LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — State Representative David Zimmerman is running for re-election for PA House District 99 in the Republican primary. He has served in the House since 2014, representing a district that covers several eastern Lancaster County townships and includes the boroughs of Akron, New Holland and Terre Hill.
He defeated Democratic challenger Elizabeth Malarkey in 2018.
A native of East Earl Township, Zimmerman is a former member of the Lancaster County Transportation Committee and the Lancaster County Planning Commission. He also served as the chairman of the East Earl Township Board of Supervisors and as the township's roadmaster.
In the most recent state legislative session, Zimmerman has served as secretary of the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, and as a member of the Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, the Health Committee, and the Insurance Committee.
Zimmerman lives in East Earl Township with his wife, Ruth Ann. They have three children and seven grandchildren.
Hodge is a 27-year-old, self-described progressive. Hodges' top policy priorities include making the state fund all of its schools through the fair funding formula, the state calculation used to divvy up new education dollars that accounts for factors including poverty, school size and a district’s ability to generate revenue. He also cites the lack of affordable housing in northeast Lancaster County as one of his top campaign issues.
FOX43 sent candidate questionnaires to both candidates. Only Hodge replied, and his responses are below.
Why do you want to represent your district?
Both major political parties have made a tradition out of ignoring the needs of working-class people like us who live in small towns and rural areas, yet they manage to keep us divided and fighting with each other. We can do better than the self-serving political culture we’ve come to take for granted.
I’m running to unite our community across party lines and give a voice to the everyday people who have been shut out of the conversation in Harrisburg for too long. If we reject the status quo of leaving politics to the wealthy and well-connected, if we speak and listen to our neighbors instead of staying divided, and if we put our faith in each other like we were raised to, we can create a state government that is more reflective of our values and that is better prepared to fulfill our needs.
Elanco is through with being controlled by out-of-touch, corrupt politicians whose entire careers are built on keeping our community divided and their corporate donors happy. Everyday people deserve an advocate who not only understands the challenges they face in their daily lives, but has a personal stake in their well-being. As a career manufacturing worker, I will bring to Harrisburg the lived reality of small-town, working-class Pennsylvanians, and a comprehensive knowledge of what it is that everyday Pennsylvanians need.
What area of public policy are you most passionate about and why?
I’m most passionate about economic justice, because giving people economic freedom means giving them more personal freedom, and more opportunities to give back to our community.
So many of our neighbors dream of serving our community, but they simply can’t afford to pursue those dreams. We are in dire need of qualified teachers, but a teacher’s salary hardly compares to the mountains of debt students of education will face after college. Potential small business owners never have the opportunity to pursue their dream because they can’t afford to lose the benefits offered by their current full-time job.
Freedom is not the ability to consume; it is the ability to control one’s own life. We can hardly call it the American Dream to be forced to go to work with symptoms of the flu or COVID-19 because nobody can afford to take a day off. Our friends and neighbors live on the brink of financial ruin, which leads to higher rates of addiction and crime in the working class as we do what we need to do to provide for our families.
We can improve our economy while restoring quality of life in the Commonwealth. We will start by guaranteeing all workers get the paid sick and family leave they deserve, so our lives come before our jobs; by supporting Pennsylvanians to follow their dreams through affordable education; by supporting would-be entrepreneurs by disentangling our healthcare system from employment and offering a state-sponsored health insurance option; and by raising the minimum wage to a livable wage, to make sure everyone’s most basic needs are met.
Name three goals you wish to accomplish in the next term if elected?
Nobody should have to suffer the insecurity of not knowing when they will lose their job or their housing simply for being who they are. We are past due for anti-discrimination legislation covering gender identity and sexual and romantic orientation. Just this year, with seven Republican votes, the House came within two votes of passing its first anti-discrimination law covering LGBTQA+ people. I will serve the deciding vote on this legislation. This is an easily achievable goal and a pressing issue as we face skyrocketing levels of housing insecurity and mass layoffs across the state.
Over time, our democracy has devolved from a system where voters choose their representatives to one where our representatives retain their power by choosing their voters. Now more than ever, it is critical that we restore faith in the democratic tradition by guaranteeing free and fair elections. One of my major goals for the upcoming term is to rebuild our democracy by establishing a nonpartisan redistricting committee for fairer districts and directing concerted efforts to bring disenfranchised voters into the democratic process.
Pennsylvania has some of the most fertile soil in the entire world, but our legislators have sold out our family farmers to serve multi-state corporate agriculture firms instead of investing in our own farming industry. During my first term I will support efforts to legalize cannabis within Pennsylvania. Legalizing cannabis will help our decimated family farms diversify their crop and dominate the cannabis market on the east coast. By getting ahead and jumping into the market now, we can invest in our small farms, break up the corporate agriculture firms that have been putting local farmers out of business, and create sustainable jobs. Legalization also gives us an avenue out of the failed War on Drugs that is now a staple of our broken justice system.
What is the biggest challenge facing Pennsylvanians in the next couple years?
In the next couple years, our biggest challenge will be to recover from the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the chaos of the current scene in national politics. The uncertainty we are all facing right now is the result of many, many years of failures by our elected officials to act in the interests of working people, and as we have seen during the pandemic, they have learned nothing from it. Now is a crucial moment to invest in working-class communities. If we don’t, we risk losing our workforce as they leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Among many other things, we can support Pennsylvanians through the recession by investing in thousands of jobs to fix our broken infrastructure..
The Army Corps of Engineers assessed the quality of roads nationwide, and Lancaster County has some of the worst in the country. The level of carcinogens in the water supply in Ephrata would make it illegal to produce food there, but we allow it into people’s homes for drinking. We lack public transportation outside of urban centers.
If we want workers to stay here and contribute to the local economy, we need to give them access to opportunities elsewhere without having to move. This means investing in high-speed trains to job centers that will both help our neighbors afford to live here and boost our local economy with more spending money. This means improving our roads and expanding our public transportation options, to connect more people with more opportunities for work. This means providing families with access to clean water, making it safer to raise children here. Investing in the things everyday people need will help us recover from the current recession and set us up for a more stable economy in the long-term.
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?
It’s difficult to answer this briefly, because there are so many things to say. For generations, our elected officials have been chipping away at our labor rights to appease their corporate donors. This has resulted in a work culture where we are not only expected to go to work while showing symptoms of illness, but where we are so close to financial ruin at any given time that we couldn’t afford to take time off if we were allowed.
This pandemic has affirmed our dire need for representation that prioritizes workers’ needs—our needs—over the greed and hubris of our current representatives in Harrisburg. Our top priority as everyday people has to be electing people who have the courage to name what our so-called “representatives” have put us through since March: political theatrics. They elected to send us back to work when there were more than enough resources to keep us safe at home. They risked our lives to score cheap political points against their opponents.
My top priority as a candidate is to pass policies our friends and neighbors in Eastern Lancaster County need to restore balance to their lives. We need state-sponsored health insurance, paid sick and family leave, rent relief, and a moratorium on COVID-19 related evictions.
I know what it’s like to work on my feet for ten hours a day and still go without health insurance because I can’t afford it. I know what it’s like to avoid going to the doctor when I need treatment, and to have to choose between staying home from work when I’m sick or paying my bills. Thousands of us right here in Lancaster County are one illness or injury away from lifelong medical debt because of our healthcare industry, which prioritizes profits over keeping us safe and healthy. A state-sponsored health insurance program will allow more working-class Pennsylvanians to access preventative care and affordable prescriptions, and stop having to decide between our health and our wallets.
When we first began to see the effects of the pandemic, we began to see just how unprepared our employers and economy were to support our health and safety, and to support us as human beings outside our jobs. People I know who have spent years working without a vacation were forced to use their hard-earned vacation days in quarantine when their employers offered no other option. When our schools closed in the spring, parents were forced to choose between staying home to take care of their kids and working to keep a roof over their heads. Coworkers of mine who take care of their own elderly, high-risk parents likewise had to choose between paying the bills and coming in to work, where even as our coworkers were sent home with symptoms of COVID-19, we were told the shop would not be closing down. We should have had guaranteed paid sick and family leave in place long before the current crisis. But even as the number of working-class deaths grew higher and higher and it became increasingly clear why these are absolute necessities, our legislators pretended their hands were tied. Our own representative here in the 99th district voted in favor of legislation that ensures employers will not be responsible for compensating workers for time lost as a result of contracting COVID-19—the exact opposite of paid sick leave.
The state just ended a housing aid program while there were still $50,000,000 available to Pennsylvanians experiencing difficulty paying their rent as a result of the pandemic. This program was doomed from the start, as it did not incentivize landlord participation. With no moratorium on COVID-19 related evictions, families hit hard by the effects of the pandemic and by our legislators’ complete apathy over whether we live or die are being displaced from their homes, putting them at higher risk of contracting the deadly virus. We should be focussing on getting the unemployed back into stable conditions, so they can continue to pursue new employment. Evicting families only pushes the goalpost further away from these people who, by no fault of their own, are temporarily unable to pay their rent. We have the resources to help more people stay safe in their homes. Nobody should have to choose between their bills and their life when our government has the funds to keep us all safe.
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?
I disagree with Governor Wolf on many issues, but his and Dr. Levine’s response to the pandemic was measured and thoughtful, and their confidence was reassuring in a time of uncertainty.
However, our state legislators chose to use the pandemic as political fodder instead of treating it like the public health crisis it is. Our representatives on both sides of the aisle used the deaths of thousands of our friends and family members to score cheap political points against their opponents while offering no substantial help to the most vulnerable of us.
The House GOP in particular has followed the lead of President Trump instead of acting in the interests of their constituents. They have failed at every turn to accept the reality of the pandemic, even after it became public knowledge that the president regards the pandemic as a real public health concern. They have put their pride before protecting vulnerable people.
It’s always a challenge to reconcile ideological differences and get legislation passed, but this year we saw just how morally bankrupt our partisanship has become that Pennsylvania politicians were willing to allow those ideological differences to claim our loved ones’ lives.
What needs to be done in order to improve Pennsylvania’s economy?
The timer is up on many of the jobs we’ve relied on for generations, from mining to manufacturing. We need to provide workers with access to job trainings that provide family-sustaining careers and a lifeline out of dying industries.
Our family farmers are struggling to compete with corporate agriculture. We can support them by offering grant opportunities to family farmers who are interested in gaining organic certification or installing regenerative infrastructure. These solutions will invest in the long-term health of our soil while ushering our family farmers into the lucrative market for certified-organic products. We can also support family farmers by legalizing adult recreational cannabis, making them contenders in a highly competitive cash crop scene that is currently dominated by west-coast growers.
Everyday Pennsylvanians are working harder and harder but not getting ahead, while our bosses and representatives get richer and richer. The cost of living is skyrocketing, yet our minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009. We’ve been asking low-wage workers who can’t afford health insurance to shoulder the burden of coming to work in person during a global pandemic. The least we can do is pay them a living wage that will allow them to afford their medical bills if they get sick on the job. We need to raise the minimum wage and restore dignity to essential work. I support a gradual increase over five years, with the minimum wage being raised to $15 by 2025. A hard day’s work should be enough to make a living.
Pennsylvania's taxation system is one of the most regressive in our country. Pennsylvanians who make less pay a higher percentage of their income in various taxes than wealthier people. I support a graduated income tax, which means lowering income taxes for working-class Pennsylvanians to 2.5% and raising income taxes on the wealthy to 4%. This will bolster our state budget by increasing tax revenue while simultaneously supporting working families to afford their everyday needs with less reliance on state programs. For years, we’ve been seeing people who have lived in our community their whole lives being priced out of their homes, especially seniors. Implementing a progressive property tax will keep more seniors and working families in their homes and contribute to a more stable economy.
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?
We must end qualified immunity. We are facing the rise of the military state in that our officers are claiming more and more power to defy the very laws they have sworn to enforce. Every person needs to be held responsible for their actions, whether they are a teacher, a doctor, a plumber, or a police officer.
We need to ban private prisons in Pennsylvania. It is just plain wrong that our justice system does business with people who make a greater profit by locking up more of our community.
We must decriminalize poverty. Our first response should be to connect people in our community with the services they need to get back on their feet and find stable employment. The compassionate approach also happens to be the best use of our tax dollars, because it solves the problem rather than punishing its symptoms.
The purpose of bail is to ensure that a person shows up for their court hearing, yet it has not been proven to do so. About 85% of the people locked up in Lancaster County Prison at any given time are awaiting some sort of court action, plenty of whom are locked up simply because they could not afford to pay. We lock people up for being poor, keeping them from their families and their jobs, further exacerbating their financial struggles. This is not justice.
Finally, our lives depend on treating the opioid crisis and all substance use disorders as the public health issues they are. We wouldn’t send someone to jail for coming down with pneumonia and expect it to heal them. We need to prioritize treatment for our community members who are facing addiction, as it is the only way for them to get better.
What changes would you make to Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system?
We need to modernize our unemployment compensation system. Earlier this year, I went six weeks without income when my job was temporarily suspended and the state’s unemployment compensation program was so unprepared to deal with the sudden recession that they froze up. I know six weeks was nothing compared to coworkers with children who went three and four months without income. We don’t need to reinvent a whole new system ourselves; we can model our own after other states with better responsiveness and long-term outcomes. We need to have contingency plans in place for emergency situations—for example, global pandemics—so we don’t have people dying on the street because of a government freeze.
Since so many of us in this district live paycheck-to-paycheck, I also propose authorizing immediate cash payments in the event of an emergency. We simply cannot wait until after we’ve lost our homes to receive assistance.
Are you confident in the security and results of this election?
I am confident in the postal service, the Board of Elections, and the work that civil servants do to secure free and fair elections.
I am not confident in our state and local representatives or their insistence on supporting the president’s efforts to sow chaos and distrust in the democratic process.
America has no more urgent task than making sure faith in the democratic process prevails. Whether or not the outcome of the election is the one we want, we have to be able to believe in our democracy. Once this process is successfully diluted by those seeking to unlawfully seize power, the very core of self-governance is broken down, along with the freedoms that are so essential to our American culture and identity.