The political climate in Washington State may become similar to that in Pennsylvania should Rob McKenna become Governor of Washington State this fall. UWEE sat down with State Sen. Leach to discuss the similarities.
BRYN MAWR, Penn. — During our Pennsylvania road trip, we traveled to the 17th Senatorial District to interview State Senator Daylin Leach (D). Senator Leach served under Pennsylvania’s former Governor Ed Rendell (D) and has seen the dramatic changes in the State government under its current Governor, Tom Corbett (R).
The political climate in Washington State may become similar to that in Pennsylvania should Rob McKenna, who is currently favored to win, become Governor of Washington State this fall. McKenna has made promises similar to those Corbett made while campaigning: Prioritizing education, putting cost cutting reforms into place in order to balance the budget, and managing state services.
We arrived at the Senator’s office to a flurry of activity. Volunteers were preparing to “Get Out The Vote” by canvassing neighborhoods and making phone calls. We asked Senator Leach, a self described liberal, to discuss changes he has seen under the new administration and to address issues that his constituents have faced since Governor Corbett has taken office. Our hope was to shed light on possible parallels Washingtonians may themselves face should McKenna be elected.
Crick: Washington State may face a regime change similar to the one that Pennsylvania recently faced with the election of Governor Corbett should Rob McKenna be elected in November. What types of challenges have the people of Pennsylvania faced since the governor has taken over?
Leach: I’m going to answer that question from my perspective. It has been a sea change in how we do things in Pennsylvania and some people think that’s good, some people think that’s bad. I think that’s bad.
One of the things that happened was that the governor has taken some blood oath that he will not increase or accept any increased revenues into the state coffers from any source. As a result there is some extremely low hanging fruit in terms of revenues that virtually every other state takes advantage of, [and] he will not take advantage of, which has resulted in a major constriction of resources.
And the constricted resources has led to dramatic changes in education, other neglect of transportation issues, a complete gutting of the social safety net, there’s only a couple things he has found money for somehow. Prisons, more money for prisons, and when they wanted to pass a voter I.D. (law) to disenfranchise 800,000 Democratic leaning voters, they somehow found 11 million dollars to implement that.
[In] higher education…He’s proposed, over a two-year period, a fifty percent cut. To me that’s not a cut, that’s an abandonment of the role of government in providing higher education for kids, and I don’t believe this is the end of the cuts. He is very clear about pushing to remove the state from the role of educating people both at the K-12 level and at the college level.
While UWEE was in Pennsylvania, there was quite an uproar about schools closing under the Corbett administration. This came as a surprise to some Pennsylvania residents as Corbett had campaigned on a pro-school platform. One wonders what steps a Governor McKenna administration would take in addressing K-12 education.
Crick: Rob McKenna is against closing schools, when Corbett was running he advocated “Enhancing Educational Opportunities” through various initiatives, most of which would have required additional funding. Corbett’s tune has since changed, and he has taken balancing the budget as the number one priority and is cutting educational funding. At what cost do we balance the budget?
Leach: When you say balance the budget it’s not a metaphysically difficult thing to conceptualize. There’s only a couple ways to do it. It’s simple mathematics, you either cut spending, or you increase revenues. Governor Corbett has said the revenue thing is off the table, entirely, so a 100% of the balance has to come from cuts.
Let me just say parenthetically that he says sometimes when he’s giving a speech to people who don’t really question him: We have to run the state like a family. Family sits around the kitchen table and they make tough decisions and the state has to do the same thing. Imagine you’re a family and the head of it comes in and says, “Guess what kids, we have a tough budget situation, we gotta make some severe cuts, we’re going down to two meals a day, no new sneakers for you Jimmy, no violin lessons for you Sally, we’re cutting all of this stuff. The one thing that I promise this family is that I will not accept one more dime of income into this house. I will not ask for a raise, I will not get a second job, I will not buy a lottery ticket, or if I buy one if I win it I will throw it away. I promise you, that’s my solemn commitment to you. Not one thing of additional revenue. Which is insane! Absolutely insane.
So we are now in a situation where it all has to come from cuts but keep in mind much of the state budget can’t be cut because of state law, federal law, or contractual obligations. All of the cuts have to come from a sliver like a third of the state budget, the discretionary funding part of the budget. And we have to keep going back to those same places because that’s the only place we can go.
These are cuts that burden people of low income disproportionately, we are balancing the budget on the backs of the poorest people in Pennsylvania. One of the areas that gets cut over and over and over again is the environment: environmental protection. We are building 30,000 new wells for Marcellus Shale drilling but we are dramatically cutting the number of people whose job it is to go out and inspect these wells to make sure that they are being run appropriately.
Crick: How would you balance the budget?
Leach: First of all, I would say, “Kids, remember Dad who said no new revenue? Well Mom has left him, and I’m the new Dad. We are going to have some revenues.”
Number one, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that doesn’t tax smokeless tobacco. Kentucky and Virginia tax smokeless tobacco, we do not. Marcellus Shale, the national average is about 6% in terms of the tax rate on the extraction of energy from the ground, but [in Pennsylvania we have a] rate of about 1.7%. However that’s not even true because the way they passed it, it’s not a state wide tax like the rest of these are. This is a county levy tax which means a county with drilling decides what the tax rate is for their rigs in their county. The problem is the number of counties are run by what we affectionately call Tea Party Crazies which are not going to vote for any tax at all, so the effective rate isn’t going to be 1.7% it will be probably be under 1%. I would go to 7.
Then I would use that money to restore education money, use it to restore the human services money, try to save some money in prisons, try to save some money in some of the other things we talked about. We are all for efficiency everywhere in government.
Crick: Redistricting has become controversial here in Pennsylvania. Washington is being redistricted right now. Can you talk about the affect this has had on the people of Pennsylvania?
Leach: We’re among the most aggressively gerrymandered states in the country, and have been. Keep in mind that [when the] US Supreme Court did their political gerrymandering case [they] picked Pennsylvania because we are the worst. The state redistricting was so bad that the Supreme Court actually struck it down and we’re going through the process again.
Gerrymandering is terrible, really a cancer on democracy, for a couple of reasons. It leads to no accountability on the part of politicians and it leads to people’s votes not counting. The real reason that gerrymandering is such a cancer is because it is eliminating moderate politicians in America. If I’m in a 50/50 district I can lose to the other side so I have an incentive to look reasonable and to reach across the aisle and to say I’ve done bipartisan things to appeal to the other side, because that’s my political incentive. There used to be the Wednesday Club where it was moderate Republicans, there used to be the Blue Dog Democrats, now they are all gone. Olympia Snowe is it in the senate at this point and she is leaving. Now we’re left with ideological extremes which is why we can’t get anything done because there are no adults any more. There are no more people who like getting in the back room and making a deal and trying to move something forward. Our leaders have no courage — it’s all about winning the next election.
McKenna and Washington State Governor Gregoire have not seen eye to eye on Obama’s Health Care since he announced when attorney general, that he was taking a stand with Pennsylvania, and nine other states, that the proposal is unconstitutional. Leach explained what happened on Corbett’s first day in office.
Crick: When McKenna, who is favored now to win, was attorney general, he sued over Obama’s Health Care. What are your opinions about health care?
Leach: Obama Care which is what they are calling it now. You know to me it is not perfect, I supported single payer. I do not understand the value that the insurance industry adds to health care in America. I just don’t see the value of that. All they do is distribute and make payments which the government can do without taking 20% of it for profit.
On the broader policy issue the problem is that if you strike this down, which is what Mr. McKenna wants apparently and what Tom Corbett did as attorney general, there is no plan B. I can’t speak to Washington, but in Pennsylvania there will be 800,000 Pennsylvanians who that day lose their health coverage. What do you do about that? Governor Corbett not only has no answer, he has demonstrated complete indifference to that.
The very first thing that happened under Governor Corbett was that [there was] a program called Adult Basic, and he eliminated the program. Sworn into office, the next day, 42,000 people in Pennsylvania lost their health care.
Crick: We asked Governor Corbett yesterday about the Fetal Ultrasound bill, and the line that he said, that women could “just close their eyes.” What do you think of the bill and all of the heat that the Governor took?
Leach: I think the heat was incredibly deserved. I was the first one to call him out on that. I couldn’t believe he said that out loud. Then he tried to back track and say well of course I am only talking about if it’s external not internal. As if an external ultrasound against a woman’s will is really what the government should be enforcing. You can’t let him get away with that. Keep in mind the bill, if read literally, requires the most effective way of getting a fetal reading and that is internal the first three months.
If it ever comes up I’m going to introduce an amendment saying nothing in this bill shall be construed to require an internal ultrasound at any point in pregnancy but that’s not what the law says now and the governor supports the law. So for him to say internal not external, I mean come on, if you really believe that women should not be subjected to this say I will veto that bill if it comes to my desk. But he hasn’t said that, he has said I will sign that bill. I don’t think we can let him get away with this and then try to temper it by saying well but I of course believe in this more moderate thing that the bill doesn’t actually say.
Crick: Do you think that the G.O.P. is engaging in a “war on women?”
Leach: Oh God yeah! This isn’t a subtle question if you look around the country and see the legislation — I mean what was the one bill that you have to tell your boss why you’re taking birth control? And get your bosses approval for the reason you’re taking birth control. It’s craziness! These ultrasound bills — not just Pennsylvania — it’s about 15 or 16 states now that are passing this.
Then you have Romney who just makes my skin crawl. He used to go to Planned Parenthood events. He used to write checks to Planned Parenthood because he was running for governor of Massachusetts. Now he wants to “get rid of planned parenthood.” I don’t know if you saw this, but a high school student asked him Where are all the women who get mammograms and ovarian cancer screenings supposed to go who can’t afford it? And he said,” They can go anywhere they want, it’s a free country.” Really, they actually can’t go anywhere they want because other places will say where’s your money and if you don’t have any they will send you away. But just the fact that he gave such a blithe dismissive answer when there’s women’s lives on the line. I think the war on women is obvious. It’s not only contraception and birth control and abortion and all that stuff. Governor Walker just signed a repeal of the equal pay provisions in Wisconsin. Of course they are waging a war on women, there’s no doubt about that.
Crick: What can politicians do to earn back its citizens trust in government?
Leach: I think the citizens have to be discerning. I think that some politicians deserve the trust of citizens and I think others don’t. I don’t think it’s that hard to tell, I think you have to pay attention. I think the citizens have some obligation here too: they can’t just sit there passively waiting to earn trust. They’ve got to go out and find people who are trustworthy and work for them and work against people who are not.