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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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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Sometimes, the Old Way is Better

I love technology.  I love the internet.  It makes so much of what I do faster and easier.  However, when it goes down and is not working, I realize that the “old fashioned” way has its appeal, especially in its ability to have a bit of redundance built into the system.

My morning has been an exercise in frustration.  Last week, I visited the doctor with my son on Monday.  I pulled my insurance information up for the Nurse on Lifelock, an app that lets you keep all those plastic cards in your wallet organized and available on your phone, under a secure password.  On Wednesday, when we went for a quick test, and Lifelock was down.  I hadn’t gotten the notice that Lifelock has deleted its app and everybody’s information in order to upgrade things and make sure the system is 100% secure.  While I appreciate their absolute devotion to data integrity, it has been frustrating not knowing why I have had all my data I spent hours putting into my phone disappear without a big Heads up, or a way to download all that data, since some of those cards we threw out, since we didn’t need them, with all of our data safely preserved on our phones… Sigh….

So, as part of the process of now reconstructing all that information (I would love to have a list of what I put in there so I know whose cards I need to find….) I needed to call our health insurance company to get a new copy of our health insurance card.  I tried to get in online, but I could not register for an account.  So I called the company, and they informed me their systems were down and I could call again in two hours.  I asked if that’s why I couldn’t login online, they said call back in two hours.  I asked if I could talk to someone about a new card, they said call back in two hours.  Without computers working, I essentially can’t see a doctor, because I can’t get my health insurance card, because the computers at the health insurance company are currently down.

IMG_3509I dug through our desk drawers and began to fish out all the loyalty cards, ID cards, membership cards, etc we have accumulated through the years.  I have a three and a half inch pile.  Carrying around this pile of plastic has seemed silly for quite some time, so going to an app based process seemed like a godsend, plus my husband and I could easily do this once, and have mirror images of all our cards, ending the common refrain of “Who has the card for Longwood again?” and the debate that would ensue thereafter, along with the manic search before we could leave the house.

Some of these stores/businesses/club/membership places will accept my phone number as ID in lieu of the card, others will not.  Sure, I know not everything is super duper secure on a phone, so I did not trust information like my credit cards there, but I sure as heck used it for things like grocery loyalty cards, movie discount cards, and health insurance- the information you have to have, but can’t seem to find right when you need it most.  And now, it’s all gone.  I lost the work that went into making the system work, and now I have to reconstruct it all somewhere else, reminding me of the painful times spent trying to reinstall Windows on a PC with no less than 23 floppy disks, that took hours to accomplish.

Yes. this is a first world problem.  But it also makes me wonder as we rely more and more on the cloud, are we really getting rid of the redundancies that we need that made life work, that created that “backup” system?  Even keeping the stack of cards my husband thought was silly and I know he tossed some and shredded some, thinking we had it all on our phones, so the “hard copy” was just silly and took up space.  Likewise, he’s been after me to throw out the old CD’s we have, saying we have ripped them all onto the computer, so there should be no reason to hold on to them.  But I’m starting to get that sinking feeling that while half of my life is digital, the rest is going to be made up of little bits and pieces that create the “hard copy” version of my life, that you never know if you will need.

(You can go back and read the experience we had in January when we had a five day power outage and no access to digital records we needed for our pets as yet another example of needing a few hard copies in our lives- I won’t bore you with that tale again here.)

The convenience of online records in incredible.  It lets us do so much more, so much faster.  But there are ever increasing vulnerabilities to this information and data as well, making the system fragile, and vulnerable to unexpected attacks, delays, and failures.  We think we’re saving money, reducing waste, saving trees, reducing the issues with ink, and more- but I think we sometimes fail to consider whether or not we are also increasing our dependence on systems that have their own fragility, we often fail to fully acknowledge.


The Biggest Day So Far

Primary SelfieYesterday was Primary Day in Pennsylvania, and as a first time candidate, it was a great opportunity to go to every single polling place in the District, meet the volunteers, and talk with folks on both sides about what’s important to them.  It was the best way to get a visceral sense of every area in my District, on the ground, in person.  More on that below, but first, the best thing that happened yesterday by far:

US District Court Judge John E. Jones III in Pennsylvania declared the Commonwealth’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, and marriage licenses have already been issued. (you can read the full text of the decision here.)  The Corbett administration has 30 days to appeal the decision, and I hope they will see the wisdom in the Judge’s decision and let the ruling stand.  Here is an excerpt from the opinion:

We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them onto the ash heap of history.  By virtue of this ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.”

When Pennsylvania amended its laws back in 1996 to prohibit same sex marriage, and its overwhelming passage by both chambers, I thought it was an embarrassment.  Why would a State, known as the cradle of liberty, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed, want to become the home of intolerance and injustice?

When I was growing up, our family had many friends, including a number of same sex couples.  I grew up knowing that these families were exactly the same as my own- full of people who loved each other and were committed to each other, just like my own more traditional family.  We grew up believing that while some people viewed these relationships through a religious lens as lesser or immoral, everything in our experience showed otherwise. There were actually more divorces, drama, and relationship upheavals with traditional heterosexual couples than in many of the same sex couples we knew.

I was thrilled to be endorsed by Equality PA recently, and to be able to share my views with them.  This is an issue that has made Pennsylvania look petty and backwards, and yesterday, we took a huge step forwards towards making the American dream of freedom and equality for everyone under the law a reality.  Let’s hope the Corbett administration will understand this, and I will make altering the letter of the 1996 law a first priority, if the legislature has not already acted before the election.

Back to The Primary:

First thing after I voted in the morning, I stopped by a local WaWa to get gas and a soda before hitting the polling places.  I reminded the clerks and people in the store to vote- many of them had forgotten it was Primary Day and some said they never bothered to vote.  That’s when I turn to the Great Molly Ivins for inspiration.  Here is a quote from one of her books, that I’ve slightly modified to reflect PA rather than Texas:

When did politics become about them- those people in DC or in [Harrisburg]- instead of about us?  We own it, we run it; we tell them what to do; it’s our country, not theirs.  They are just the people we hired to drive the bus for a while. …

I hear people say “I’m just not interested in politics” “Oh, they’re all crooks , anyway.” or “There’s nothing I can do.”

I know where this cynicism comes from, and I would not presume to tell you it’s misplaced.  The system is so screwed up, if you think it’s not worth participating in, then give yourself credit for being alert.  But not for being smart.How smart is it to throw away power? How smart is it to throw away the most magnificent political legacy any people have ever received? It is our birthright; we are the heirs; we get it just for being born here. …

You have more political power than 99 percent of all the people who have ever lived on this planet.  You can not only vote, you can register other people to vote, round up your friends, get out and do political education, talk to people, laugh with people, call the radio, write the paper, write your elected representative, use your email list, put up signs, march, volunteer and raise hell.  All your life, no matter what else you do- butcher, baker, beggarman thief; doctor, lawyer, Indian chief- you have another job, another responsibility- you are a citizen.  It is an obligation that requires attention and effort.  And on top of that, you should make it a hell of a lot of fun. “

When you look at the ridiculously low turn out in a closed primary, even for the Democrats who had four potential gubernatorial candidates to choose from, to challenge Gov. Corbett in the fall, it’s tragic.  We have very few responsibilities as citizens.  Voting is one of them.   Talking to people from both sides of the aisle at the polls yesterday, the constant refrain was about the disappointing turn out, and what we could do to get citizens to become voters.  Everyone joked about revoking someone’s complaining license the moment you find out they didn’t bother to vote, but we all know how difficult this would be to enforce.

My favorite calls to make to voters are Get Out The Vote calls.  As a mom, I know how you can get busy and putting the voting errand on your list can seem like a chore rather than a privilege.  I don’t care what party you belong to- Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, or the “I like to Party” Party- it does not matter.  What does matter is participating in the process.  Not participating is giving up without a fight, and that’s not a lesson I want my kids to learn.

I understand having a disgust with the system.  It was the biggest issue I wrestled with when deciding to run for office.  For example, a voter who spoke to both democrat and republican tables yesterday in Kennett Square, complaining about campaign finance, was exactly right.  The money spent on flyers, direct mail, signs, etc. could be much better used to help our schools, fix our streets – you name a way it could be better spent, and I will agree with you 100%.  However, in order to spend less money and less time raising money in politics, we have to have an engaged electorate that does not need to be cajoled into going to the polls every time an election of any size occurs.  Outside of offering chotchkes, a piece of candy, or an “I Voted” sticker at party tables outside a polling place, voting does not offer a Happy Meal prize.  You have to do it because it’s an expression of your opinion and will as a citizen, and if not, you are giving up your power and voice willingly.

I always have made it a point to bring my kids with me, so they have a chance to see democracy in action, and to help them develop the habit of voting early on.  It’s also a great time to meet neighbors, talk about what’s going on in the community, and to meet the community organizers.  The folks who set up tables for the parties, distribute candidate information, and try to make sure you are an informed voter, are also the people who will have the greatest effect on your life, whether you know it or not.  These are the people who help find candidates for office in the first place.  If you are disappointed with the folks who decide to become candidates, the place to start is to talk to your local political committee people, and make a difference there.  To be honest, they are also some of the brightest, passionate, engaging and fun people I know, and I urge you to go to just one meeting of any flavor, even a cause- based meeting for something you care about.  This is where making a difference really starts.

What I love most about running for office is getting to know my community so much better than ever before.  In the process, I am asking them to have faith and trust that I can represent their interests in Harrisburg and make a difference in their lives.  It’s a big ask, especially when people are generally disgusted with the petty arguments reported in the news every day.

I think we’ve seen in the national and local debate over gay marriage, that political involvement and voice does make a difference.  We have moved the debate on equal rights for the LGBT community forward with greater speed than many ever predicted, and probably much faster than many are comfortable with.  What does matter is that if you are willing to take a stand and make your voice heard, we can move mountains, and sometimes much faster than we ever thought possible.

If you don’t participate, don’t expect the system to get better by magic on its own.  People in power and seeking to make a difference listen to those who speak up and get involved.  They care enough to make their voice heard.  They are the squeaky wheel that will get the attention.  The silent are not doing anything to be counted, and as a result, are left to deal with the consequences of their own inaction.

I would love to hear why you vote, or decide not to.  How could we make the process of voting better?  This is less of a question about convenience, than it is about making sure people are informed voters.  We could let people vote by text, for example, but making it as convenient as voting for American Idol would not really help people become more informed and intelligent voters.  All we would get then is a visceral popularity contest, and I personally fear for a government made up of people who spend most of their time trying to make it on Gawker or Buzzfeed.

Let’s have an open discussion- we will be setting up some community forums on Google Plus within the next week or so, and publicize them here, on Facebook and over at WhitneyforPA160.com.   Instead of trying to pretend these issues don’t exist, it’s time to tackle them head on.

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