Unopposed in primary, local reps focus on agenda
By Randy Bartley
While most Pennsylvanians are focused on the upcoming primary election, three local members of the General Assembly are working on issues facing the commonwealth today. Representatives Kathy Rapp (R-65), Donna Oberlander (R-63) and R. Lee James (R-64) are unopposed in the primary.
All three of the representatives agree election reform is a high priority.
Rapp is one of 14 House members who filed to repeal Act 77.
"It is in front of the courts," Rapp said. "We won our case in Commonwealth Court and it is headed to the (state) Supreme Court. I do not believe we will get a decision until after the primary election. We will see what the Supreme Court says before we take it further. We are funding this case ourselves. There are no state tax dollars involved."
Rapp added, "The Department of State, the governor and the state Supreme Court expanded that bill far from what the legislature approved. There is a lot at stake."
Oberlander said efforts to pass election reform have been defeated.
"We have passed several bills to address election integrity. Unfortunately every time we pass a bill to address the issue it gets vetoed," Oberlander said.
James said election reform will take longer than six or eight months.
"The blow back from mail-in ballots and the way it was handled in the last election has given a lot of my constituents heartburn," James said. "To just allow willy-nilly balloting from people and accepting ballots that weren't signed and were still counted (was wrong).
"Another thing that really rubbed people the wrong way was accepting ballots up to three days after the elections were closed. I don't believe that is appropriate either. If you have to do a mail-in ballot do your business and get it in before 8 p.m. on election day."
James continued, "The Supreme Court let us down on that one. Election reform is the top issue we have to restore the public's faith in the electoral process. It has been an uphill battle. We play by the rules. There is nothing more important."
The work force is another major issue for the state.
"One of the biggest issues is employment," said Rapp. "We see help wanted signs all over the community and we are still struggling to find people to work whether it is in fast food or manufacturing."
Rapp said she believes the number one issue the state faces is the labor shortage, and connected to that is inflation.
"I think you can tie that to what is happening nationally," Rapp said.
Gov. Tom Wolf's effort to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (ReGGI) is opposed by all three elected officials.
"The governor wants to push us into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. That shuts down some of our own drilling," said Rapp. "That is a big threat to our economy. When you shut down part of our economy you are threatening our freedoms."
Rapp believes the governor is usurping the power of the legislature.
"We don't believe he has the power to sign it," said Rapp. "We believe the only way to enter into that compact is through legislation. For the past eight years he has bypassed the law and taken it on himself to rule like a king and make decisions he does not have the right to make. To me that is a big threat."
Oberlander agreed, adding, "We need to use the resources that God gave us. ReGGI is wrong-headed policy. From a commonwealth perspective it will result in higher electric prices and that is bad for manufacturing, jobs and people of low income.
"It is a devastating idea. The governor insists that he has the right to do it and we insist that he does not because it is a tax. The only body that has the ability to tax is the legislature."
James also believes ReGGI is bad policy.
"All of the departments ultimately work for (Wolf) including DEP," James said. "Environmentalists believe the world is ending and it's all our fault. I don't happen to believe that. We have to have a society that is self-sufficient. I think ReGGI is a huge mistake. If you think your electric bills were high last month, just wait.
"We will have a new governor in January and if the new governor has the intestinal fortitude he can reverse it by signing a letter."
Opioid crisis a top priority
"I just had a hearing on the opioid crisis and the drug trafficking is a huge threat," said Rapp. "We see crime waves across the country and in Pennsylvania. Fentanyl is coming across the southern border and our governor is allowing ghost flights into Pennsylvania. My conclusion is that this is the only enterprise that kills off its customers."
Oberlander believes the opioid crisis is linked to other crimes.
"The horrific murder rate in Philadelphia is a huge problem," Oberlander said. "We have a group of bills we are working on to address those issues. In our rural area that is not a problem for us right now and I hope it never becomes a problem. Some people think we need gun control and that is not what we need. The reality is that we have plenty of gun laws and we need to enforce them."
Oberlander said the district attorney in Philadelphia is not fulfilling his duty as an elected official.
"Opioids continue to be a problem," said James. "I think that has been overwhelmed by COVID but the problem is still there. Fentanyl is making it worse and it is also coming across the southern border. I cringe when I hear reports of it being available in Venango County. We will continue to work on that issue until we make it better."
James said the problems on the southern border are creating new issues in the commonwealth.
"Slavery is alive and well on the planet," James said. "The most egregious thing I can think of is those people coming up from the southern border who have no parents. God knows what is happening to them. It is a real tragedy and I know we will be working on that."
The governor and the legislature are working on a new budget.
"The governor has asked for huge increases in the budget every year and then says it is not a tax increase but at the end of the day we are trying to be responsible and sustainable in our budgeting," said Oberlander. "We have money the federal government gave us but that came from taxpayers. We want to spend it on things that will give us a return on our investment and not continue to cost year after year. We are being very diligent on looking on all of the lines in the budget."
James added, "There are a lot of contentious issues going on and some posturing by people who need TV time. A lot of time will be taken up by the Appropriations Committee as they try to draft a budget. The governor has asked for a 16 percent increase in spending and that can't possibly happen. I suspect there will be a modest increase in the budget. Nothing is going as expected after COVID."
James serves on the Appropriations Committee.
Oberlander said one of the top issues in her district is PennDOT's plan to toll nine interstate bridges in the commonwealth including one in Clarion County.
"The tolling issue should be a commonwealth-wide issue," Oberlander said. "It is certainly a regional issue. If it is your bridge that is getting tolled it means a little bit more. We are working on every front that we can. We want to do whatever we can to stop it. It is one of the largest issues in our area. It is a disaster and not well thought out."
James would also like to see legislation to help failing schools.
"The second biggest issue for me is getting the education process right," James said. "In the urban areas there are children who are trapped in failing schools. The kids are getting cheated. These are the kids who will be running the country in 20 years and they won't have the tools to do it. We have to fix it and it not just by throwing money at it."
James is seeking his sixth term as the representative for the 64th Legislative District. He represents all of Venango County and part of Butler County.
Rapp is seeking her 10th term in office. The 65th District is comprised of all of Warren and Forest counties and parts of Crawford County.
Oberlander, the Majority Whip, is seeking her eighth term in office. She serves the 63rd District comprising all of Clarion County and a portion of Armstrong County.