LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — Democracy 2020 takes a look at the State House race in the 47th District.
This seat covers the I-83 and US-30 corridor in York County.
Republican Keith Gillespie is seeking a tenth term, facing Democrat Fred Owens. Gillespie was elected in 2002.
He is the seventh longest tenured House member and is chairman of the Game and Fisheries Committee. It's because of that chairmanship he says one of his top priorities is funding to Pennsylvania's Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission. Gillespie also wants a full review of Governor Wolf business waiver process, as well as property tax reform.
Fred Owens taught psychology for four decades at Franklin & Marshall College. He is on the Hellam Township Planning Commission. Owens believes public schools are underfunded and wants to increase the fair funding formula.
Owens wants to prioritize cleaning the Susquehanna RIver, and punish polluters. He also wants to increase infrastructure attention, with new roads, bridges, and broadband.
For more election coverage, where to vote, information about the candidates, and other stories about voting safety and security, visit the FOX43 Election Voting Guide.
1. Why do you want to represent your district ?
REPRESENTATIVE KEITH GILLESPIE: With over 34 years of public service as a 1st responder prior to election to the General Assembly, I wish to continue that record of service to the citizens of the 47th district in the capacity of their representative in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. I am majority chairman of a standing committee and am in line to be at least 7th in seniority within our caucus. Both of those will provide for a stronger voice at the leadership table over rank and file legislators.
FRED OWENS: I want my grandchildren, and all the children in Pennsylvania, to have a future that is as bright as mine was when I was a boy. We all deserve good schools, an economy that works for working people, and clean air and water. We have a choice: we can invest in working families and healthy communities, or we can continue funding tax breaks and bailouts for big corporations. I’m running for office because I think that Pennsylvania should work for all of us, not just the wealthy and well connected.
2. What area of public policy are you most passionate about and why ?
REP. GILLESPIE: As a lifelong outdoorsman who was raised on a farm and currently manage a small operation, I'm very dedicated & committed to the preservation & enhancement of our natural resources. As has been proven with the extinction of the likes of the Passenger pigeon and other species, I am ever vigilant overseeing our conservation practices, seasons & bag limits, and education of the uninformed for the wild creatures who inhabit our Commonwealth so not only our current cadre of enthusiasts who enjoy the outdoors but the generations that will follow us will have those same opportunities. .
OWENS: I spent my career working as a professor and researcher. I know that young people don’t have the same opportunities today that I had when I was growing up. Our public schools are chronically underfunded and it’s hurting our community. Teachers have to buy classroom supplies with their own money. College graduates are crippled by student debt. I will work to expand the Fair Funding Formula for public schools so that every student receives a quality education regardless of where they grow up
3. Name three goals you wish to accomplish in the next term if elected.
REP. GILLESPIE: A. Have a complete and thorough review of the waiver process that established what businesses were deemed essential vs. non-essential during the early part of the pandemic process. Unfortunately it seems that winners and losers were picked as a result of the process and I feel it is important that this not only be vetted to establish why but a matrix applied to prevent any future issues should we need to deal with and address this again.
B. Property tax reform/relief - If there ever was a time to enact significant reform, the time is now with 3 of the top leaders in the House of Representatives hailing from counties that are adversely affected by the funding formula and subsequent non-proportional funding. This results in tax dollars not be returned by the Commonwealth to the local area but instead forces these taxes being raised by the school districts.
C- 1.Making sure the Pennsylvania Fish& Boat Commission, the Pennsylvania Game Commission , and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have the funding needed to complete their missions in a safe and efficient manner.
C-2. Making sure all of our front line workers have all the necessary Personal Protective Equipment and training as they continue to confront the pandemic.
Expand funding for our public schools. Investments in our schools and our teachers are investments in our students and our community.
Clean up the Susquehanna River so that we all have a clean river for fishing and recreation. We will hold big polluters accountable for dumping waste into our waterways.
Invest in our roads, bridges, and digital infrastructure. We all know Pennsylvania has thousands of decaying roads and bridges. Our roads and bridges are an inheritance from the generation before us, and it is our responsibility to fix them for the generation to come. We can build a smart electric grid to accommodate an influx in renewable energy and increase access to broadband Internet for rural communities. These plans will create thousands of good-paying jobs and make life better for all of us.
4. What is the biggest challenge facing Pennsylvanians in the next couple of years ?
REP. GILLESPIE: Due to the massive unemployment and closure of many of our small businesses, our economy is in horrific shape and people & families are experiencing severe financial troubles. We are on track for a projected multi-billion dollar budget & revenue deficit. A thorough plan and execution of it will be necessary with any upcoming budgets. To enact new taxes or to increase any existing taxes will continue to hobble any recovery going forward.
OWENS: Recovering from COVID-19 is the biggest challenge our community faces in the coming years. I worry about the families who have lost work, about kids and teachers contracting the virus at school, and about small businesses who are on the brink of closing their doors for good. We can make it through this pandemic and recession by working together for the common good. That means that multi-state corporations must pay their fair share of taxes, and state money is invested in small businesses and working families.
5. COVID-19 will continue to be apart of our lives in 2021 and beyond. What should Pennsylvania's top priorities be as it relates to to the pandemic ?
REP. GILLESPIE: To practice common sense & Center for Disease Control ( CDC) guidelines - wearing of masks, social distancing, washing our hands, People thirst for a return to normalcy and I feel they can realize that by being conscious of practices we have learned over the last 6 months. We need to continue to study, evaluate, and consider what other states have done and look at what the positives & negatives are, what has worked & what has not. Unfortunately there is not a recipe or playbook that can be followed that will result in a perfect outcome. We can, however, be smart and not let our day to day freedoms be compromised to the extent they are worse than the virus itself.
OWENS: We must beat the virus in order to fix the economy. To beat the virus, we must follow the advice of healthcare professionals. Mask-wearing and physical distancing are critical steps. We must support small businesses on Main Street to make it through the recession. We must expand testing and tracking, especially for our schools, in order to detect and manage new outbreaks. Keeping people safe and protecting small businesses requires state investment in our community, and I will fight for those funds.
6. Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force praised Pennsylvania for how it handled the COVID-19 pandemic. How would you assess the commonwealth's response ?
REP. GILLESPIE: As a former healthcare practitioner and one of a few of these professionals currently in the General Assembly, I stood with our administration for the first few weeks of the pandemic as to be on the side of safety & caution and to not risk the overwhelming of our health care centers & system and the providers who staff these facilities as well as our first responders. I think what was implemented was correct.
However, as the the weeks went on and the essential vs. non - essential edicts took hold as well as the debacle with the Unemployment Compensation system - which to this day remains a debacle - I cannot be as kind with my assessment. It was noted early on that " we need to save lives, not livelihoods". I believe both can be accomplished without detriment to one or the other. Clearly there were winners and losers picked as a result of the waiver process resulting in many families and businesses being placed in a very deep financial hole - many of which will never be able to recover.
OWENS: COVID-19’s impact on our state has been painful. We have lost over 8,000 parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends to the virus this year. The shutdown of businesses has been a nightmare for small business owners and our local economies. Yet -- without the measures taken by state officials, I fear that the casualty count would be much higher. The state government has done a good job addressing the pandemic, and we need to continue investing in health and safety measures, contact tracing, and small business loans in order to keep families safe as we await the arrival of a vaccine.
7. What needs to be done to improve Pennsylvania's economy ?
REP. GILLESPIE: Get people back to work ! Assist those businesses that have been shuttered to get back in full operation in a safe and smart manner. Overhaul the antiquated 40 year old Unemployment Compensation system to realize faster processing of claims and assure the millions of dollars of fraud that has been paid out - including to those in our prisons - is arrested.
OWENS: It goes without saying that the presence of COVID-19 is currently the single biggest barrier to growing Pennsylvania’s economy. I believe that sustainable economic growth happens from the bottom-up, and that we must support small business owners and local entrepreneurs if we are going to have an economy that works for all of us, not just the few at the top. Investing in smart energy technology and infrastructure will create thousands of good-paying jobs while addressing the climate crisis.
8. Social unrest has played out in front of us as citizens protest the killings of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and other black men and women. What changes are needed to state laws as it relates to criminal justice reform ?
REP. GILLESPIE: We have recently passed legislation enhancing the background & hiring practice of police officers. Additionally, we recently passed legislation dealing with providing mental health care to police officers who suffer PTSD and enhancing training for police officers in regarding child abuse, use of force, de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, and related topics.
The laws on the books need to be followed and enforced. If they are not, they will need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
OWENS: The State Legislature must do its part to end systemic racism. Men and women of color are stopped by police and sentenced to prison at rates far exceeding their white neighbors. The majority of people stuck in jail on sentences related to substance use or the inability to pay fees. Sick people don’t get better in jail, and our friends and neighbors struggling with substance use disorder deserve treatment, not punishment.
9. What changes would you make to Pennsylvania's unemployment compensation system ?
REP. GILLESPIE: After weeks of fielding complaints about the inability of constituents to successfully apply for unemployment compensation and the frustration they were experiencing in speaking to someone at Labor & Industry or being kicked out of on line applications, I requested a meeting with the department within Labor & Industry responsible for the review and processing of claims. I was shocked to see they were working with 40 year old technology which required them to flip back and forth between two different computer screens and manually input data from one computer to another. Needless to say this was very time consuming and not an efficient use of time or resources.
A new system needs to be instituted. The training of Capitol and district office legislative staff to navigate the filing of claims to augment Labor & Industry staff so they can timely and truthfully get back to those who have been waiting weeks & months for their just due unemployment compensation.
Finally, replace the Secretary of Labor & Industry if they are not amenable to updating and improving the system.
OWENS: Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system was gutted by career politicians who are ideologically opposed to supporting our friends and neighbors who are between jobs. The impact of these budget cuts became apparent when millions of Pennsylvanians needed financial help during the COVID pandemic. We must utilize funds from the CARES Act more effectively. We must invest in the Office of Unemployment Compensation so that working people can quickly and easily get support from a system that they have paid into during their time on the job. Rents and mortgages don’t wait, and Pennsylvanians deserve a system that pays what we are due on time.
10. Are you confident in the security and results of this election ?
REP. GILLESPIE: I am not confident in the security of the election particularly in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling that will now allow for the acceptance and counting of mail in ballots 3 full days after the polls have closed. We also recently learned of some military ballots in Luzerne county being found in a trash can outside of that county election office. I am concerned about the security of the drop boxes and how they are being staffed and monitored,
Given that the election has not taken place, I cannot comment on the result component of the question.
OWENS: Elections have been held in the United States through wars, recessions, and natural disasters. Just this year, we held a primary election in the midst of a global pandemic. I am confident that the York County Board of Elections is doing everything in its power to ensure that every vote cast gets counted. With COVID-19 still lingering in our community, we must make it easier for everyone to vote, not harder. I am concerned that the President is spreading lies and misinformation about voting, and dismantling the Post Office at a time when we need it most. Every registered citizen must be able to cast a ballot by Election Day in safety.