Maisano announces bid for Senate
● By Richard Gaw
On the night of May 19, 2015, Dan Maisano, then the Magisterial Judge for District Court 15-3-04, sat in the bedroom of his home, staring down into his laptop computer with his wife beside him, following the results of his race for a seat on the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.
As he saw the votes tally in during the primary election, Maisano began to see the vanishing hole of his aspirations. That night, Allison Bell Royer and Julia Malloy-Good soundly defeated Maisano and Parkesburg attorney John Carnes on both the Republican and Democratic ballots. On the Republican side, Royer earned 57 percent of the votes (12,721 votes), while in the Democratic primary, Malloy-Good gathered 8,714 votes, good for 63 percent of the votes.
"It became pretty obvious at some point that I wasn't going to win the primary, so my wife turned to me and asked, 'What's next?'" Maisano said recently from his offices in Kennett Square. "My response was, 'The primary is not even over yet.' We started to talk about running for the Senate seat right then and there."
His defeat in last year's primary may have been a blessing in disguise. Because Maisano was 63 at the time, and the mandatory retirement age of Common Pleas is age 70, the likelihood to re-run for a ten-year seat on the Court – if he were elected – seemed out of the question.
"I was getting to get to the point where it wasn't going to make much sense to appoint, elect or endorse me [to the Court], because I could only do a portion that term," he said. "So we thought, 'How many opportunities were there for me to be involved in public service and make a difference?'"
On Jan. 5, Maisano formally announced his candidacy as a Democrat for Pennsylvania’s 9th Senatorial District, representing Chester and Delaware counties. The seat became vacant on Jan. 4 by State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, who announced his resignation in order to assume his new role as Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Judge.
Pileggi, a Republican force in Delaware County and a former Senate Majority leader in Harrisburg since 2007, was ousted by State Sen. Jake Corman in a Nov. 2014 election. In Feb. 2015, he announced his candidacy for the vacant seat on the Court of Common Pleas, and began his new job earlier this year.
Maisano has tossed his name in the ring for both a special election, which will be decided on April 26, in order to fill out the remainder Pileggi's term, which expires at the end of the year -- and a general election, to be decided on Nov. 8 which, if he is elected, will appoint Maisano to the Senate post for a four-year term. He's up against tall odds; traditionally, the Senate seat has been held by a resident of Delaware County, and Republican candidate Tom Killion has been considered by many Delaware County leaders to be the heir apparent to Pileggi. Killion, who represents the 168th District, has served in the State House since 2003.
In addition, Democrat and Delaware County resident Marty Molloy, the Director of Vocational Programming at the Philadelphia YouthBuild Charter School, is expected to announce his candidacy for the Senate seat soon.
Citing a roadblock of ideas and legislation that he feels is crippling Harrisburg, Maisano's campaign is focusing on four major components: The need for action on property tax elimination, a fair and equitable school funding formula, protecting open spaces, and a reasonable natural gas severance tax.
"I think the property tax is the only tax that can take away a person's home, and it's a fact that many of our seniors are having to make a choice about, between buying groceries and their medications, or paying their tax bill, which I think is unconscionable," he said. "In effect, they're a tax hike away from losing their home.
"You've sacrificed and you've struggled. You should be able to enjoy your later years. You should be able to enjoy your grandchildren, or travel, and not be home bound because you can't afford to do anything."
The elimination of property taxes in the Commonwealth, Maisano said, would stimulate the growth of businesses in Pennsylvania, "because employers will be able to see that more employees will be able to live and work here," he said.
Maisano said that he would work to implement a fair severance tax on natural gas extraction – a principal now in effect in neighboring states – and support legislation to promote, protect, and preserve the Commonwealth’s open spaces.
"Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state that does not have a severance tax," he said. "We don't want to discourage the gas companies, but perhaps a five percent tax [on the extraction of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region] would be reasonable. It's not out of line with what everyone else is paying."
The problem with schools throughout the Commonwealth, Maisano believes, begins with what he sees as a "great disparity" between districts in wealthy areas versus those in inner-city districts. He called for the State to create a funding formula that is intended to help under-served school districts rise to the level where there is parity between all school districts.
"We should have perhaps a formula that gives each school 'X' number of dollars for each student, so that each student in Pennsylvania has so much dollars allocated for his or her education," Maisano said. "How a district spends that money would be a local decision. And then they will be able to compete on a fair playing field."
He also said that the State should also consider the idea of consolidating school districts, in order to save money and allocate more money per student.
Throughout Maisano's 36-year legal career, and in particular, during the two decades he served as a Magisterial District Judge, he saw hundreds of young people whose problems with the law could be traced to school truancy.
"We have to recognize that there are various reasons students aren't going to school, and if it's a mental health issue, we need to have plans in place to address that," Maisano said. "If it's a bullying issue, having police officers in the school would help that, but I think a lot of it is that children are not being challenged. I've dealt with kids who have high intellect but their performance was poor, and it was because they have not been challenged."
Placing special effort to engage this cross-section of our student population is part of what Maisano sees as a need to reconstruct the entire educational system.
"We're teaching the way we did one hundred years ago, but maybe dissecting frogs isn't for everybody," he said. "I always told kids who sat before me, 'School is the key to your future. It opens doors, and ultimately, it's about getting employable skills for your future. You have to learn critical thinking skills so that when you compete in the job market, you can articulate what you want and how you want to do it.'
"We're not looking at the children and saying, 'This kid has an aptitude for X, Y or Z. He has no interest in college, but he's great with his hands.' So why aren't we teaching him how to measure voltage in a car, for instance, so that instead of dissecting frogs, we're taking his natural talents and developing them?"
If elected, Maisano said that he would take that dialogue to Harrisburg, join educational committees, and introduce potential legislation intended to change the definition of a traditional education.
"You have to start generating the discussion, which will percolate additional ideas, and hopefully, a new bill comes from that," he said.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .