East Falls Local Article: I like the theater, just not political theater

The past 3 months in Harrisburg, since the Governor’s shutdown order on March 18th, have impacted all aspects of life for all of us. Employment situations, schooling, health, etc. have been affected and I doubt that we will return to exactly how we lived, worked, and played, pre COVID-19, anytime soon.

My role as your state representative has also changed. Since the shutdown order, we have been in session for 10 weeks and we will be in session 1 more week by the time this article is published.

It became evident, soon after the emergency declaration was made, that members of the legislature saw this pandemic as an opportunity to score political points. I represent both Philadelphia and Montgomery counties and over 28,000 positive cases have been reported as of this writing. The 68th Legislative District, by comparison, includes parts of Bradford, Potter and Tioga counties and the positive COVID-19 cases for all 3 counties is 80 to date. Quite a contrast.

Yes, Potter/Tioga/Bradford county citizens could rightfully be wondering what all the fuss is about; on the other hand, my constituents were very clear about what the ‘fuss’ is all about.

Yet, like so many policy issues considered by the PA General Assembly, my colleagues are not very sympathetic listeners to the needs of citizens in other areas of the commonwealth or areas that are different than those areas that they represent, e.g. rural vs. urban/suburban. Additionally, many elected officials have a habit of playing to their base versus explaining to their base. Explaining to their base can be more challenging and it is often easier to tell people what you think they want to hear, thus, playing to their base.

Where the above description of how the General Assembly operates has increasingly been my experience as a member of the PA House, this pandemic elicited no different method of operation.  As early as April 6th, legislation was being introduced to rescind the Governor’s emergency shut down orders in whole or in part.  Much of this legislation was voted out of the State Government Committee, a committee of which I am a member.  The legislation was being proposed so quickly that the co-sponsorship memo (notice that legislation is soon to be introduced) step was skipped altogether and legislation was being introduced and voted on in committee within a day or two.  On one particular day, we voted on legislation less than one hour after it was introduced.

One size rarely fits all, but in today’s political climate the goal appears to be winner take all - outcome be damned!  It is imperative that we return to a process of governing that recognizes that the goal should not be winner take all, and that we are truly a commonwealth and we need to legislate accordingly.

My commitment remains to work in a bi-partisan manner and there is a solid group of us who work that way. That group needs to expand. We need to be better listeners to each other, and we must be willing to compromise. For example, finding paths to permit less impacted counties to resume near normal activities instead of voting on legislation to open up the entire commonwealth would have been an appropriate way to proceed. The all or nothing legislation, introduced at warp speed, has me drawing only one conclusion- that this was driven by politics not policy.

How can you help to ensure that this behavior changes? Vote. It is truly that simple. Vote twice a year and every year. When turnout is low, elected officials are not held accountable in the same way. Our voices do count - each and every voice. Votespa.com is your one stop shop for registering to vote, checking your voter registration status, and applying for a mail-in ballot. It is trite but true - vote like your life depends on it!  Please share your thoughts on how state government has handled the COVID-19 process to RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or by calling my office at 215-482-8726.