LEBANON COUNTY, Pa. — Russ Diamond, one of Governor Tom Wolf's harshest critics during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, is running for a fourth term in the State House, facing Annville Democrat Matt Duvall in a race for the 101st District.
The 102nd District covers the Lebanon County boroughs of Cleona, Jonestown, Myerstown and Richland and the townships of Annville, Bethel, Heidelberg, Jackson, Millcreek, North Lebanon, South Lebanon, Swatara, Union and West Lebanon.
Diamond criticized Gov. Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine for their roles in closing businesses and mask wearing during the early stages of the pandemic. Wolf called for Diamond to be censured after he made transphobic comments towards Levine in July.
A former high school teacher, Duvall has also worked as a corporate software developer. He earned a PhD in educational leadership and learning technologies from Drexel University. He currently works as an instructional designer with Vista Autism Services.
Duvall has served as a district leader for Lebanon County District 8 (Annville-Cleona), and in 2017 ran for Annville Township commissioner.
Duvall says his legislative priorities are building strong unions, raising the minimum wage, improving and increasing access to public education, harnessing technology to support workforce development, and fostering partnerships with businesses to equip workers for modern times.
FOX43 sent questionnaires for each candidate to fill out about their legislative priorities. Diamond did not return one. Duvall's comments are listed below.
Why do you want to represent your district?
MATT DUVALL: I believe our elected representatives are public servants. I'm running to give a voice to everyone in PA House District 102. Even when we disagree, I promise to treat all of my constituents with respect and dignity. I will listen, identify areas where we agree, explain areas where we don't, and promote solutions that get us to our common goals.
What area of public policy are you most passionate about and why?
DUVALL: Education is one of my top priorities. I'm a former high school teacher and have a PhD from Drexel University in Educational Leadership and Learning Technologies, with a focus on STEM education. I believe we need to address funding inequities at the state level, as well as focus on early childhood education/child care and workforce training and re-training.
Name three goals you wish to accomplish in the next term if elected?
DUVALL: My top three goals are: introduce legislation to raise the minimum wage for the first time in 11 years, increase state funding for education and lower the burden on local property owners, and expand broadband Internet access for rural areas in Pennsylvania.
What is the biggest challenge facing Pennsylvanians in the next couple years?
DUVALL: Recovering from the pandemic is probably the biggest challenge. Along with that, there are a number of issues that the pandemic brought to people's attention, but were already there to begin with. These include: healthcare, child care, minimum wage, sick leave for all workers, family leave, and even the unemployment system. The challenge will be to address these issues in ways that are equitable, affordable, and agreeable to our constituents.
COVID-19 will continue to be a part of our lives in 2021 and beyond. What should Pennsylvania’s top priorities be as it relates to the pandemic?
DUVALL: We need to take a science-based approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. Individually, people need to wear masks, wash their hands, and watch their distance. At the state and local levels, we need to prioritize rapid-results testing, PPE for healthcare and other frontline workers, effective quarantining measures, and strong contract tracing programs. Doing this will allow our businesses to reopen more fully, and give workers and customers confidence that their safety is a top priority.
Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force praised Pennsylvania for how it has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. How would you assess the commonwealth’s response?
DUVALL: The actions the commonwealth took were appropriate and the results are fewer lives lost and fewer illnesses. Communication and education could have been better, in retrospect. We need legislators who recognize the seriousness of the pandemic (over 200,000 dead in the US, accounting for 25% of the deaths globally - even though we're only 4% of the global population) and support the efforts that have gotten other countries back on track, like wearing face coverings. When we have legislators who are fighting even those basic, evidence-based actions, it's difficult to work together on other larger-scale solutions.
What needs to be done in order to improve Pennsylvania’s economy?
DUVALL: The governor and lieutenant governor have recently introduced a plan for legalizing marijuana for recreational use. That would create a new business sector, new jobs, and new tax revenue. The state has also been doing some pilot studies on growing industrial hemp - we could expand that to allow more farming, and also focus on developing additional industries that use that crop, like brick/construction manufacturing. We also need to look at taxes and make sure corporations and the wealthy are paying their fair share. One example here is closing the Delaware loophole that costs the state hundred of millions of corporate tax revenue dollars every year.
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?
DUVALL: There are many issues in this area that need thoughtful consideration, debate, and change. One example is drug policy: we should be focusing on treatment and health-based solutions rather than immediately going to criminal punishment. Incarcerations for drugs across the US, and in Pennsylvania, continue to rise, while drug use rates are relatively constant. We should focus our efforts and resources on prevention rather than punishment. We're also the only state in the country that doesn't provide any funding to public defenders' offices, leaving people who are unable to afford an attorney at an automatic disadvantage. Finally, we need to look at communities with problematic police relations and focus on funding mental health services, informal educational opportunities, and other community supports so that police in those areas can focus on the job they signed up to do: addressing actual crimes that occur.
What changes would you make to Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system?
DUVALL: There are numerous changes to be made, but the first priority (as highlighted by the pandemic) is to redesign the technology infrastructure. We need to modernize the computer systems for unemployment compensation so that applications can be processed more efficiently and people can begin receiving their benefits as soon as possible.
Are you confident in the security and results of this election?
DUVALL: Yes. There are plenty of sensationalized stories about attempts to subvert the election. But in reality there is little to no evidence to support such claims. The biggest threat is actually misinformation, including by foreign governments, but the solution there is simply to educate yourself - find reliable sources and use critical thinking skills to analyze the information and whether it's true or not. All of that being said, we have incredible nonpartisan people working to ensure that every vote - whether it's cast by mail, early voting, or in person on election day - gets counted. Make a voting plan, follow the directions, and cast your vote. Your vote will count. It's our most important civic duty.