By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer
On Jan. 22, the Abington-Cheltenham-Jenkintown League of Women Voters moderated an informal meeting between local legislators and the citizens they represent at the Abington Township Municipal Building.
Present were state Reps. Kevin Boyle, Madeleine Dean and Stephen McCarter and state Sen. Art Haywood. Though all the representatives are Democrats, the League of Women Voters maintains a nonpartisan position, but takes specific stands on certain political issues.
League members prepared a list of questions for the representatives that touched on issues concerning redistricting, equitable pay for working women, environmental protection, state education funding and political goals for the upcoming session. Audience members were also able to submit questions.
Boyle, who represents the 172nd Legislative District, which includes Rockledge and Northeast Philadelphia, advocated for a jungle primary system, where candidates for an elected office run against each other and the top two candidates, regardless of political party, would compete in the general election. He also wants an independent redistricting commission.
“I think it’s an issue in all localities that are either very Democratic or very Republican,” he said. “Soon, the people who determine the policy and run these townships will be, in all likelihood, determined in the Democratic primary.”
This notion of reform for redistricting is something that the other three representatives agreed on.
“We have 45 seats in play in the House,” McCarter, who represents the 154th Legislative District, said. “That is not competitive democracy at work.”
All four also advocated for a statewide, or even federal, raise of the minimum wage.
“Getting $10.10 an hour is going to be a lift in PA and I think we need to start talking about $15 an hour,” McCarter said.
They also advocated for equitable pay for women.
“It’s absolutely the truth that women are paid less,” Dean said. “I hope the national scene drives this as much as the local.”
Dean represents the 153rd Legislative District, which includes Abington Township and parts of Upper Dublin. For this term, she is focusing on what she calls the “three Es”, which are education, economy and ethics of good government.
“Once we focus on these areas, the other pieces will come in place,” Dean said.
Haywood arrived late due to a conflict with another event and was given time to answer the questions from the league independently. A newcomer to the 4th Senatorial District, he spoke about initiatives he will take on in the upcoming legislative session.
One of his initiatives is to require the the attorney general to produce a special prosecutor for police-involved deaths.
“It will help to restore trust in our system,” he said.
He is also pushing for the elimination of tip minimum wage, a severance tax for the Marcellus Shale gas-drilling industry and repeal of corporate tax breaks, and he is “looking into” fair-funding reform for Pennsylvania schools.
Boyle similarly criticized the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett for not imposing an extraction tax, implying that the industry has a heavy influence on Pennsylvania politics due to campaign financing.
“The Marcellus Shale industry has too much power,” Boyle said.
Another issue discussed at great length was the need for education funding reform.
“We need to provide equitable education options for all of our kids through the public school system,” Dean said. “We can combat this inequity in education by investing in pre-k education. Every dollar we invest in pre-k education reduces the dollars needed for special education because you actually get ahead of it.”
The representatives also criticized for-profit charter schools for taking away funding from public education.
“For-profits have no place in public education funding,” Haywood said. “In a non-profit format, charter schools can be effective.”
Dean similarly showed distaste for the charter school funding system for taking away from public education.
“Charter schools were supposed to be incubators,” Dean said. “They have gone beyond that.”
McCarter seemed to agree.
“There’s a place for charter schools, but it’s not to make money,” he said.
Boyle said that many of the requests from residents in his district are asking for help to get a child into charter school. He said that he sees the value of charter schools in Philadelphia, but opposes their expansion into Montgomery County, where the public school system is in good shape.
The next Abington event hosted by the League of Women Voters is on March 5 at the Abington Township Building. It will be a community meeting on redistricting and gerrymandering and why they are critical issues to voting rights.
For more information,visit www.palwv.org.