People before politics: Sue Walker charges toward Harrisburg
By Richard Gaw
Sue Walker, the Democratic candidate for State Representative in District 13, has lived with her husband Mike and their two sons Zach and Ryan in Franklin Township for the past 20 years, and by all accounts, her life and the life of her family is firmly entrenched in the economic, educational and social fabric of Chester County.
The boys went through a public education, and for the past 14 years, Walker has worked in the Avon Grove School District as a volunteer coordinator, Title I instructor for reading remediation, and currently manages the high school library. Even the family's two dogs, Lucy and Brody, are Great Danes, the official state dog of Pennsylvania.
Yet, during the late evening of Nov. 8, 2016, as she and Mike watched the results of the presidential election at their Landenberg home, the “Jersey” in Walker came out.
“When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency, I wasn't one of those people who sat back and laughed,” said Walker, who was born, raised and educated in New Jersey. “I was afraid. I know the person he is. I saw what he did to Atlantic City. I saw what he did to the contractors who worked for him, who were left high and dry and not paid.
“I saw what he did to skirt immigration laws to bring in people not from that area to work. I saw how he let businesses go bankrupt, while somehow remaining fine. I saw how he treated people. His value system is not my value system.”
While it pulls its fuel from the camaraderie it has with the national groundswell of first-time political newbies, Walker's campaign for the Pa. House of Representatives is a machine of many extremities. It's latched onto an anti-Trump reactionary crusade, but it also digs into the particulars of its platform: healthcare, economy, public and higher education, firearms safety and infrastructure. It looks to wrangle ideas into legislation in Harrisburg, but the roots of its specifics are owned by its architect, who defines herself not as the next rock star of the reinvented Democratic party, but as a Chester County mother, wife and resident who, as her campaign slogan reads, is putting people before politics.
“The election of Donald Trump made me want to do more in an activist way,” Walker said recently from her campaign headquarters in West Grove. “I felt our country was really going on the wrong path. You can only go to so many marches, before you realize that you want to do something more concrete. You try to find ways of changing your little corner of the world.”
Using Zach and Ryan as a timeline barometer, Walker said that throughout their entire lives, government has suffered from a lack of functionality and a disregard for fiscal accountability. Restoring both are at the top of her campaign's platform.
“Within our government, we're not working together enough,” she said. “We seem to have gone astray from how to civilly speak to one another, and the fine art of compromise has really taken a hit, and those who are trying to do the right thing with good intentions are often pushed out of the way, or simply become part of the process.”
Walker said that if she defeats Republican incumbent John Lawrence on Nov. 6, she'll use the act of civil discourse in Harrisburg to address the issues, but do it with an eye toward the lives of those whom she feels are under-represented: the under-30 generation, people of color, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It's about being able to open doors of opportunity for them, she said, and it starts with education.
Walker supports increased funding for public education for her district and Pennsylvania, while holding the line on property taxes to lessen the burden on the general public. She also advocates increased state funding for post-secondary and technical schools, in order to prepare young people for technical careers.
“I would look at new revenue streams instead of putting everything on the backs of taxpayers,” she said. “I think we can do it by closing loopholes, having a moderate increase in capital gains taxes, or shifting our income tax burden.”
Walker also believes that higher education must be treated as an investment in the state's future, and supports increased additional funding and grant-based aid programs. As a parent of two sons who both furthered their education at Penn State University, Walker knows first-hand the financial burden of paying for a college education, and the subsequent mountain of student loan debt that young people incur.
Often, she said, they either can't afford to attend college, choose to continue to pay for college while accumulating more debt, or choose to leave college without having earned a degree, in the hopes that a high school diploma can open career doors for them.
“Do they take their high school diploma and try to do something with it?” Walker said. “Do they join the military – a wonderful calling – but can our military absorb millions of high school graduates every year? Or, do they continue to pay for college while taking on an average of $45,000 of student debt?
“We're trimming to the bone, and we're not going to be able to move forward, whether it's investing in our infrastructure or investing in our education,” she added. “I think education is part of our infrastructure. If we're not giving these kids the wings they need to fly, who is going to be helping older generations?”
Recognizing the need to modernize and repair many of the more than 30,000 bridges and 40,000 miles of roadway in the state, Walker supports the details spelled out in Pa. Act 89, which will invest more than $2 billion in roadway maintenance and highway and bridge capital projects over the next 10 years.
Walker is an advocate of the Second Amendment, and agrees with the contents of the majority opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which ruled that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to bear arms. Believing that gun ownership was a right but not an unlimited one, Scalia called for imposing “reasonable limitations” on gun ownership.
Walker supports HB 2060 – passed recently in the state Senate by a vote of 43-5 that requires defendants to surrender all guns in their possession upon the imposition of a contested protection from abuse order – as well as universal background checks, and emergency removal orders for those who present a risk to themselves or others.
Other key components of Walker's campaign include the protection of the state's natural resources; finding ways to increase the use of renewable energy and developing clean energy policies; supporting the local farming community; increasing the availability of and access to high-speed Internet in every household, school and business in the state; and raising the state's minimum wage, in order to stimulate the economy and an individual's purchase power.
Walker also believes that women should have the right to decide their own healthcare, just as men also have the right to decide their own healthcare.
“One of the best ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies is through accessibility and affordability to contraception, whether it's through a clinic, a family doctor, or an outlet such as planned parenthood,” she said. “I think women and men need to responsible for that, and that's often left out of the conversation. Men have to be involved in this conversation, as well. Having that medical provider be accessible and affordable is huge. It's traceable to the strength of an economy.”
Walker pointed to a photograph of Zach and Ryan that appears on her campaign literature. Her aspirations for Harrisburg is about them, she said, and the students she sees throughout the school year at Avon Grove High School.
“We have poverty and social injustice because by and large, we've stopped listening to each other, to the rest of the world, and we need to get back to finding the greater good,” she said. “We need some more grown-ups in the room to put their egos aside, and fix it. Let's think differently. Let's innovate our way out of this. Instead of saying that these systems are broken and retreating to our respective corners, let's say things are possible.
“I think there is a need and desire for change, and I realized that if I really wanted to see change, I needed to have a seat at the table.”
To learn more about Candidate Sue Walker, visit www.suewalkerpa13.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.