LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — Republican incumbent Jim Cox of the 129th district in the State House will get a challenge in his race for re-election from a 33-year-old Berks County school teacher.
Kelly McDonough, who teaches government in the Wilson School District, is a member of the Berks County Democratic Committee and is a community volunteer. She says she is running for state office because she believes there isn't enough progress happening in the state legislature.
McDonough is a Berks County native and Penn State graduate. She has a husband and two sons.
Jim Cox has been in the state legislature as a representative since his 2006 election. Before that, he was chief of staff to former State Rep. Sam Rohrer.
Cox is the chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee. He is the sponsor of House Bill 76, which would rely on new revenue from the state sales and income taxes to completely replace school district property taxes.
FOX43 sent a candidate questionnaire to Ms. McDonough and attempted to send one to Rep. Cox, who did not respond to our requests for campaign contact information. McDonough's responses are listed below.
1. Why do you want to represent your district?
MCDONOUGH: I've been a government teacher for 9 years. During that time I've taught my students the importance of getting involved in their local communities and that their government is supposed to work for them. Unfortunately, our current government and current representative is not working for them. My opponent is out of touch with the people in his district and does not represent their best interests. I am native to this area and continue to live, work and raise my own children here. I love this community and I would be honored to serve my fellow residents as a representative in the State Legislature. There is not enough progress happening in Pennsylvania and I plan to lead by example for all of my former students and my two small children to ensure that their government works for them. I want to be a voice for those who have been ignored for far too long and work towards positive change in Harrisburg.
2. What area of public policy are you most passionate about and why?
MCDONOUGH: I am passionate about the people in my district. I believe that public policy needs to reflect the needs of the people I represent. That is why I am passionate about creating a livable wage for families, ensuring equality, promoting the rights of all Pennsylvanians, working towards environmental sustainability and providing affordable and quality healthcare. These policies are important not just to me, but because of what they will do for the people of my district.
3. Name three goals you wish to accomplish in the next term if elected?
MCDONOUGH: 1. Create a livable wage 2. Provide affordable and quality healthcare 3. Impose a moratorium on fracking in PA
4. What is the biggest challenge facing Pennsylvanians in the next couple years?
MCDONOUGH: Recovering physically and financially from the COVID-19 pandemic will be the biggest challenge for not only Pennsylvanians, but for our government as well. It will take bipartisanship that puts the need of our people over party loyalty to provide our residents relief and security moving forward. The state will also have to tackle creating a balanced budget while recovering from the pandemic.
5. 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?
MCDONOUGH: The physical and financial well being of all Pennslyvanians need to be our first priority. We need bipartisan efforts that balance people’s economic, physical, and mental well-being to fully recover from COVID-19. Small businesses unable to operate as they would under normal circumstances need government assurances that they will not suffer needlessly during any occupancy or capacity limitations. The small business relief is valuable and needs to be revisited as this pandemic persists. Additionally, our most vulnerable communities need to be protected. Mask wearing needs to be enforced to protect those with pre-existing conditions and to curb the spread of this virus so we can finally fully recover. The mask mandate will not last forever, but in order to continue our forward progress, it is imperative that we wear them now. The state needs to secure and maintain housing for those unable to pay their rent because of the pandemic while ensuring landlords can pay their bills as well. Healthcare and educational professionals continuing to serve our communities require adequate government funding to provide proper PPE and testing capabilities. Policy makers need to take this virus seriously and follow the science at the state and federal level so as to not undo the progress we have made, ensuring that we continue to move towards recovery.
6. 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?
MCDONOUGH: Pennsylvania was recognized nationally for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of keeping people healthy. Unfortunately, some of that came at the cost of people suffering financially. Overall, the actions taken by the state kept people alive but the relief to small businesses needed to come sooner and needs to be revisited even now. There also should have been more fairness in which businesses were allowed to remain open giving opportunities for small businesses to stay in business when the pandemic is over.
7. What needs to be done in order to improve Pennsylvania’s economy?
MCDONOUGH: Pennsylvania needs to consider new revenue streams such as a tax on sugary drinks and tobacco related products to balance the budget and to make up for inadequacies in the budget. Our economy would also benefit from a minimum wage increase which will put more money in people’s pockets for them to spend and stimulate the economy.
8. Social unrest has played out in front of us as citizens protest the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black men and women. What changes are needed to state laws as it relates to criminal justice reform?
MCDONOUGH: Our criminal justice system is broken. We cannot be bystanders any longer to the social and racial injustices existing in our society. Local police departments should be allies in maintaining a safe, equitable and fair community. With reform and reallocation of funds, we can create safer communities. We must give local police departments the resources and support they need while shifting some of their responsibilities to more appropriate social services. We need to invest in our communities from the ground up by bolstering education, jobs and mental health services while combating domestic abuse, drug addiction and homelessness. Rehabilitation of prisoners must also be part of the discussion on criminal justice. Our prisons should work to rehabilitate prisoners so they can become productive members of our society instead of contributing to the already high re-incarceration rate.
9. What changes would you make to Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system?
MCDONOUGH: My priority will be to get people back to work as quickly as possible and to utilize unemployment compensation as a last resort. Unemployment compensation needs to be easier for both employees and employers to manage and process and the state needs some level of oversight to ensure claims are legitimate and that unemployed workers are being adequately compensated.
10. Are you confident in the security and results of this election?
MCDONOUGH: Yes. I am however concerned by some of the rhetoric circulating currently including the possibility of a legislative oversight committee, the removal of drop boxes for mail in ballots and the potential for voter suppression and/or intimidation at the polls. It should be a top priority for every single elected official to make sure everyone has a safe way to vote and that every vote is counted. If we do not have election security we do not have a democracy.