Good evening, everyone, and thank you so much for attending tonight. I have invited you all here – family, friends, colleagues, leaders of our community, and businesspeople – because I have a very special announcement.
For the past six years, I have been given the opportunity to lead the Town of Bloomsburg in a way few people have. In 2005, the people of this community – open-minded, hungry for a new direction – took a chance on a young man who thought he had the slightest idea of what he was getting into. I learned from some great mentors, I lost a friend when “Chip” Coffman passed away, and in 2007, I was entrusted with the position he had left behind, that of mayor. I cannot express to you how amazing, fun, challenging, exhausting, frustrating, and wonderful this opportunity has been. I have found myself stuck in the middle of heated neighbor disputes…and I have shaken hands with the third most powerful man in the United States government. I have cherished every day of these past six years.
By 2011, I thought I pretty much had it down. We had had two, consecutive surpluses, were investing in our parks and local businesses, and completed a comprehensive blueprint for the next decade. I had my share of parking complaints, of course, but that goes with the territory.
But in the fall of 2011, the lives of people across our region were upended in the flooding of Tropical Storm Lee. That flood spared my home, but it changed my life.
Politicians are often tempted to think we have power. We levy taxes, we enact laws, we settle disputes, and we grant permits. But in September of 2011, I was humbled by real power. There are no words for how helpless I felt when a third of the town I have a duty to protect and serve was covered, swiftly and silently, by our waterways. I was helpless as people were driven from their homes. I was helpless as people lost everything.
As the flood crested, I began to think about what would come next. What could I possibly say to give any hope to the community? How could I even think to inspire our town, or to get them back on their feet? It seemed an impossible thing. As it turns out, it was also unnecessary. As the waters receded, it was this community that inspired me.
I was inspired by the bravery of people who faced the destruction, shed their tears, and started mucking out. I was inspired by the legions of volunteers, residents and students, who selflessly helped their neighbors. I was inspired by organizations that we take for granted in better times – the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the YMCA, AGAPE, and so many others. I was inspired by an entire county that, while deeply wounded, came together and built hope for the future.
That flood changed me. It changed how I see our community – its strength is far deeper than anyone could have imagined. It changed, for me, what it means to be a public servant; that we aren’t here just to answer the occasional complaint or to pose presenting checks but to harness and lead the incredible, positive potential of our communities and the lives that make them up.
It changed what my expectation is of our leaders. The people of this county are resilient, enduring, and hard-working. They deserve leaders who honor that by bringing their best to bear, as well. They deserve leaders who want more, who are energized, and who will not slack in their drive to make our county better. They deserve leaders who are not late in arriving to the call for action.
And that brings me back to tonight.
Today, we have a State Representative who is not giving his all. After 8 years, he has grown complacent, he has grown comfortable, and he has lost what little fight he started with. I have seen what the people of our county are capable of. They deserve better, and I’m here to say, it’s not good enough.
In 1995, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a law granting automatic raises. The salary for a lawmaker at that time was $47,000. This year, it will top $80,000, an increase of over 74%. Over the same period of time, the state’s median household income has only seen a 40% increase. No votes are required for this raise, there is no discussion, no yes, no or abstention is heard. An automatic raise is given to lawmakers again and again and again regardless of performance and regardless of economic conditions. It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough to have a State Representative who makes a show of giving back some money while never making any serious attempt to repeal this ridiculous statute at the heart of the problem. We need a State Representative who will not rest until the exponential growth in legislative pay is halted and, once more, accountable to a vote. We need a State Representative who isn’t afraid to stand on the floor of the House and tell his colleagues that they are being greedy and that they are wrong.
At 9.9% on every single dollar earned, Pennsylvania’s corporate tax income rate is the highest – not close to the highest, not in the top five, but the very highest – in the nation. We are not competitive with other states. We are not attracting opportunity or encouraging investment, and we are losing people to other parts of the country that are. It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough to have a State Representative who is not actively seeking ways to increase Pennsylvania’s competitive advantage. We need a State Representative who will fight to bring our taxes in line with those of other states so that we can have a future that is not held back by the government and not stunted by a regressive level of taxation. We need a State Representative who recognizes that being first in the nation in prosperity is not compatible with being first in the nation in taxes.
Columbia County’s largest employer is Bloomsburg University. The continued health of the State System of Higher Education is central to our local economy and a lynchpin to our success. Yet despite this importance, there exists no legislative caucus for representatives of host districts. It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough to have a State Representative who is not working, cooperating and coordinating with other PASSHE representatives on our common interests. We need a State Representative who is willing to go that extra mile, to reach out and build these necessary partnerships, who knows that we can’t go it alone. We need a State Representative who knows how to build relationships and is willing and able to find consensus.
The Marcellus Shale formation, and the ability to successfully extract natural gas from it, has rightly been described as an economic game-changer. With it, Pennsylvania has the opportunity to be a serious provider of this precious resource that we use in our homes, in our businesses, and for electricity generation. But we have to be careful, and we have to be smart. The environmental ruins of our state’s coal heyday are all around us. The companies, the industry and the wealth are gone, but our mistakes are with us still. This history cannot be allowed to hold us back, but we do have to learn from it. But our State Representative is ignoring those lessons, and it’s not good enough. We need a State Representative who will fight for measures like financial bonding that would actually cover the true potential costs of plugging, reclaiming, cleaning up and restoring gas drilling sites. We need a State Representative who will make sure that Pennsylvania taxpayers reap the benefits of this resource and not just the unmitigated costs. We need a State Representative who understands that the opportunities of the present need not require the sacrificing of our future.
These are just a few examples, but they speak to what is a larger problem. Our State Representative is coasting. In 8 years he hasn’t authored a single piece of notable legislation. He’s collecting his salary, he’s staying safe, he’s keeping his sword clean, and he’s not rocking the boat. Moving inexorably and with the utmost care toward his pension, the status quo is his friend.
But my friends, it’s not good enough. You deserve energy, you deserve passion, and you deserve effort. You deserve better representation!
So tonight, I am here to tell State Representative Millard that it’s just not good enough. Tonight, with my friends and family around me, I am announcing my candidacy for State Representative of the 109th Legislative District.
In the weeks and months to come, this campaign will be taken to every corner of our district, partnering with citizens and organizations throughout Columbia County, reaching voters with our message that they deserve better, more vigorous representation, and that there is an alternative. We don’t have to settle. Our district can have a representative who leads on the issues that matter to us, a representative who wants to do more than just show up, and a representative with a proven track record of fiscal conservatism, open and fair government, and a willingness to find common ground.
I want to be that representative, and I am so excited to be embarking on this experience. But I cannot do it alone, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to do it alone. I would love to have you all be a part of this. So tonight, please feel free to stay to enjoy some wine and company, and before you leave, let us know how you would like to participate in this effort. If you would, take a moment to see John Karas, our Finance Director, to fill out a campaign support form. It’s very straight-forward, and it will let us know who you are and how you would like to be included. Maybe you’re able to participate through volunteering your time – there’s a box to check for that. There are also boxes for levels of financial participation if you’re able. Or perhaps you’re willing to have a sign placed in your yard – there’s a box for that, too. There are several ways to be a part of this, and we’re going to need them all.
So finally, let me again thank you so much for taking the time to come this evening. It absolutely means the world to me. I truly believe that we can change this district and this state for the better, and I hope you’re looking forward to doing so as much as I am.