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PA Senate - 15th District: John DiSanto (R) vs. George Scott (D)

GOP incumbent John DiSanto is seeking a second term in the Pennsylvania Senate against Democratic challenger George Scott.

In the race for the Pennsylvania State Senate seat in the 15th District, Harrisburg area businessman John DiSanto is seeking a second term against Army veteran and local pastor George Scott.

Senator DiSanto and Mr. Scott filled out questionnaires supplied to them by FOX43 about their platforms:

1. Why do you want to represent the 15th Senate District?

SENATOR DISANTO: I’ve lived, worked, attended church and supported community organizations in the 15th District my entire life. My opponent moved into a temporary residence in this district less than a year ago just to try and get elected to something finally. I’m committed to the people of this District and have successfully fought for our shared values and our share of state dollars.  

GEORGE SCOTT: After growing up on a family farm in South Central Pennsylvania, I joined the Army and served our nation on active duty for 20 years at home and abroad, in both peacetime and war. After commanding a battalion that consisted of over 1,800 service personnel, I retired as a lieutenant colonel, and later returned home to Pennsylvania with my family to begin serving our community in ministry as a pastor. Now, I am continuing to pursue my lifelong call to public service, this time as an elected representative. The people of Pennsylvania’s 15th Senate District deserve a senator who will speak for everyone. Right now, corporate special interests have plenty of lobbyists and lawmakers to do their bidding, but regular working folks need an ally who will fight for them. 

Credit: PA Senate
Credit: George Scott

2. What area of public policy are you most passionate about and why?SENATOR DISANTO: Jobs and the economy. If we can maintain a strong economy and high employment, we are much more likely to have strong families and communities. That’s why I’ve pushed so hard against job-killing taxes and big-government policies that impede entrepreneurship and growth.

SCOTT: My daughter Alex was born with a serious heart condition that required surgery. Because of that experience, I am deeply committed to ensuring that everyone, including those with pre-existing conditions, can access high-quality, affordable healthcare. Without the health insurance I had as an Army officer, my daughter’s heart condition would have been financially devastating for my family. Twenty-two years later, Alex is a personal reminder of why access to high-quality health care is crucially important—especially for people with pre-existing conditions. As a State Senator, I will fight to make sure all Pennsylvanians can access the care they need at a cost they can afford. 

3. Name three goals you wish to accomplish in the next term if elected?

SENATOR DISANTO: 1) Property Tax Elimination. The politicians won’t do it, so I’ve introduced a constitutional amendment that will let the people of Pennsylvania decide directly. 2) Strengthen Pennsylvania’s Economy. The extreme COVID-19 mitigation restrictions have crushed Pennsylvania’s economy, causing many businesses to close permanently and resulting in double digit unemployment. Only smart, pro-growth policies will get us back on track. 3) Continue Reforming Government. I’ve passed laws to stop public officials who commit felonies from collecting taxpayer-funded pensions, and to give rehabilitated citizens a real opportunity at being able to get state-issued occupational licenses if they have the right credentials. Our government policies should encourage good behavior, not reward corruption.

SCOTT: 1. Providing affordable and accessible health care. No one should have to choose between paying their medical bills and paying their mortgage, rent, or utilities, especially during a pandemic. I’ll fight to protect patients with pre-existing conditions, lower the cost of prescription drugs, and end surprise medical billing.

2. Fostering high-quality public schools. We need a system that offers equal access to educational opportunities regardless of ZIP code. I support equitable funding, expanded pre-K, better teacher pay, and reduced standardized testing.

3. Reforming our state government to work for people, not special interests. It’s time to put the voters back in charge. I’ll work to end partisan gerrymanderi

ng, enact comprehensive campaign finance reform, and make elected officials accountable to the people they serve.

4. What is the biggest challenge facing Pennsylvanians in the next couple years?

SENATOR DISANTO: The biggest challenge is undoubtedly recovering from the COVID-19 mitigation restrictions that have closed businesses and put thousands out of work. Just like our business owners and families, our state, local governments and schools are all going to face difficult financial and operational decisions in the coming years, and we need people in office who have the experience and vision to effectively manage through these challenges and bring us out stronger.

SCOTT: Exactly one week after the November election, the United States Supreme Court will hear a case to overturn protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This case is the product of years of lobbying by special interests in the insurance industry. If they are successful at overturning federal protections for pre-existing conditions, state governments will be the last line of defense between medical bankruptcy and millions of people with pre-existing medical conditions. This problem could be particularly pronounced given that anyone who has contracted COVID-19 will be considered to have a pre-existing condition.

In the event that federal protections for pre-existing conditions are overturned—and the changing composition of the Court suggests this is a real possibility—Pennsylvania will need leaders who are willing to stand up to special interests and pass replacement protections at the state level. The leaders we choose this election will decide how we respond to this challenge in the years ahead. We need lawmakers who will put the interests of working Pennsylvanians first—not politicians who have taken tens of thousands of dollars from special interest groups.

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?
SENATOR DISANTO: Just as I’ve done since COVID-19 started, I’ll work in a bipartisan manner to support our frontline workers, health care facilities and vulnerable populations so they have the resources they need to stay safe. At the same time, I’ll continue advocating for policies that allow our economy to reopen while minimizing risk so we can begin getting back to normal, people can work and recreate more freely, and businesses can serve their customers.

SCOTT: In the short term, we need to ensure robust testing and contact tracing. We also need to observe commonsense mitigation strategies such as mask wearing and social distancing. When a vaccine becomes available, we must guarantee that access to it is widespread and equitable.

It’s also essential that we provide aid to small businesses to address the economic effects of the pandemic. Beyond the immediate public health and economic response to COVID-19, lawmakers need to be mindful of how they respond to the state budget implications of the pandemic. During and after the Great Recession of 2008-9, Pennsylvania drastically cut its social services programming and education funding to address revenue shortfalls. This was a shortsighted decision that exacerbated inequities and balanced the state budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in our commonwealth. Preserving education and critical programming funding must be among Pennsylvania’s top priorities in the years ahead.

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?

SENATOR DISANTO: As a federal judge recently ruled, key components of the mitigation strategy, while well-intended, are unconstitutional, including the broad business closures and limits on gatherings. I believe a better outcome, which would have saved lives from COVID-19, impacted our economy and jobs less severely and avoided the negative physical and mental health consequences from the shutdown, could have been achieved had the governor consulted additional medical professionals and sought a cooperative approach with the legislature. Too many of the edicts have been arbitrary and inconsistent, without a clear rationale and supporting data.

SCOTT: President Trump’s White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Pennsylvania has done “a really terrific job” addressing the current pandemic, and I agree with that assessment. Pennsylvania’s top public health officials have done a commendable job of implementing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations into state policy. Our commonwealth’s leadership has also appropriately balanced its response with decision-making at the local level.

For example, the Department of Education and Department of Health worked together to develop guidelines for Pennsylvania school districts to establish individual health and safety plans. This placed the decision about whether schools would operate in-person, online, or in a hybrid environment in the hands of local school district officials, which I believe is the correct decision at this time.

7. What needs to be done in order to improve Pennsylvania’s economy?

SENATOR DISANTO: We need to allow businesses to operate more freely, let people who want to work get back to their jobs and avoid reckless government spending and overreach that will result in higher taxes. In contrast to what my opponent is saying, what won’t improve Pennsylvania’s economy is a broad expansion of government control and expensive new programs that will take away our freedoms and raise taxes.

SCOTT: While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused a recession, Pennsylvania’s underlying economic fundamentals remain strong. In the current environment, job creation depends first on defeating COVID-19. In September, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx noted that Pennsylvania's pandemic response has been one of the best in the entire country. So we need to keep listening to public health experts and following their recommendations to reduce the spread of the virus.

But we also need to promote job creation by ensuring that federal and state relief funds go first to small businesses, because they are the primary engine of job creation, rather than ending up in the pockets of large corporations. Small businesses have fewer resources to deal with the paperwork required to access these funds, while large corporations have a clear advantage. I saw this firsthand when my wife, Donna, was trying to access relief funding for her small business during the pandemic.

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?

SENATOR DISANTO: Unlike some politicians who talk a lot but do little, I’ve engaged my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to implement real criminal justice reform. In my first term we passed the Clean Slate Law to remove a minor criminal record’s lifelong barriers to full participation in society, we enacted Justice Reinvestment Initiative laws to be smarter on sentencing and reduce recidivism, and I authored and got passed occupational licensure reform so state licensing boards can’t disqualify otherwise deserving applicants for an old or irrelevant criminal record.

Pennsylvania continues to implement policies and actual practices that avoid the types of incidents which ignited protests across the country. We acted decisively by passing laws to ensure an officer’s misconduct records are available to police departments, officers undergo mental health evaluations at the request of their chief or an incident involving lethal force, and officers receive training on de-escalation techniques, bias and cultural awareness. We are also continuing to refine additional reforms around reporting of use of force incidents by police departments and specific provisions to be included in use of force policies and made available for public review.
I’m pleased to have a strong working relationship with the law enforcement agencies in my district and to be able to engage with them in an open and honest dialogue, and I appreciate their efforts at building solid and healthy community-police relations.

SCOTT: We need to start by recognizing that systemic racism is real, and that when we talk about systemic racism, we are referring to institutional inequities rather than simply personal prejudice on the basis of race. Accordingly, it isn’t enough to change hearts and minds on this issue—we must also change the laws and policies that affect how our society operates.

I support the 8 Can’t Wait campaign, which advocates for eight specific policing reforms that have been statistically demonstrated to lead to more positive interactions between police officers and the community members they serve. The 8 Can’t Wait reforms include de-escalation training, banning chokeholds, and other common sense measures, many of which police departments across our commonwealth have already implemented or plan to implement in the near future.

Beyond that, we need to ensure that we’re not asking our police officers to handle situations that are outside of the scope of their training. For example, officers are frequently dispatched as first responders in mental health crises. Dauphin County has a pilot program that sends mental health and other specialized providers as co-responders with police officers when they are called to respond to these types of incidents. We need to use the lessons learned from this pilot program to improve policing and community support services statewide.

9. What changes would you make to Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system?

SENATOR DISANTO: Since the business closure orders went into effect and more than 3 million Pennsylvanians lost their jobs through no fault of their own and were forced to seek unemployment compensation, my office has been inundated by frustrated constituents not receiving benefits rightfully owed to them and unable to resolve the matter through the Department of Labor & Industry. Department leadership, even though they began discussing the potential impact in January, did not prepare to handle the increase in claims and have performed negligently over the past six months. I called for the resignation or removal of the Secretary in May, yet still the Governor accepts this incompetence from someone with no experience for the role except having provided political support to the Governor’s campaign.Hundreds of millions of tax dollars have been squandered on a computer upgrade that was supposed to have been completed years ago and has just been delayed again. Hundreds of millions of dollars in duplicate and fraudulent payments have been made, including to Pennsylvania prison inmates whose ineligibility should have been detected, while legitimate claimants have waited for months and still can’t get through to the Department. Pennsylvanians have been disserved by a government bureaucracy that rewards political favoritism over competence and merit.

SCOTT: Pennsylvania’s system for processing and managing unemployment claims is severely outdated. This issue has been compounded by the massive pandemic-related surge in unemployment claims. It’s critically important that we implement the planned Unemployment Compensation Benefits Modernization system with all practical speed. This new system will include online dashboard access for applicants that has the potential to reduce processing time and strengthen identity verification measures to reduce fraudulent claims.

In the meantime, we need to ensure that the Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) has the temporary resources and staffing necessary to handle this transition as well as process the backlog of applications that has been caused by COVID-19. Unfortunately, when the General Assembly voted on a measure with overwhelming bipartisan support to provide these vital resources to L&I, my opponent was one of only five senators who opposed it. Some lawmakers have proposed arbitrarily firing top-level L&I officials to address the backlog, but that idea fails to understand the underlying cause of the backlog and would only make the situation worse by unnecessarily throwing the department into a chaotic transition

10. Are you confident in the security and results of this election?'

SENATOR DISANTO: As chair of the Senate State Government Committee, I have worked to ensure election security and for accurate, timely election results. My committee passed legislation several weeks ago that would tighten security and increase confidence in the reported outcome, but the Governor has indicated his opposition and the State Supreme Court in a recent ruling decided non-statutory and non-secured “drop boxes” may be used to collect ballots, and mail-in ballots received after Election Day without a postmark may be counted. While I believe ballots cast in-person on Election Day and legally cast and returned mail-in ballots will be counted and reported accurately, I am concerned there will be irregularities in some counties (like we recently saw in Luzerne County with the discarding of returned military absentee ballots) that may raise questions about close races.

SCOTT: I am confident in the security and results of this election—but it is critical that we make sure every vote is counted. As a veteran, I can personally vouch for mail-in voting. I voted by mail for years while serving our country in the Army. Democracy works because it gives people a voice, and a vote, to hold elected leaders accountable. Mail-in voting makes sure everyone can be heard, even during this pandemic when many are concerned about their health, safety, or ability to vote on Election Day. That’s why I support counting ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, allowing counties to utilize drop boxes to collect ballots, and giving local election officials a reasonable pre-canvassing period to ensure that every vote can be counted in a timely fashion. I also oppose efforts to suppress voting, such as rejecting ballots sent in without a secrecy envelope. We’re facing the most severe pandemic in over 100 years. Mail-in voting isn’t about partisan politics—it's about keeping our communities safe and our democracy strong.