New Beginnings

It’s coming up on the start of the school year here in PA.  I have always loved getting ready for the new school year- the smell of new crayons, choosing out a perfect backpack, everything being about hopes and expectations.

This year, my son is returning to school after having back surgery.  He may only be able to be there for half days for the first few weeks, which will prolong our “re-entry” into the new normal of the school year.  This year will start out with more negotiations about school work and making things work from home than ever before.  It’s going to be challenging, but I know that planning ahead and being prepared for having to improvise will make it a lot easier to manage.

It turns out that one of the best things I’ve learned from campaigning for office is that you have to learn to roll with the punches and improvise.  Each day, a new set of challenges and opportunities faces me, and it turns out the trick is not trying to bend reality into your idea of perfection, but to basically enjoy the ride and the craziness of it all.

The fall is a great time to turn a page and start afresh- new projects, new energy, new horizons.  It will be a great time for me to meet new people, and ask them to try something new by changing the government in Harrisburg.  I know that the candidates I’ve met, men and women, have decided to run because they know we need to govern differently, and Pennsylvania needs a fresh start.   We can accomplish great things, working together for positive change.

We also have a historic number of women candidates running for office in Pennsylvania, and many of them, like me, are first time candidates.  Most of us have diverse life experiences to draw from, that we can use to help shape sensible policy that will benefit every citizen.  I know that my experiences with start-up folks and entrepreneurs means that I want to help making starting a new business in Pennsylvania easier.  I know the State needs to have a better digital infrastructure, making it easier for folks to navigate the State’s websites and find when they need.  There’s tons of work to be done in making compliance easier for everyone.  And that’s before we even get to the issues about making sure our schools and digital infrastructure are first rate for every student in the Commonwealth.

As part of making a new beginning, the largest class of democratic women candidates in Pennsylvania history will be meeting in Harrisburg on August 26th, to commemorate the signing of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote- now we’re ready to legislate.  Please see our press release below:

Press Release

WHEN WOMEN LEAD TOGETHER, PEOPLE WIN

LARGEST CLASS OF DEMOCRATIC WOMEN CANDIDATES IN

PENNSYLVANIA HISTORY ASSEMBLES TO COMMEMORATE

CERTIFICATION OF THE 19TH AMENDMENT.

HARRISBURG, PA: On Tuesday, August 26th Democratic women candidates from across the Commonwealth will gather on the steps of the Capitol building in Harrisburg at 1:00PM to commemorate the certification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

August 26th has been designated “Equality Day” and many of our 2014 women candidates are assembling to publicly declare our commitment to working together to solve the problems which face our state and our nation. We believe that government can be better and function more effectively, and we are collectively inspired to making that happen.

We are committed to working across party lines to break down the barriers that keep the peoples’ voices from being heard and to bringing ethics and accountability to the forefront of government.

Please join us to hear several speakers, receive a written statement and meet the candidates.

When: August 26th

Where: On the steps of the Capitol Building, Commonwealth Ave Harrisburg PA

Organizers: By Women4Women, founder Lois Herr

Contact Susan Rzucidlo, Susan@SusanForPa.com, 610-659-3145

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The Size of Government

When I’m out talking to people and knocking doors to meet voters, I’m often asked how I feel about the size of government.   There are a lot of problems with how we frame this question, because I think no one has a really good sense of what “big” or “little” or even right-sized looks like when we approach government.  What we do feel, often, is that the Government seems to put up restrictions or barriers to things we want to do.  Some of these rules and regulations seem silly or needlessly intrusive, and that can be incredibly irritating.  These feelings of frustration tend to get lumped into the “Government is too big” category, rather than the “We need to make government more responsive and agile” box, and it’s natural to start to feel we need to starve the Government of Money to bring it under control.

Let’s look at government as a bit of a coach potato.  Over the years, it’s gotten a bit out of shape.  It’s BMI looks off, and even it doesn’t always recognize how it got to this stage, or where to start solving the problem.  So let’s take our Government avatar to Jillian Michaels or a Cross Fit Gym, and see what they would recommend.

Part of getting Government to work better is getting it to start to work out (together) more regularly. We need teamwork, regardless of party, to get Government motivated and moving again.  Instead of being perpetually paralyzed over making decisions and instead staying with the status quo, we need to start to have Government experiment with new behaviors, make decisions, and learn from the process, refining ideas and design over time.

New behaviors for fitness and weight loss come on many fronts.  What we need is a balanced approach to getting the Government back in shape, concentrating on fitness over mere weight or size.  The Republicans, as a rule, look at successful Government reform coming only from restricting spending, like restricting calories.  But every trainer will tell you that while restricting calories might work in the short run, the real issue is making sure that the diet is more appropriately balanced with healthy foods, better nutrition,  and with regular exercise to build and retain muscle, to make sure behavioral changes stick for the long term.

In the recovery after the financial crisis, almost every sector has recovered to pre-crash levels except for State and Government jobs.  The July jobs report confirms this, and that these are largely middle class jobs, rather than lower wage retail and service industry work.  Some Government jobs are starting to rebound, and this is actually a good thing. We need to be spending money to make sure laws are enforced, infrastructure is repaired, and that the old, lethargic way of operating is gradually modernized.  This is equivalent to the weight-lifting, toning and strength training of the bones and muscles of government that helps it move more effectively, and as needed.

For example, by spending money to modernize State websites, people can find information more efficiently, file forms and pay any fees or taxes simply and efficiently, saving both the Government and individuals tons of time and money.

Government would be better understood and appreciated if it spent time making the regulatory process easier and more efficient.  For example, if you wanted to start a business, you need to know basic things from whether or not you need a business license, local or State, what the local city, county, and State wage taxes might be, if certain insurance coverages are recommended or required- this shouldn’t be a mystery, but should be available in a simple PDF booklet, readily available.  Better yet, you should be able to go through an online decision tree, answering a couple of questions, and have a customized guide printed out for you at the end.

This sort of solution helps make Government and the processes involved less mysterious, and seem less onerous.  It will also help folks figure out exactly where we might be able to streamline processes to make starting or operating a business more efficient.

There will still be regulations that some people will feel are pointless.  I was surprised to find out this week that there is an OSHA regulation regarding the spacing of traffic cones in construction zones.  This might seem like “over-regulation”, but through research, OSHA has found that there’s an optimal distance to make sure people respect the traffic cones, and hence protect the safety of workers as well as themselves.  Now that I understand this, I’m less concerned about “all those rules” needed on construction sites, and instead, more impressed that so much work and training has gone in to make sure everyone is safe.

When I’m asked whether I think Government is too big, I now respond that the size itself is less of a concern, but rather Government needs to be more efficient and in better shape to more efficiently execute its functions.  I can’t tell you, nor do I think anyone else can, the exact number of workers or Governmental Departments, or regulations, etc. that would lead to governmental nirvana- there is no one, perfect, size.  But like anyone who has ever been successful in losing weight, the end goal needs to be long term health, not just one number on the scale.  There are plenty of skinny people who have no endurance or stamina, and there are plenty of people carrying extra pounds who are incredibly strong and fit.  The end goal should always be becoming healthier and getting  in better shape overall- and that applies to both governments and people alike.

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Women and Politics

Today, I had the great pleasure of getting to meet and speak with  Governor Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire.  She told us about how she got into politics at the local level, and how it has propelled her to be the only female sitting Democratic Governor in the country.   Gov. Hassan started to get involved because her son has special needs, which reminded me very much of my story and the story of Susan Rzucidlo, my friend and mentor, who is also running for the PA State House, in the neighboring 158th District.  It also reminded me of the time I got to meet Sally Smith and interview her for the LD Podcast, about how she came to start The Lab School in DC and helped transform education of children with learning disabilities along the way, while advocating for her own son.

All of these women are forces of nature,  and all of our stories have the same theme.  We have children who have had special needs, and we have had to become advocates for them.  We’ve navigated complicated medical and education systems, and we’ve looked under every rock and unlocked every door possible to help our kids.  We also know how hard this process can be.  We know bureaucracies can be soul-crushing, and time always seems short, but our kids can’t wait for someone to finish up the paperwork somewhere- we need help now.  And we know, personally, if the process was hard for us, it’s got to be next to impossible for folks who have less education, less resources, or are simply trying to juggle a mountain for family and workplace issues, to the point where they want to cry at the end of the day.  We are all looking to make government and education work better for every family and every child, at every level, because it just shouldn’t be this hard, all the time.

I started the LD Podcast because I wanted more information to be available to parents of kids with LD.  They needed not only information of where to go to get help and how to talk to doctors and educators, but they needed help just understanding their own children and how the children learned, and how they could succeed if they had the proper help and support.  Parents need the advice of someone who has been there, and exposure to the experts who can help them understand why some things may or may not work- to sort out reality from the magic bean cures that promise the world but deliver very little.

That’s exactly the approach I want to bring to State Government as well.  We need to help fix the things that don’t work, starting with streamlining the navigation of the State website and making it mobile friendly.  We have to make sure starting a business and complying with local city, county and State laws is as easy as possible, so entrepreneurs can spend more time developing their business, and less time on compliance issues.  We have to make our approach to governance one that is people-friendly, and bring a sense of community and responsibility back into the job.

Running for office is simply applying for a job to be an advocate for everyone living in your community.  Whether folks voted for you or not, as a legislator, you have to be accountable to everyone, even if you disagree.  When my opponent contacted folks to have a counter protest when community leaders wanted to discuss gun safety issues with him, I thought that crossed a line, and was a violation of the public trust.  Legislators won;t agree with every constituent, but they do have to take the time to listen and weigh their viewpoints in- that’s the job- not just listening to people who agree with you.

I’m running for office to make a difference and to advocate for folks who can’t always do it for themselves, just like I started this process, advocating for my children.  And like so many other women in politics, we do this to have an impact on our communities and to make things better, and hopefully just a bit easier, for everyone involved.

Politics is the debate about priorities, but we’ve got to remember, the job itself is about governance.  We need people in government who understand this is a fiduciary responsibility to work for the people, and that is the core mission.  Public office is the ultimate community service job, and we need more people like Gov. Hussan, Susan Rzucidlo, and me working for you, because we understand from our own experience how important advocacy and lending a voice is to getting things accomplished.

I am sure, of course, that many men feel the same way about public office.  But there is something special about moms working hard to make things better not only for their own children, but for all children along the way.  We have a north star to look to for inspiration, even when things get tough, and that’s seeing things get better for our children and the many others just like them in families all across the Country.

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What Do You Really Mean?

Social Media and the internet are reinventing and repurposing language.  The most obvious example is that when you say “Joe is my friend”, we no longer know what sort of relationship that is.  Are you Twitter friends?  Are you Facebook friends?  Would you allow Joe to crash on your couch for a week?  Would Joe let you babysit his children?  Would you lend each other money?  There’s no way to know.  I used to have a joke with CC Chapman about whether we now needed Friends, with a capital, versus friends, lower case, maybe even more in the acquaintance range, as a designation.  However, the true meaning of friends, and even best friends, is becoming murkier.

Likewise, there was an interesting discussion recently about the word “respect”.  Some people thought that respect was something earned, like trust, and you only “deserved” it through your actions over time.  I think there’s another type of respect that is the base level of human kindness and dignity we should show everyone.  This sort of respect is an acknowledgement of each other as people, and  includes all of those manners things like taking turns, not budging in line, holding a door open, letting an elderly person have a seat on the bus, being kind to a mom struggling with a cranky toddler, etc.  When someone says you should respect people at work, I am sure they hope it is the first type, but that would really be happy with the second type as a starting point.

The more we start to use common words and phrases online, they become infused with all sorts of deeper cultural meanings, each slightly different depending on what group you’re speaking with.  For example, I was trying to use the term “faith based” in a joking way the other day, and it through a whole group off-  I meant it as a short cut term for “They want me to just believe them that everything will turn out ok, but I’m having a hard time dealing in miracles, I believe more in a plan and hard work” and instead, most people in the room felt I was talking about religion.  For example, “Faith based marketing” is often a snarky way to refer to people telling you that if you only spend $X (with a couple of zeros after it) then your business will automatically thrive and you will be a zillionaire. The reality is that the marketing may help, but if your product or service is not great to begin with, no amount of exposure will help you- in fact, if your product is awful, it might actually hurt you.

I’m not sure we’re going to be able to resolve this new homonym problem any time soon.  As more words in common usage get co-opted by new tech companies- Who knows what the new app, Yo, will do- the more we’re going to run into problems with clear expression of ideas and meaning.

We’re left with solving these problems the old fashioned way- asking for more information, or perhaps picking up the phone before getting upset over an email or Facebook post.  Resolving ambiguity could get to be a full time occupation.

Remember, Clarity matters.

 

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Partisanship

Research_Methods_-_Distributions_in_AllPsych_OnlineOne of the hardest things about running for public office is dealing with partisanship, no matter what party you identify with politically. There are “fundamentalists” on each side of the political spectrum.  The truth, however, is that most of us cluster in the reasonable middle ground, in a normal distribution or “Bell shaped curve” where 68% of folks are pretty much in the middle, and 95% of us are within a standard deviation from that middle ground.

The problem is that online, and on Facebook, I often see outrageous things posted to try to gin up interest and outrage.  Just like any other marketing campaign, folks are trying to create emergencies, indignation, and other emotional reactions that will prompt people to take some action.  So while a typical marketing pitch for retail goods might be “Big Sale!  Limited Time and Quantities!  Get Yours Today!!!”,  in politics, you’ll get emails saying “Look what the other side did now!  We’re being outgunned!  Give Today!” or other such things, often demonizing the other side.

The more extreme partisans are trying to “Wake the rest of us up” and get us involved. However, I don’t think this constant barrage of outrage and vitriol is healthy for anyone.  We all know that in order to get someone “engaged” we have to deliver a message that’s worth their attention, and that hopefully persuades them to our point of view.  But ginning up all these largely negative emotions isn’t healthy for our physical or mental health.  Not everything is actually an emergency.  We don’t need a flight or fight response for every little issue in our lives.  It’s exhausting.  And sooner or later, the faux emergency messages will start to get ignored, just like the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.  Then, when help is truly needed, when a real emergency does exist, no one will pay attention, because there will be no reason to believe that this time, the emergency is real.

I understand this process.   One one side, I have to get people to care enough about my campaign to help me knock doors and meet as many voters as possible between now and November.  It means getting name recognition, having people put up signs and the like- trying to get people to care, at least a little, about the upcoming election, months before it actually occurs.  And then, closer to the election, we have to hope that the folks we met still care enough to go out and vote in November.  I would like to do this by persuading them that I consider the opportunity to run for office an honor, and that the job itself involves a sacred trust- a fiduciary responsibility to each and every person in the District, whether they vote or not, to do what’s best for our community.

Or, on the other side, we could create all sorts of smaller, calls to action to make people think it’s an emergency.  Every fundraising call, every voter contact creates a decision point, critical to their lives.   Now, I wouldn’t be running for office if I didn’t believe the people we elect and their points of view have consequences.  But I’m not sure that the election has the same amount of immediate seriousness each and every day, equivalent to a car crash, with critically injured people who need attention RIGHT THIS MINUTE.  The election is very important very important but no one will bleed to death today if you fail to vote in November.  The level of importance and criticalness is different.

Getting People to Care

I want people to care.  I want people to vote for me.  But I also want them to see me as a level headed person who understands the difference between Important and Critical; who understands priorities, and making well reasoned and rational decisions.  We don’t need reactionary leadership playing a giant game of Whack-a-mole- we need steady hands, that are taking care of today’s concerns while planning ahead for the future as well.  Just like in business- this quarter’s results are important, but the long term health and sustainability of the business is just as important.  You can’t burn the house down today just to make this month’s numbers, because there will be nothing left next month to work for.

Passion is important.  Engagement and caring are equally important.  I understand engaging people at the gut level works.  But I also want you to know that when I tell you something, it’s the truth and you can trust that information implicitly.

I have spent my life building a reputation for being honest and telling the truth, and I can’t change that, now or ever, because that’s who I am.  I will not compromise my personal integrity for the sake of telling someone what they want to hear, rather than the truth.

Adults deserve to be treated like adults and hear the truth, even if it’s unpleasant.  Like the old cliche phrase goes, anyone who only tells you what they think you want to hear is likely selling you something.  I do want your trust and your vote, and I need to earn that through honesty and integrity.  It may sound old fashioned, or even idealistic.  Maybe it is.  I was raised to believe that our reputation precedes us, and doing the right thing, especially when it’s hard, is more important than any temporary gain or inconvenience you might get out of a lie.

I believe that most of us live our lives in the center of the normal distribution.  We go about our daily lives, until we are interrupted by something that’s upsetting, or violates our sense of fair play and justice.  This pulls us to the extreme.  But we can’t live on the extreme end of things, upset by everything that comes our way.  It’s exhausting, and often leads to people simply deciding to tune the whole nonsense out, which explains why there has been historically low voter turn out recently.

Partisanship is about choosing up sides.  However, governing is about doing what’s best for all of us.  I think the folks we elect to office have to remember we’re all supposed to be on the same team here, pulling for the whole community, the whole State, the whole Country.  We will disagree on what’s best, but as long as we put the needs of the community first, we’ll make much more progress than putting the wants of the extreme into the center of the debate.

 

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