First the tl;dr…watch the video, even just a few minutes. You will get an immediate sense of how different we are. I truly appreciated the civility of the discussion, but there were also mega fireworks under that surface. In the annotations that follow, I will explain several key moments, add context and commentary, and shine the spotlight in a few areas that illuminate how our visions for NWPA differ. But, seriously, watch the video!
5:00 Forum actually starts. But feel free to listen to five minutes of catchy jingle.
6:45 Brad Roae’s opening statement begins.
7:04 Roae: “Ever since goin’ to Harrisburg, I’ve always had the approach that I’m gonna vote how the majority of the people in the District would vote if all of you got to go to Harrisburg.” Commentary: This is a KEY point for the whole night, which illustrates Rep. Roae’s philosophy. He literally begins his night by saying he is purely partisan, reflecting a philosophy of governance that doesn’t try to consider the interests and needs of ALL of the people in his District. He further illustrates the point by listing the platform “issues” of his tenure in Harrisburg, which are all pretty bland and tired right-wing clichés. The takeaway, which is deeply troubling: he is not interested in representing you if you don’t already agree with him.
7:41 Roae: “My Democratic opponent…” Commentary: this is another KEY point of the night. Rep. Roae literally never calls me by name. Ever. On one hand, that’s rude. But whatever. It also makes clear that he is not running against ME; he is running against an imaginary Democratic Bogeyman, with a presumption that an imaginary pure Republican is always better. This is also troubling, from a representative perspective, because he signals that he’s not interested in the issues of the District…just the issues of D vs. R.
7:42 Roae: “…he supports increasing the personal income tax…” Commentary: C’mon Brad! This is the beginning of a quick salvo that reiterates what he did last week on his Facebook page. He offers narrow and distorted claims about my positions. I describe later in the forum my position on tax revenue, and the importance of exploring the Fair Share Tax proposal, which actually lowers or holds-the-same the state income tax for 86% of District residents, while raising $2 billion in the first year. More later on this. The takeaway is that Rep begins his night trying to goad me into a generic D vs. R debate, and by trying to mischaracterize who I am and what I stand for. No worries. Most of those issues come out in more detail later.
8:48 Roae repeats his mantra that he votes how “most of you” would vote. Which, let me add, I don’t think is true. He votes how most of the loud trolls on his Facebook page would vote. Otherwise, he relies on the general support of Republicans who have voted straight ticket in the past.
8:51 Roae: “My opponent, his position on issues seems to be more like he would be representing Philadelphia rather than our local area here.” Commentary: I almost LOL’d at the forum right there. This is both predictable and ridiculous. He’s trying to cast me, again, as the Democratic Bogeyman and, even worse, as a Philadelphia Democratic Bogeyman! There are just so many ways this is a false and lazy characterization, intended to provoke a rise in folks who see Philadelphia as the ultimate arch enemy of Western Pennsylvania. And, hey man, I grew up an hour from Pittsburgh, a Penguins, Steelers, Pirates fan! How DARE you! LOL. Also, the issues of Philadelphia — high poverty, limited opportunity — are actually issues shared by the people in District 6.
9:01 Roae goes into the listing of his biography. Like the flier. Trying to frame himself as the only legitimate rep because of his birth zip code. You know the list.
9:34 I begin my opening statement.
9:52 Matt: “I grew up in Indiana County…” Commentary: the point here is clear, I think, but I’ll accent it a touch. My birth county is identical to Crawford County. I grew up on a farm, did farm things, know that world. And I also recognize that Indiana County and Crawford County are a lot more than the narrow clichés some might repeat. And both have struggled from departing industries, have college towns, and need a complex rep to help find solutions for complex problems. I am no different than the people of District 6, no matter what Rep. Roae tries to spin.
10:54 I emphasize investment in the future, and in the public good. This is everything to my campaign. We struggle because no one will invest in us, and that includes (sadly) our legislators. They’re fine with the issues we have: Crawford County ranking 56th out of 67 PA counties in per capita income, 1 in 4 people in Meadville living in poverty. I’m not fine with that.
11:15 “I am running tonight and talking to you tonight not as the Democrat Representative of the District, but to be the representative for all the people in the District. I’m not interested in partisan politics. I’m not interested in talking points. I’m not interested in supporting corporations. I’m interested in going to Harrisburg to stand up for the people of Crawford and Erie Count(ies). This is an enormously complex District that runs from Fairview to Meadville.” Commentary: Yeah. This. This is it. Also, notice “Fairview.” Rep. Roae never mentions Fairview even once in the night. And he’s supposed to represent them too. All the people in the District. That’s the key takeaway here, and one of the biggest contrasts to Rep. Roae’s opening statement, perspective, and legislative record.
12:38 Roae: “School funding is an interesting thing.” Commentary: Indeed.
14:55 Matt: “Pennsylvania has one of the most inequitable school funding models in the country.” Commentary: Which is not good!
Commentary: probably just listen to this sequence. You can likely guess who wants to create equitable funding for schools, and who wants to reduce budgets, and who mentions that Fairview exists.
17:06 Here comes the question of the governor and “checks and balances” on emergency declarations.
17:21 Matt: “First of all, governor Wolf is not on the ballot this year. We need to talk about…what did the legislature do. What were our elected state representative doing to work within the system we have?” Context: the whining all summer from the House majority was an abdication of duty and a bad faith effort to play politics instead of solve problems. The bills written all summer were written to-be-vetoed, and we know that because the GOP refused to allow amendments that required PPE, hazard pay, and paid time off for front line workers. In short, they didn’t want bills that would be acceptable to the Governor or that would gain full bipartisan support in the legislature. If they had worked as a legislature, negotiating within their own branch of government, they could have passed bipartisan bills that would have helped workers and small business owners, and it would not have mattered whether or not the Governor vetoed them. True bipartisan bills would be able to overturn a veto.
18:49 Matt: “We need to recognize what we’re going through right now, with people losing jobs, having economic problems, is because the legislature didn’t work all summer. And that’s why you’re probably not going to get to have Thanksgiving with your extended family this year.” Commentary: To me, this is huge, following up on the previous point. The fact is, we are experiencing record Covid cases right now in the Commonwealth and here in Crawford County. But because the legislature failed in the duties of its work, we are not in a good spot. So, to stay safe and mitigate spread, people will need to make the agonizing decision to skip big family get togethers this Thanksgiving. Otherwise, we run the risk of a further escalation of spread. Here’s an article that frames that issue within the context of Canadian Thanksgiving, which took place in early October, and which led to case spikes.
19:08 Roae: “I encourage everybody: see your extended family at Thanksgiving. The government cannot tell you to not see your family at Thanksgiving.” Commentary: Rep. Roae is either missing the point or ignoring the point. I’m not saying the government will (or could) mandate that folks can’t get together. I’m saying that we are in a state of pandemic that makes such gatherings risky, and that risk has been exacerbated by the legislatures failure to act AND by some politicians’ repeated suggestions that public health measures should be ignored or disregarded. As he did here.
19:40 Roae: “The five liberal Democrats and two moderate Republicans on the PA Supreme Court made a decision…” Commentary: Rep. Roae makes it clear that he doesn’t see value in either Democrats or moderate Republicans, and cannot recognize a unanimous court decision that upheld the Governor’s decisions. This dovetails with his comments about how he views his role as a representative. He appears to only value, and represent, and vote for the interests of right-wing individuals and, more so, the PACs that fund his campaign.
Further commentary: notice through this section how the ONLY person Rep. Roae talks about is the Governor. He won’t address the legislature, and is really running against the Governor. Who is not.on.the.ballot.
21:36 Rep. Roae suggests schools saved tons of money because of the spring shutdown. He also says Pennsylvania schools spend too much, relative to the US average.
23:08 Matt: “It’s true that Pennsylvania ranks #10 in school spending in the country, but it’s also true that Pennsylvania ranks #10 in outcomes for their students. You get what you pay for.” Commentary: I think that one’s pretty self explanatory!
23:26 I talk about the financial impact of the shutdown, how saying it saved money ignores the significant extra costs incurred to retrofit the schools for Fall 2020. PPE. Ventilation. Technology. Context: Schools had to spend a lot to keep our kids safe, in an uncertain health environment, that could have been greatly improved if — it bears repeating — the legislature had worked in the interest of public health. Their desire to open everything up in the summer kept cases at a high baseline, which meant we started the fall behind the eight ball. Their decisions had consequences that mean students have to balance hybrid ed, and parents have to balance monitoring their kids learning from home while they work from home, and we all have to worry about the potential for outbreaks.
24:03 I hit the Fair Share Tax proposal in full, and I speak back directly against Rep. Roae’s misleading opening statement that I want to raise taxes. It bears repeating: 86% of District 6 residents would see the same or lower taxes in that plan (I misspoke at the forum, by the way, apologies!), and even folks who make 104-215k would only see slight increases. And we would raise $2 billion by taxing the very wealthy, which could help our immediate school revenue shortfall, and help address overall revenue shortfalls next year, and set us up for a stronger ongoing future.
25:00 A question on the minimum wage. This is an important question, and the answers are illuminating.
25:32 Matt: “I definitely favor the increase.” Commentary: I speak about a living wage, too. Here’s the link to the MIT data I reference. A single parent with one chid in Crawford County needs $22.28 an hour for a living wage.
26:23 Matt: “The point is, all work has dignity. And if we don’t pay people at a rate that allows them to live and afford to live, we’re not affording them dignity. Whether they’re working at a fast food restaurant, or whether they’re painting someone’s house, or whether they’re a physician, we need to honor all work of all Pennsylvanians and make sure they have enough to get by.”
26:51 Roae: an interesting series. 1) He states that Governor Wolf made the minimum wage zero when he closed businesses (so…umm…who is on the ballot again?); 2) He says only 1.5% of jobs pay minimum wage, which is fewer than 100,000 jobs; 3) he wonders why adults would be working minimum wage jobs, which seems to be blaming folks who do, which is pretty nasty. Commentary: This bears a minute or two. First of all, to say that only 100,000 people or so are being exploited by minimum wage jobs is to say you’re okay with 100,000 people being exploited. That’s not okay, period. Plus, Rep. Roae is skipping over the significant wage space between $7.25 an hour and the $15 an hour proposed new future minimum. For example, a person getting $10 an hour is struggling, right now, and they would also get a raise (obviously) with an increased minimum. In fact, the per capita income in Meadville equates to less than $12 an hour. Admittedly that includes some folks who are out of work, so the actual number of people working in Meadville at that low rate is not, well, everyone. But the per capita income of Crawford County (remember: 56th out of 67) indicates that a significant percentage of the folks in the District are receiving substandard wages. They too would be helped by increased minimum wages. In fact, 1.75 million Pennsylvanians make less than $15 an hour.
31:44 Matt: “When I talk to people up in Fairview…” Commentary: the rep for this District ought to, y’know, mention Fairview, which is a part of the District.
32:17 Matt: “Gerrymandering destroys democracy, because…it allows incumbents to run without opposition, and they don’t even have to think about the opposition, because they have a lock based on the registration of their district.” Commentary: refer back to Rep. Roae’s comments at 7:04. That’s how gerrymandering works, and how it leads to representation that ignores a large portion of a population…because it can, without consequence.
41:25 The question comes about open carry at the polls. This is another section worth listening to (well, listen to the whole forum!). I accent, again, that I am not an outsider to guns and gun culture, but that it is totally reasonable to have people leave their guns in their car or truck when they’re voting. Open carry in a poll is, without a doubt, voter intimidation. Rep. Roae’s response is to talk about concealed carry, before getting to the point on open carry…when, oddly, he seems to agree with me. Hmmm.
45:16 Roae: (fidgets with his collar, because the question asked has him pinned…the question is about term limits) “Y’know, I kind of take it two years at a time…as far as term limits go, I have never said that, y’know, I never made any pledge or anything about term limits.” Commentary: Brad Roae in 2008: “I introduced a bill establishing a 12 year term limit for Legislators.” So, I guess that’s not a pledge, per se…but c’mon.
47:43 Matt: “I think the civic duty of every voter is to look carefully at the record of every person, every year they run, and see what they have accomplished, see what they are saying, and make a decision at the ballot box.” Commentary: that’s really all I ask.
52:25 Brad: “There’s still around a billion dollars of federal funding that we haven’t spent yet.” Commentary: Yeah. About that. This is CARES act money that Roae and the legislative majority have been sitting on, which could have already been allocated to help workers and businesses. He tosses this off as a sidelight, but it’s a huge deal. Read this. In this section of the forum, Rep. Roae is talking about budget shortfalls, and he seems to be suggesting cuts as the way out. That will, without a doubt, put pressure on municipal and school district budgets. And that could very well mean increased local taxes to cover the state’s austerity. Such moves are a way to pretend you are against tax increases, when you just make other people levy the increase.
54:16 Matt: “Pennsylvania has what is called an upside down tax system.” Commentary: when you add up sales tax, property tax, and income tax, low and middle wage earners pay a higher share of their wages in taxes than high wage earners. That’s upside down, and that’s what the Fair Share Tax proposal seeks to remedy. As well, we need to end the Delaware Loophole that lets companies dodge PA taxes through legal accounting manipulations. We have immediate revenue shortfalls from Covid, and ongoing revenue issues to address. Catering to the ultra-wealthy isn’t working for most Pennsylvanians, and definitely not for most in District 6. Plus, billionaires have been doing great during Covid, even though most of us are getting hurt. That’s not fair, or right.
1:02:23 Matt: “One of my biggest frustrations of the state response is that we pretended that it was a choice between two difficult problems. Is it an economic problem? Or is it a public health problem? It’s been both problems at the same time.” Commentary: So much this. Covid is not an either-or. It is a serious health problem, and a serious economic problem. Opening up fully ignores the former, and refusing to offer financial support for workers and small businesses ignores the latter. Plus, opening up fully makes the health situation worse AND the economic problem worse. All it does, really, is make it your fault if you go broke, because you’re “open.” If people don’t actually eat at your restaurant during a pandemic in the volumes you need (and, likely, they won’t), regardless of how open you are “allowed” to be you will suffer economically. But since you’re allowed to be open, suddenly the legislature doesn’t need to help you out. It’s your fault your restaurant is failing. Of course, it’s not. It’s. A. Pandemic. Government shouldn’t try to make your life harder, which is what Rep. Roae and the legislative majority have done.
1:02:55 Matt: “We’re also right now at a record day for new cases in Pennsylvania. We’ve seen here in Meadville a really concerning spike.” Commentary: the fall spike is here. Even during the day I wrote this, it got worse, with Crawford County having it’s own new record day. This is the problem, exacerbated by politicians who decided to make Covid a political issue, who suggested guidelines should be ignored, and did not push hard for everyone to wear masks, which are simple, cheap, and effective. No one likes them. That’s not the point. And Legislators needed to lead, and Roae and the House majority chose, instead, to campaign all summer by squandering the time and cultivating anti-mask sentiment. They have made our fall and winter more difficult.
1:03:17 Matt: “We should not have been forcing workers and businesses to make a decision between whether they open up and risk getting sick, or don’t open up and risk going broke.”
1:04:42 Matt: “I’m hopeful we’ll have consistent public messaging from elected officials that we can take this pandemic seriously. One of the things that has caused the pandemic to increase is the number of politicians, in the state house and also in the federal government, that perpetuated the hoax that Covid is a hoax.” Commentary: this should be a major consideration for every voter in every race. The core duty of government is to keep the public safe, and they failed. They failed because it suited their own purposes.
1:05:23 Matt: “If we can’t get it together as a people to look out for fellow Pennsylvanians, we’re gonna be in a really rough spot economically and in public health.” Commentary: I’m talking about Covid here specifically, and how we really are in control of our own fate, even as myopic politicians try to blame everyone but themselves. But this sentence holds true for it all. This is my campaign in a nutshell. We have to look out for each other. We have been led astray by elected officials who want us divided, who literally say they only vote with a single faction, who demonstrate no care for the Commonwealth. Here in NWPA, that sort of cycnial and destructive “leadership” has held us back economically for a very long time. How we care for our neighbors tells us a lot about how our future will take form. When we turn away from the community, we turn away from our better future selves.
1:07:12 Roae: “It doesn’t make any sense to force healthy people into quarantine. That’s not how things are usually done. Usually sick people are placed into quarantine, so they don’t get other people sick. The flu virus is gonna go around this year also, just like it always does, so are we gonna do all this for the regular flu?” Commentary: Gaaaaaaa! Either Rep. Roae doesn’t understand how Covid works (quite possible) or he’s willfully distorting how it works (scary if true). A) Covid is not usual, and the whole issue of Covid is that you Don’t.Want.To.Get.It, and preventing its rapid spread is crucial to preventing the wildfire growth it demonstrates. You can seem healthy and be a carrier, so everyone needs to work together to look out for other people. That’s what makes it hard for fierce individualists. You can’t muscle through this. You can only get through it by caring for someone else first. If you only think of yourself first — the perspective of the kind of right-wing ethos on display in Rep. Roae’s track record — Covid wins. It is a disease that can be battled only through humility and mutual care. B) It is NOT.THE.FLU. I think Rep. Roae knows this, yet he’s creating the false equivalency to scare folks with the specter of ongoing government control. It’s lazy and cynical. C) You know what? If we made sure everyone had paid sick leave, including paid family sick leave, we could control seasonal flu outbreaks a lot better than we do. Many vulnerable folks needlessly die every year from flu because we refuse to give people the tools to prevent its spread. Maybe it’s time to stop calling cruelty a fiscal strategy.
1:07:45 Roae: “We need to live our lives” Commentary: I agree. And needless death is not living. We are fast approaching 9,000 Pennsylvanians who are not living their lives, very much because politicians refuse to take public health seriously. (Obviously, Rep. Roae means something very different than that in this segment. Which is why I am asking for your vote.)
1:13:30 Matt: “I actually don’t think the Republican party, from a fiscal perspective, and an economic development perspective, has done well by rural American either. It wants to divest from public investment, when we’re the very places, particularly here in a post-industrial part of the country, where we need reinvestment in order to move forward.” Commentary: Yup. The whole Never.Voted.For.A.Tax.Increase boast is really a way for Rep. Roae to say he is not interested in public investment. That is a way to say he’s fine with things as they are. Well, 1 in 4 in poverty, and 56th out of 67 in per capita income. Things are not fine. Without investment they stay not fine. And the stated platform of our incumbent is to keep them exactly as they are, resist public investment at every turn, and keep cashing the fat public checks we pay for with our tax dollars. We need help in Harrisburg. I want to go there and demand the investments we need.
1:14:04 Matt: “If we continue…to have rural representatives that just don’t want to be at the table for those conversations and yoke themselves to special interests who donate quite a lot of money to rural reps so they vote in favor of dying energy industries, we’re gonna be left out again. And their our economy is gonna collapse even further.” Commentary: In 2019 Rep. Roae raked in $34k from special interest corporate PACs, a large portion of which were fossil energy groups. The latest campaign finance report, which covers late-June to late-October (so, the meat of the general election campaign) shows another $25k from those same PACs. Only four actual human beings donated money to Rep. Roae in this finance period. What does that signal about priorities? What does that signal about representation? If more than 60k comes from PACs (and maybe more…the reports from January to June are not available online for some reason), it would stand to reason that the votes are going to be made for the PACs, not for us. As always, check this info yourself. The public information is available via the state department here. Search both of our names, and see who is contributing to our campaigns. I am people-backed. Roae is PAC-backed.
1:14:58 Roae: In arguing that Democrats would be bad for the state, he cites the problem of their priorities, which include “more funding for mass transit.” Commentary: Mass transit is a major issue in rural Pennsylvania. Rep. Roae is trying to make this an urban issue, and a sign of why Dems are scary, but our own CATA is a valuable community resource for lower income residents, the disabled, and our older neighbors. Yet their funding is deeply threatened by the legislature, which will be quite bad for us here at home. Just another moment where Rep. Roae signals myopic understanding of local issues, and tells us quite honestly which of his constituents he cares about.
1:15:18 Roae: “When the Republicans have the majority, things are a lot different. We keep spending under control, keep taxes under control, protect our freedoms….We try to promote personal responsibility.” Commentary: The utter emptiness of this statement is mind-boggling. First of all, 1984 wants its GOP talking points back. Second, when Rep. Roae says “when the Republicans have the majority” he should be saying, “the Republicans are always in the majority because we gerrymandered the %&*&^ out of this state.” Did you know that the PA Senate has been a Republican majority EVERY YEAR since 1994? And the House has been a Republican majority EVERY YEAR BUT FOUR since 1995? They have had the “trifecta,” with Republicans as the majority in the House and Senate, alongside a Republican governor, for 12 of those years. If there are persistent problems in Pennsylvania — and there are! — and if the Republicans have been in almost total control of the government for a decade and a half, please explain to me how GOP majorities are clearly the better choice? They’re not. Good, decent, smart elected officials are the better choice, regardless of party.
1:20:49 Matt’s closing statement: “We are not one thing. You are not one thing. I am not one thing….I am running to be the representative for everyone in District 6…. I am asking for your vote so that I can be an advocate for Northwestern Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, because we are largely ignored. No one is paying attention to us, because we don’t have people fighting for what we need to redevelop, and grow, and thrive together.”
1:22:09 Roae’s closing statement. Just listen to it. Decide for yourself if you’re included in how he views the definition of representation.