158th Forum is sober, intelligent discussion

Chris Ross, Susan Rzucidlo engage in thoughtful, civil talk at Kendal

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

Susan Rzucidlo and Chris Ross applaud during Saturday morning's 158th District candidate forum at Kendall.

KENNETT TWP. — To be sure, it wasn’t the sort of public meeting that you typically see on television or on You Tube, full of angry politicians making charges and counter-charges. Saturday morning’s League of Women’s Voters 158th District forum between incumbent State Rep. Chris Ross, a Republican, and Susan Rzucidlo, a Democrat was more than an hour of intelligent discussion about policy and the future of the commonwealth.

Neither candidate tried to put out simple, black and white solutions during Saturday morning’s event at Kendal — they both seemed to get the nuances of the complicated issues facing Pennsylvania. While they don’t agree on a number of topics — to be expected — both were able to intelligently articulate their visions, Ross as a wily, veteran voice of calm and reason in stormy times, Rzucidlo, a self-described activist, and political outsider, looking to make changes to a system she sees as out of touch and corrupt at times.

Both candidates advocated changes to the electoral system — Rzucidlo offering that the state should use California’s neutral board system for redistricting, while Ross advocated opening primary elections to all voters, using a system similar to that used by Washington State.

One by one, they answered questions about everything from the Marcellus Shale drilling — and taxes. Rzucidlo said she wanted to make sure that the revenue generated goes to make sure that the state Department of Environmental Protection gets better funded — especially to make sure that the drilling is properly regulated. Ross countered by noting that, despite wide-ranging cuts at DEP in the last two budgets, funds were provided to hire new inspectors for the drilling sites.

Both talked about setting priorities — and in some areas, regarding social services expressed agreement that funding needs to be increased.

Rzucidlo argued that there were fraud and no-bid contracts that could be cut, while Ross pointed out that he fought against some of the cuts for libraries, and social services for homeless, domestic violence and others in need of support, especially as they face greater demand during poor economic times.

“We have to take a serious look at where we’re spending,” Ross said. “We have to make sure our priorities are focused properly.” Ross went to say that some funding for key social services might need to be increased, which could mean the demise of other programs, maybe programs that are well-liked, but not seen as essential in difficult times. Some of the cuts, he suggested, were “poor choices.” He said that the people of the state need to tell legislators what their priorities should be — what they think should be given up in tough times and what must be preserved.

Rzucidlo, after taking aim at waste, fraud and corruption in the state government, talk about a number of issues. At the prompting of one audience question, she talked a bit about the gap in protective services for people who neither qualify as children or senior citizens as an issue the state will need to address. She’s been working on the issue for a number of years, but while a new law passed to address the issue, “it passed with no funding,” she noted, suggesting while it was better than nothing, that the new law won’t offer a similar level of protection given to minors and seniors.

They did have clear disagreement about the Grand Jury report issued by the Bonusgate grand jury — Rzucidlo said she was “thrilled” with the report. “It had many, many solid good points and suggestions. Pennsylvania has this long history of a culture of corruption that has allowed the government to stop listening to the people.”

She said she hoped it would spark a bipartisan effort to make reforms to the legislature’s rules and conduct.

Ross said he felt that the Grand Jury strayed from its role: to determine whether individuals should be charged with criminal acts, related to serving in the house or on staff and really shouldn’t have been issuing reports on governmental reform. He reiterated that the charges brought are for things that are already clearly illegal. He said he thought the real problems with the legislature comes from excessive partisanship and poor communication between the various caucuses.

More than 100 people attended the forum — most were residents at Kendal.

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