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An Open Letter to Every Candidate for the Pennsylvania Legislature:

You are running because you care about your community and believe you can make a difference in Harrisburg. But what you probably don’t know is that, if you are elected, the first two votes you take on January 3, 2023 will determine whether you can truly represent us.  

Less than 24 hours before that day your leaders will give you the draft rules for your chamber’s operations – 50-60 pages of legalese. With little time to read or understand them, you’ll be asked first to vote against amending them and then to adopt them as written. (I know it sounds backwards, but that’s the way it works.)  

Your constituents will have elected you to assure their voices are heard, but you will have just given your leaders  – and the committee chairs they select – total control over which of the thousands of bills that will be introduced that session get hearings and votes.  

Over 84% of Pennsylvania’s 500 public school boards want to update the controversial 25-year old formula for funding our charter schools – likely some from your district.  

Eighteen PA cities put children at higher risk of lead exposure than Flint, MI. If they’re in your district, parents and educators will ask you to support remediation programs to address the threat this poses to their children’s health and development. Pennsylvania’s rural areas have suffered for years from a lack of high-speed access to the internet – a lack that impacts education, business, and delivery of critical services. 

Residents want their government to address those needs.  

Reality check: All of those bills and many more, all with strong bipartisan legislative and public support, have been before our Legislature before – some for multiple sessions – and NONE has ever gotten a vote. They are blocked, often by a single leader or chair, using the powers given to them by the rules. By voting for the rules without question or amendment, you give away your power to represent your constituents.   

For their voices to be heard requires that bills with sufficient bipartisan legislative and public support get a vote. The legislature makes its rules but the process should involve all members, and the results should empower you and your colleagues to represent your constituents and not a few powerful leaders. 

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Doug Webster, is a retired marketing communications consultant, photographer and videographer and a volunteer with Fair Districts Pennsylvania who lives in Monroeville PA.

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