following is the text from my third digital town hall, from Tuesday, Sept. 29.

I’m going to open with a story, because our topic tonight is healthcare, and healthcare is personal. Not political, or at least it shouldn’t be political. When we talk about “healthcare,” we’re really talking about you, and how you feel today and tomorrow and ten years from now, about your elderly parents and your young kids, about how all of us have been denied the right to a secure protection of our health because of, yeah, politics.

To the story:

As I rolled through my thirties, I started to notice something odd about my vision. Things just never seemed crisp, and even after getting new glasses, it always seemed that something was just a touch off in my left eye. I asked several optometrists about this, at annual checkups, and everything always measured out fine. More or less, the diagnosis was you’re getting older. So I carried on.

In the summer of 2015, I realized while reading Calvin & Hobbes to my then-6-year-old that I could do a strange trick. By closing my right eye, I could make Calvin’s head disappear. Just, poof, gone. Something wasn’t right.

But, all stories have complications: my employer-sponsored healthcare had recently moved into a high deductible model, for cost-savings measures. And that meant each and every visit had to be paid for out-of-pocket, until we reached what seemed to be a totally distant $3,000 threshold, at which point we’d only have to pay 10% of appointment costs. Many of you know how this works, and you know that we — and you — also pay a not insignificant monthly premium to have this insurance.

So, of course, I waited. Because, I’d been told my vision was fine and I knew a specialist would be expensive. Our monthly family budget is always tight — like most of us — so, sure, if things were fine, y’know? I was just getting older.

That winter, my wife wound up having some expensive tests, and we were close enough to the deductible threshold, that I decided to splurge on my health and see an eye specialist. Within a week or so, I was meeting with a brain surgeon in Pittsburgh, talking about the tumor that had been found on an MRI taken just in case, and how that tumor was growing on the lining of my brain, and was pushing against my optic nerve, and had caused the blind spot that made Calvin’s head disappear when I read to my then-six-year-old.

So in March of 2016, just a couple weeks after that son turned seven, and after our other son turned three, I faced an all-day brain surgery, and a hard multi-month recovery, and six weeks of daily radiation zaps to my brain, permanent side effects, and a perpetual sense of myself as not invincible. Or, as they say in politics and insurance boardrooms, as a person with a pre-existing condition. Who could lose the ability to find health insurance on the open market, if some of what’s happening in Washington continues to happen.

I also became a person who experienced, first-hand, how a medical issue can wreak permanent financial havoc on an American’s pocketbook. That high deductible? Well, we met it in 2016, and the next $3000 deductible, and wound up having to find the cash to pay something like 20% of our annual household salary to cover my treatments. That meant credit card roulette, because I am one of the lucky ones with good enough credit to get new cards on which we could run up balances, and we have what counts as good health insurance these days. Even if, financially, it’s not so good.

If I hadn’t had health insurance, my treatments would have cost about $200,000 out of pocket. And we would be bankrupt. Or I would have rolled the dice and hoped my slow-growing tumor grew slowly enough that I could save up enough money to pay for treatment. Or I would have turned to one of America’s major sources of healthcare funding: a GoFundMe campaign.

Flat out, this is wrong, cruel, ridiculous for a nation as wealthy as the U.S….and completely avoidable. 

We know this. We know America is one of the only developed nations without universal, single-payer healthcare. And we know — though sometimes we look away from this — that compared to its peers, the US spends the most on healthcare and ranks at or near the bottom every year in health outcomes. 

We pay more. We get less. And this is the system we have refused to fix. When we’ve tried, politicians have crowed about the merits of capitalist competition, and the marketplace, then undermined legislative solutions to a healthcare crisis in America.

One of the main reasons I am running for public office is because of my brain surgery: I want to be part of the solution to this problem, and I have no faith in the politicians we elect over and over, who take buckets of donations from insurance companies, who even have sat on the PA House healthcare committee and done nothing to fix this fixable problem.

An illustrative legislative history: In 2014, Brad Roae voted against Medicaid expansion that would have helped lower-income Pennsylvanians have access to health insurance … and Brad Roae represents Erie and Crawford Counties, where the poverty rate is 13%, higher than the state average, and Brad Roae represents Meadville, which has a poverty rate of 24%, twice the state average. And Brad Roae has voted against Medicaid repeatedly, making it harder for folks to qualify in a district where so many need it

There has been a proposed solution: in every session for a decade the Healthcare 4 All bill has been submitted, then died in committee. A bill like it would radically, positively transform the healthcare landscape in Pennsylvania.

In the bill:

  • Workers would pay 3% of their wages for healthcare. That means 80% of workers across the state would pay less for this healthcare — an even greater percentage would pay less here in NWPA — and the coverage would be superior to what they currently have. The bill offers expanded, high-quality, doctor-choice healthcare, for everybody, and it would not be tied to an employer.
  • Employers would pay 10% of their payroll, which would be a direct reduction for most, particularly those who understand the ethical importance of offering coverage for their employees. Many would experience further savings in retiree healthcare costs and Cobra costs.
  • Public entities like school districts and county governments would in many cases reduce healthcare costs from 20% of payroll to 10%, saving money for themselves and, get this, for the taxpayer.
  • Let me put this in real person dollars. Right now, my family pays more than 7 grand a year for healthcare…between baseline premiums and the deductible we now hit every year (thanks brain tumor!)…and my employer pays about 14. Under this bill, our personal cost would drop to a bit more than $2000…a savings of five thousand dollars. And my employer would save about $7,000. And my coverage would be more comprehensive.
  • Here’s another sidelight: no employer is really paying for your healthcare, because those benefits costs really are coming out of your total compensation package. We’ve been trained to feel grateful to employers for giving us healthcare when, in fact, we’re still paying for it, even if we aren’t paying for it directly out of pocket.

So, to recap the high points: 1) Better coverage for less. 2) Lower costs for workers and most employers…plus savings employers enjoy should come back to workers as increased wages. 3) Coverage for everyone, which is the right thing to do. 4) Lower costs for tax-supported entities like school districts…which means a Commonwealth managed healthcare plan would save tax dollars. 5) No one has to stay in a bad job just because it “gives” them healthcare.

So why all the opposition? That is a really good question.

Opposition item #1: Control.

I think a major obstacle to universal healthcare is corporate control. Big corporations don’t want to separate healthcare from employment, because big corporations want to use your life as the incentive to work for them. They don’t want people to quit a job treating them poorly. They don’t want small businesses to be able to compete with larger companies on a level playing field: big companies want to be able t offer “benefits package” that mom&pop enterprises can’t afford, so they can corner their markets. The corporate profit mindset wants to be able to use your health as their competitive advantage.

Because this is the big thing opponents of single-payer healthcare like to roll out: let the market decide! Competition!

That’s gross. 

Because the competition is about your health. You are the negotiable commodity in that equation. And beyond all else, we should not be viewing the human right to healthcare as a commodity to be bought and sold for someone else’s profit.

A single-payer system is good for small businesses because their employees will have healthcare, and because it would relieve significant payroll cost for those employers currently offering healthcare. Some smaller places can’t even offer it right now, because of the cost of entry, and the manageable 10% would let them do right by their workers, which most employers want to do. Big companies, it seems, would rather pay more for healthcare, because it is the cost of keeping away the competition. Which, again, means you are the commodity.

Opposition item #2: oh, those dang taxes. Taxes bad.

Well, we already pay a massive unrepresented tax in healthcare. We just pay it to health insurance companies, who are not elected. Because, again, if you opt out? You’re rolling the dice with your life. Think about my personal example: yes, our “taxes” would go up $2000. But our costs would reduce by at least $5000. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but sometimes taxes are a way to save money, because taxes are the pooled resources of everybody keeping costs down.

Opposition item #3: Canada.

You’ve heard that one. How awful coverage is for Canadians? I’d wager that most people who say such things don’t actually know many Canadians well enough to talk about their feelings about their healthcare system. I do know a lot of Canadians, as it turns out, and they don’t experience the sort of awful wait times politicians like to pretend exist, and in fact Canadians are pretty proud of their system. Plus, the Canadians I know, many of whom live in places with struggling economies like ours, when they lose jobs — and they do — the one thing they never have to worry about is how they’ll pay for their healthcare. 

I think we all see, right now, how necessary healthcare free from employer-sponsorship happens to be: lots of people lost jobs in Pennsylvania due to the combined heath and economic impact of Covid. Unfortunately, because our system is broken, lots of people also lost health coverage.

Opposition item #4: Doctors.

Well, you can still choose your doctor in a plan like Health 4 All Pa. And if you actually talk to doctors about the things that make their work harder? Dealing with insurance companies is at the top of the list. Pre-certifications for procedures. Ridiculous volumes of paperwork because every insurer does it differently. Having to spend half their time on insurance, which leads to job burnout, because you don’t become a doctor to fight with insurance companies. You do it to care for patients.

Another brief story: one of my very best friends in the world left private practice to become the physician at a free clinic in North Carolina. She tells me that one of the largest demographics represented in her clientele is women who have had to break away from bad partners and, in so doing, lost health insurance. Think about that.  

How many people are stuck in abusive relationships because they’re stuck in their abusive spouse’s employer-sponsored healthcare? Or how many people leave, then have to worry every day about getting sick. Single-payer insurance gives people the freedom to leave that bad relationship without the additional stress of wondering what happens if they fall ill.

Opposition item #5: Bad faith.

That’s a big one. And we’ve seen it, over and over, politicians who care so much more about corporate profit lines than the people they claim to represent, who demonstrate wanton disregard for public health — whether that’s in denying the reality of Covid or denying the necessity of providing healthcare for everyone. Such opposition reveals the depth of ideological bad faith, that certain strains of politician are so deeply invested in a governance of cruelty and disregard that they can’t even see how compassion is both right and — the kicker — more cost effective. 

Because we know a lot of the cost of healthcare — in dollars and human experience — comes from the accumulated effect of people who don’t get it. From people who can’t afford coverage or a specialist visit and, like me, put it off, and the permanent blindspot in their eye gets bigger, or their cancer grows undetected, or their diabetes gets out of control, or their autoimmune disorder goes undiagnosed, on and on. 

That costs us all a lot, and we’d be in a better spot if we recognized what almost every other country in the world has: healthcare is good for the economy, for national security, and, c’mon!?, is just the right thing to do.

Now, I’m running for the state house of representatives, so you might be asking yourself, isn’t this a federal issue? I’m going to have to say no, partly because we have seen how intractable the politics are there, and also because we have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve on healthcare here in Pennsylvania. We can be leaders. Our population and economy is big enough — 13 million people, or about the size of Belgium, which has universal healthcare, or three times the size of Norway, which has universal healthcare, or almost four times the size of New Zealand, which has universal healthcare. I think you get the point: we are big enough to do this.

And think of the benefits to our economy and otherwise: well-controlled, lower-cost healthcare would be a draw for companies to come to Pennsylvania. Some of you might start your own business, because you wouldn’t have to worry about exorbitant healthcare costs. Some of you might leave a job that treats you poorly, tell them to stuff it, and not have to worry about healthcare. Some of you could get out of relationships you desperately need to get out of. Some of you might finally be able to afford to start a family, become an artist, afford a home, invent something we don’t even know we need yet.

For us, in a lower income part of the state, how life-changing would it be to have single-payer healthcare? I truly believe this is why opponents to single-payer don’t want it: because it guarantees liberty and freedom for everyone, regardless of wage, race, gender, sexuality, religious belief. And for those of us who live in a part of the state whose economy has been collapsed by industrial abandonment, who are ready to reinvent the region in a better, brighter, more equitable way, to focus on living here, single-payer healthcare could be a game changer.

But again and again, we see how we live in an economy and with representation that seems designed to keep us struggling, so we’ll accept bad deals, and exploitative deals, and turn on each other. And nothing gets better.

I think it can. I think we can be a Commonwealth of care. We can afford it. We must afford it. We deserve to be able to live our lives free of the fear of medical bankruptcy or of getting sick and being unable to pay for care. We owe it to ourselves and to everyone to refuse the same bad, empty deals we keep getting. We owe it to ourselves and to everyone to demand better of our elected officials.

Please consider voting for me, November 3, as that demand.

About Public Investment

One of the many points of distinction between my opponent, Brad Roae, and me is our attitude toward public investment. I believe that true public investment is an absolutely vital part of government, and that it is crucial toward our recovery as a region. Roae speaks often about, well, the opposite. We need to refuse to accept that austerity mentality and instead hear the word “investment” as just that: public dollars put to work to make all of our futures better.

I spoke at length about this in my September 14th Monday Morning sketch talk (see above). Some highlights:

  • Public Investment includes our transportation infrastructure, our schools, our water pipes and telephone wires. It also could include public investment in much-needed rural broadband, which would be a game changer for our farmers, our students, and for people who might want to live around here and work remotely. Public investment definitely could include green development, like community solar, and green industry and manufacturing.
  • Public Investment has 15% to 45% positive impact on private-sector productivity. Which means that wise investments of our tax dollars actually help private businesses do better. Plus, Public Investment in general has a higher rate of return than private capital investment.
  • An example of the downsides of politicians who believe in a taxes are bad baseline, and who vote over and over again to refuse public spending (ahem…rhymes with the guy I’m running against), is a double-whammy fiscal cliff looming in July of 2021 for public transportation. Our own CATA — a $4.2 million organization that employs 80 people — faces significant hardship unless two issues change. One reallocates $450 million of Turnpike revenue earmarked for public transit into the Commonwealth general fund…which means that baseline of budget for transit would be up in the air. The other would privatize the brokering of point-to-point bus service (used most of all by our older neighbors for medical visits, and by our disabled neighbors), which in other states has led to considerably weaker, more-expensive service.
  • Politicians who claim to be “against spending” or generally spew toxic mouth fumes about taxation are fine with spending money to bolster pet projects, for industries that provide them with massive campaign contributions (ahem…rhymes with…you know the rest). Case-in-point: $2 billion in public incentives to bolster the petrochemical industry, to make sure we remain shackled to our fossil fuels, in fact to create a bigger glut of plastic products that will fill our landfills and choke our environment. That is not public investment but, instead, the spending of public money to help out your rich buddies.
  • Public Investment is about long term gain. The organization Reimagine Appalachia emphasizes that, no matter what a person feels about it, green development dollars will be spent, and probably soon. Regions that get on board, and get a seat at the table, will benefit from that investment. Regions stuck with politicians clinging to the past will see that investment go elsewhere, and we’ll be left with a few more lean years, then further collapse. Plus, since we are a region that has suffered in body and environment from the old energy economy — see: pollution, tainted water, higher cancer rates, black lung, generational poverty — we deserve more of the investment than other places.
  • To accent the above: we need legislators who will actually fight for us, not just follow the demands of their political party leaders, who are always thinking more about the interests of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh than rural Pennsylvania. We need legislators who recognize the need to invest here, in us, and in our future.

November 3, one of the choices you’re making in the race for the State House in District 6 is between a candidate who believes in public investment, and one who does not. We’ve been left behind for too long. Time to change that.