Emergency Communication

There’s nothing like running for office to bring up issues of emergency communication, and how it can be improved.

I live in an area that’s adjacent to Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE, but as a result, it’s also largely overlooked by major media markets.  We have a patchwork of local newspapers and websites, but there’s no single “newspaper of record”  or single TV or Radio station for this area to rely on for the best information.  As a result, many times the best and most up to date information is being shared by email and Facebook.

Kennett Township has done a great job in recent emergencies, including one from this past weekend involving a water main break, of sending out information and updates via their email newsletter system.  The Borough of Kennett Square has not done as good a job in making sure residents were updated with information regarding the problem, and residents are still asking on Facebook whether the boiling of water restrictions are still in place.  Even though schools and businesses were allowed to reopen on time on Monday, there hasn’t been an “all clear” or an update on any ongoing water testing, and folks are getting nervous.

The State of Delaware has done a great job in embracing social media- through Facebook and Twitter especially, in letting folks know about road closures, emergencies, and providing timely updates so folks aren’t left with questions.

We need to do something similar here in Pennsylvania, especially for more rural/suburban areas like those out in Chester and Lancaster counties.  While electronic phone trees can be helpful, many people have opted out of traditional land lines, and this would make a text/cellular phone alert system a better alternative and compliment to social media alerts.  Individuals could opt in or out, but would receive a simple text message about local emergencies, updates and all clear messages as needed.  These systems are not hugely expensive, but could do a much better job than current communication options, especially for the upcoming winter, when we might again face weather related emergencies.

Now that we have a more fractured media environment, getting the attention of the public in emergencies is harder than ever.  However, with a little planning, it’s possible to get more direct messages to people, when they need it, and increase their satisfaction with their government at the same time.  It’s not a perfect system- you will miss some folks without cell phones.  However, the Pew Research Foundation reports that 91% of American adults now have a cell phone and use it for more than just making calls, giving local townships the potential to notify at least 91% of the population through this channel- much more effective than the local newspaper readership, I’m afraid.

It’s time to start leveraging the digital technology available to us to make governmental communications more timely, and to reduce the door to door approach that is otherwise required.  if we can use this technology to deliver ads for discounts at Starbuck’s, surely it’s time to start looking into these systems to provide important updates to our communities in emergencies.  I wish I knew what we were waiting for.

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Infrastructure

Infrastructure in an interesting word and concept.  It is the bones, or framework around which we build everything from ideas to a house, to our larger communities, and our Country as a whole.  Without a solid foundation, we can’t build a larger structure on top that will withstand the test of time.

My son developed idiopathic scoliosis, and needed to have surgery this summer to straighten his spine, to prevent a whole host of serious problems that could occur if his “infrastructure” was not corrected.  In a mere month, he ended growing almost 2 inches taller due to the straightening, and was able to get back to school full time, on time.  There was a period of pain and, of course, worry, about outcomes, and how he would recover, but the pain ended up being temporary, and the end results phenomenal.

When we talk about our State’s infrastructure, we also need to go through temporary pain to get it corrected, and every time we put off the work, the project gets bigger and more expensive.  For example, PennDOT has been working to fix the problems locally on Rt. 322 for years, and my opponent even held a whole series of hearing on its repair and expansion in the early 2000’s.  Now it’s 2014.  My opponent keeps voting against the Transportation bill, but he’s certain that PennDOT will keep the project as a priority and on track.  The evidence shows that the project was originally slated to begin around 2008, and is now scheduled to start, at the earliest, 2016 or 2017.  Yet the development in our local townships continues, which will only make the congestion and traffic worse in the meantime, slowing the overall growth of the area.

I also believe that our largest and most important infrastructure spending is our investment in our public schools.  While some people like to look at education as a business, it is not a perfectly competitive marketplace, the same way hospitals and health care are not perfectly competitive.   We have a service that is tied to our community and serves everyone, regardless of ability to pay, and regardless of ability or disability.  Where private schools set admissions standards, and can pick or choose their students, our public schools have made a promise to our whole community that our children will receive an education that will prepare them either to start a career or continue on and further their education.

When we talk about vouchers and charter schools, we are abdicating our responsibility to all of our children, and deciding just to slice off a piece of the pie, and treat that part separately, often trying to make a profit from it as well.  It’s not unlike UPS taking package delivery business away from the Post Office.  There probably is room for some enhanced service, and you pay extra for that, but the main service needs to remain to meet the needs of the whole community, regardless of the health or lack thereof of a private business.  If UPS or a charter school goes out of business, there is still a safety net there – the infrastructure we all pay for and benefit from, even if you, personally, only use it as an insurance policy.

Digital Infrastructure

Digital Infrastructure

And then there is our digital infrastructure. Google has been working with several cities to provide “gigabit” (read: very, very fast) fiber service, up to 100 times faster than current internet speeds.  We also have ongoing conversations nationally about municipal wifi and whether connection to the internet is rapidly becoming an infrastructure and social justice issue, as access to many governmental services moves online and out of the world of paper forms (much to the relief of many).

 

I have run “geek” conferences, where we may have as many as three hundred people all trying to get on and use a wifi hot point at the same time.  This causes access to the internet to slow dramatically, if not crash entirely.  People get frustrated and angry, because we are starting to expect not only access to the internet, but quick and easy access, almost everywhere we go.  In public, people often have apps to search for open wifi connections they can use for free, even if security concerns might exist with these open networks.  This picture of wifi and battery charging becoming the new base of Maslow’s hierarchy is not far off.  More people got upset and frustrated during recent electrical outages because their connection to the outside world depended almost solely on the battery life of their internet connected devices- not on whether or not the lights were working.

When we talk about letting kids bring their own devices to school, or providing computers or tablets to all students, we have to understand that there’s an infrastructure cost associated with this expansion.  We will need added wifi capacity (bandwidth) as well as reliable and quick connection speeds, to make sure more class time is spent productively, rather than waiting for a webpage to load.  This will require additional expenditures and investments, and they will need to be upgraded as technology develops.  But I feel very confident in saying we have safely passed the time where we can wait for better technology to come around.  We need to make sure our children, and our schools, at bare minimum, have access to the digital infrastructure they need in order to ensure we are graduating students ready for the demands of the 21st Century.  We also need to think about whether provding community broadband is becoming the equivalent of having good roads- especially as more and more people work from a place other than the office.

Keeping our infrastructure in good repair- whether it’s roads, bridges, schools, or digital infrastructure- is a governmental responsibility and one we need to do a much better job of taking seriously.  That’s why I am running for office this year, and why I would love your support.

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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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