'I am looking to change Pennsylvania for the better'
10/25/2016 11:56AM ● Published by Richard Gaw
If Susan Rzucidlo, the Democratic candidate for the 158th District for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, were to add up the total number of homes she has visited during her four campaigns over the past six years, the quantity -- easily in the tens of thousands -- would probably surprise even her.
And yet, it's the stories inside those homes, Rzucidlo said, that have always been her true reason for canvassing all of those neighborhoods within the district, and she's proven herself to be over-qualified for the job of listening to the public's needs. Yes, Rzucidlo has been on the losing end of the House race three consecutive times since 2010, but yes, she has amassed a thick resume of credits in the private sector that she believes would make her transition to the House a nearly seamless one. Rzucidlo is the founder and director of SPEAK Unlimited Inc., a non-profit organization recognized nationally for conceptualizing and implementing first responder communication tools and disability support programs such as the PA Premise Alert system, Operation Communication Boards, and information and resource guides.
"I love nothing more than knocking on doors and being able to help people, and occasionally, I can help them, right there at the door, with whatever issues they're facing," said Rzucidlo, who is running against Republican candidate Eric Roe in an election that will be decided on Nov. 8. "Because of my many years as an advocate, I’ve been helping families for 20 years. There's more to government than being able to walk the party line. You should be able to stand up for yourself and say, 'This is what I've done. This is what I intend to do.'”
In 2010, Rzucidlo lost to Chris Ross by a percentage of 63 percent to 36 percent. In 2012, Ross beat Rzucidlo by a 58 to 41 percent margin, and in 2014, Ross won by the same margin. Now in her fourth campaign for the House seat, she faces Roe, a 29-year-old, self-described "Reagan Republican" whose campaign is based on the tenants of smaller government, lower taxes and the need to pass responsible budgets.
When she meets Roe at a debate sponsored by the Chester County League of Women Voters at the West Goshen Township Building on Nov. 3, Rzucidlo insists that the evening will be to inform the audience of where she stands on the issues, and after three campaigns, the particulars of her platform have become firmly-entrenched bullet points.
On public education, she opposes the Keystone exams as a determining factor in a student’s graduation from high school.
"One test cannot accurately evaluate an individual students abilities or efforts throughout their K-12 education," she said. "No one should be left with one test that allows them to graduate or not graduate. In certain areas of the state, the students are being tested on biology, when there aren't even biology books in the school. These high stakes tests cost us a lot of money, and they don't give us any information that we don't already have."
Rzucidlo's platform also includes improving access to healthcare options, increased health education, birth control and support for adoption.
"Let's give people the accurate information and access to birth control," she said, pointing to the success of under-the-skin implant that led to the dramatic decrease in teen pregnancy and abortions.
Calling Pennsylvania "a sieve of tax laws," Rzucidlo wants to end corporate tax loopholes that allow 71 percent of all corporations to avoid paying any taxes.
"We have to make sure that our laws are fair," she said, "and that they are applied equally, and that people who are benefitting from our infrastructure and our economy are not getting a free ride. As we close those loopholes and more companies are paying tax, we can reduce that tax rate, because more people will be paying in.”
Citing that Chester County women receive, on average, 63 cents for every dollar a man makes, Rzucidlo wants to advocate for an "equal pay for equal work" measure that would close the large gap in pay between men and women.
Perhaps the most crucial nugget of Rzucidlo's platform may also become the hardest to enforce. Harrisburg's ethics need to be cleaned up, she said.
"We are the most prosecuted and jailed legislature in the nation," she said. "It is outrageous to know that it is fine for any legislator to take any gift whatsoever, so long as it is reported. If you have ten legislators who are willing to say, 'These are the ethics I am willing to stand by,' you will have enough of a caucus to make a difference in Harrisburg. You need that strength of a caucus.”
Rzucidlo is not immune to the toxicity of the modern political climate, and although the divisive ugliness that pervades in national elections and governance is merely implied on the scale of the Pa. House, there's still a strong whiff of it going around, she said. While partisan politics is dictating the motivations of lawmakers from local to federal government, Rzucidlo has already mastered the art of side-stepping, because when it comes to political affiliations, she is letter blind.
"For me, It's never about the designation of 'D' and 'R' beside a politician's name, but 'How do we get things done?'" she said. "I've worked with both parties, and quite honestly, [Current Rep.] Chris and I have more in common than Chris and Eric have in common, even though they both have 'R's behind their name. Chris is a moderate Republican, an environmentalist, and he was supported by teachers because of his commitment to education. These are exactly the folks who are supporting me this time."
As of mid-October, Rzucidlo was the highest polling House candidate in Chester County, as evidenced by her standing in two different polls – one internal, conducted among 1,000 residents in the District -- and the other conducted by the House Democratic Caucus Committee, who polled 500 residents.
"All these polls tell me is that I just have to work harder, to make sure that our residents really do know who I am, to make sure they understand that I have the background and experience to make a difference," she said. "It's important that they know that I am not going to toe the party line, but become a fierce advocate for them, just like I already have been for many years."
The writer Malcolm Gladwell is famous for implying that in order to become an expert at something, he or she must devote at least 10,000 hours to it. Whether or not Rzucidlo is an expert at campaigning is of little concern to her, but with each passing campaign, she said that she becomes stronger and more knowledgeable about her position as a potential Harrisburg lawmaker.
"I'm more prepared now than ever, and I think I have a much better grasp of the issues than the first time I ran," she said. "I love that I have spent these years investigating, studying, and talking to more and more people. Campaigning and governing is really about wanting to go deep into the weeds. If you don't understand the issues, you can’t really fight for people.
"All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now," she said. "I don't regret any of them, because I've learned from them. Everything has taught me something.
We can never compare pain, but we can commiserate and help each other. That's where all these experiences have brought me to.
“The reason I am running is truly because I have done so many things as a private citizen,” Rzucidlo added. “Becoming a state representative allows me to do even more. I'm not looking to start a political career. I am looking to change Pennsylvania for the better, and I have the ability to do it.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail email@example.com .