Spotlight on the 13th Legislative District race
● By Steven Hoffman
State Rep. John Lawrence
Q: You were elected to represent the 13th Legislative District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2010. What work are you proudest of during your three terms as a state representative?
A: It has been a great honor and very humbling to serve the people of Southern Chester and Lancaster counties in the State House. During my time in office, I have kept the promises I made when I first ran for office, declining the state pension, holding over 50 town halls across the district to gather feedback, and turning down many of the “perks” legislators of the past voted themselves. I have been a consistent voice, sometimes one of very few voices in the Capitol, for government reform and fiscal accountability.
And while I have had several bills signed into law, and I have had the opportunity to help write legislation of importance, I am most proud of my work here in our community to help people cut through red tape, fix local problems, address local infrastructure issues, and to be a voice in government for those who would otherwise not have a voice. I have found that many people think no one in government cares or is even interested in listening. I have tried to reverse that trend during my time as state representative, being responsive and responsible to the people of our area.
Q: What has been your biggest frustration or disappointment since joining the Pennsylvania House of Representatives?
A: One of my biggest frustrations is the lack of urgency in Harrisburg to tackle the big issues facing our state. Many of these big issues are financial in nature. As with any financial issue, the longer it lingers, the worse it gets. We must address the underfunded state pension systems, we must tackle escalating property taxes, we must get our state budget in order, and we must cut down on reckless borrowing and state indebtedness. There have been good initiatives to address these issues, for example I led a working group earlier this session that focused on reducing state debt. We developed some good legislation that passed the House, but did not pass the Senate. It can be very frustrating to see a smaller, core group of legislators from both parties who want to tackle these issues, while many others seem content to take a “wait and see” approach.
Q: You've been very involved with Oxford Borough's revitalization efforts, particularly the ongoing planning by the borough to build a parking garage. Can you tell us a little about your involvement, and how you've helped the process along?
A: Over the past few years, I have tried to focus on two major infrastructure improvements in our area – fixing the intersection at Old Baltimore Pike and Route 796 in Jennersville, and addressing the parking situation in Oxford. With regard to the Red Rose intersection in Jennersville, I have been working closely with Penn Township, PennDOT, Senator Dinniman, and other local stakeholders to accelerate the timetable to fix the intersection, and we are getting close to a resolution.
In Oxford, a key to the long term revitalization of the downtown area is attracting a major downtown employer, and a key to attracting a major downtown employer is reliable parking. Working with the borough and other local stakeholders, we have made major progress towards this goal in the last few months. Specifically, I worked hard with former borough manager Betsy Brantner and National Penn Bank to help Oxford Borough obtain the parking lot in the middle of town for $1, providing the location for a potential parking facility at almost no cost to the borough. I am working closely with a team put together by the borough that is exploring opportunities to move forward with the project, preferably through a public-private partnership, that would provide the infrastructure necessary for sustained private sector business growth in Oxford’s downtown core.
Q: What committee assignments do you currently have?
A: This session, I serve on the Finance, Commerce, Agriculture, Health, and Rules committees. These are fairly active committees that see a lot of legislation. The Health committee passed a number of bills to tackle the opioid crisis ravaging communities across Pennsylvania. We also tackled legislation regarding insurance coverage for chemotherapy and other pharmaceuticals. I have been particularly active on the Agriculture committee this session, working with Chairman Marty Causer to address issues facing dairy farmers and the equine industry. We had two hearings on legislation I developed concerning dairy issues. The Finance committee also held a hearing on legislation I wrote concerning lease-backed debt, a technique by which past Governors have put the Pennsylvania taxpayer on the hook for millions of dollars in debt to fund pet projects without ever having to get legislative approval. The dangerous practice must be eliminated.
Q: When you're out campaigning in the district, what issues are local residents concerned about the most?
A: The number one issue in our area is school property taxes. Many folks, in particular seniors, are being taxed out of their homes. In recent years, most of the increase in school taxes is due to the vastly underfunded teacher’s pension system, and the requirement for the state and the school districts to contribute more to these pension plans. I have been a strong voice for property tax reform, voting to eliminate property taxes in favor of an income- and sales-tax-based approach, and developing several plans of my own that would greatly reduce property taxes for low-income seniors.
Many folks tell me that they have given up and they think nothing will ever be done to change the situation. While I share their frustration, I do believe there is a path forward. Many of the long-time legislators who have traditionally been opposed to property tax reform are retiring. Our Majority Leader, Rep. Dave Reed, is an advocate for property tax reform. As much as it is up to me, I will continue to advocate for property tax reform to keep people from being evicted from their own homes by a tax that doesn’t take into account one’s ability to pay.
Q: What are some of the issues that, if you're reelected on Nov. 8, you expect to be working on during the next two years?
A: In my view, the top tier issues next session will be developing a balanced state budget, addressing the unfunded liability facing the state pension systems, the opioid crisis facing Pennsylvania, education funding and property taxes. I also hope to address the structural financial issues facing the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the overall state debt burden. From a government reform standpoint, I will reintroduce bills to requiring drug testing for elected officials, and giving a citizens commission sole authority over legislators' salaries.
For more information about State Representative John Lawrence, visit www.replawrence.com.
Q: Nancy, tell us a little about yourself—where do you live and what do you do professionally?
A: I live in Chatham. I moved from Delaware to this rural area 91/2 years ago. I enjoyed a career in teaching, and then made a mid-life career change to ministry. I am now retired clergy. I’m married, the mother of two grown children, and grandmother of two girls all of whom motivate me toward this move to public service. I also believe we need more women in political life.
Q: What made you want to run for the State House seat representing the 13th Legislative District?
A: I have felt increasingly frustrated by the polarization of the elected officials who often seem to spend more time and energy protecting their party and office than working for the electorate. When I was asked to consider running, I felt it would be a privilege and my duty to do so.
Q: Please tell us a little about your educational background and professional experiences.
A: I have BSE, MA, MDiv. I taught in various settings including several years at a university as I worked on my masters and doctorate in English literature, but made a mid-life turn to study religion at the Divinity School of Harvard. I was ordained in ministry in 1994, and served two churches in Massachusetts, and one in Delaware for twenty years.
Q: As you've met with residents in the 13th District, what issues have they been talking about? What are they concerned about?
A: The environment is always important—preserving our farmland and green space, containing sprawl, and helping to encourage farming interests. The concerns for taxes especially as they relate to education and property tax funding, is also high on the list, along with the need to fairly address the state’s budget deficit.
Q: What three issues would you like to see addressed by state lawmakers that would improve the lives of Pennsylvania residents?
A: 1) Fair funding for education and reducing the property tax burden. 2) Sensible weapons regulation to keep citizens safe. 3) Protecting citizens’ civil rights.
Q: If you're elected to represent the 13th District in the State House, what goals would you have for the first two years in office?
A: To learn as much as possible, and to work with the opposition in order to do the most good for the citizens of the 13th District. All issues are grounded in the elected officials working together to find solutions, and preventing gridlock such as the budget impasses we’ve had recently. I am deeply concerned for the high number of opioid deaths in our state, as well as increasing gun violence, and would work to find solutions to both.
Q: What else would you like voters to know about your candidacy ahead of the election on Tuesday, Nov. 8?
A: I’m retired from my career work, and not interested in making Pennsylvania politics a longtime career. I am an outsider, a true citizen candidate, and one who respects the need for government that works for our citizens. I am highly motivated by a desire to see our political system working for the people, not protecting reelection bids above all else. There is work that needs to be done, and working to see that we do the most good should be the driving force behind any candidate’s run for office.
For more information about Nancy Dean and her candidacy, visit nancydeanfor13th.com.