Candidate Q&A: David Cleary, 160th State House District

David Cleary

David Cleary

Editor’s Note: Once again, we posed the same nine questions to our legislative candidates and offered to publish them without edits or modification to allow our readers to get an unfiltered view of their positions on some of the top issues of the day in Pennsylvania. We will run the answers of all of the candidates for a given race at the same time — assuming all have responded.

1. There seems to be universal agreement that the state continues to face lower revenues than expenses. How would you address this issue — by additional cuts in spending (if so, where?), raising taxes or some combination of the two?

It starts with legislative house cleaning. Pennsylvania has the 2nd costliest to operate state legislature. PA is the 6th most populated state. Moving to a smaller legislative body that is unicameral would be a significant step in improving efficiency and lowering the operational cost of the legislature. Also, staff reductions to only the staff needed to do actual legislative work would make our government more cost effective.

As the state legislature holds itself to a higher standard, this will pave the way for our legislators to make the hard calls on taxing and funding. Today, there continues to be too many pet projects and “walking around money” spending to curry favor from special interests. With my campaign not receiving special interest funding (particularly out of state special interests and PAC’s), I will be positioned to take a hard look at spending with no perceived obligations to special interests. I plan to inspire a new and refreshing mindset of fiscal responsibility in the legislature.

On the tax revenue side, Pennsylvania would benefit from the enactment of a natural gas severance tax. We are currently the only natural gas state that does not attach a tax to the collection of natural gas. Pennsylvanians have the highest gas tax of any state in our nation by six cents a gallon. We have the lowest natural gas severance tax for the big energy companies and the highest gas tax for our consumers who drive automobiles. One just needs to look at the dollars donated by energy PAC’s to our elected officials, and you will quickly realize what is driving this gross inequity.

2. School funding continues to be an issue for many folks — and litigation over fair funding is now working its way through the courts. Does Pennsylvania provide enough funding for local public schools and is it fairly distributed? Also, Act 1 of 2006 is beginning to put some school districts in a bind — thanks to a combination of lowered real estate values, skyrocketing pension, health care and special education costs — is it time to revisit the act and rework some aspects of it?

Deciding what to fund and how to get funding for education is a complex math problem that I believe I can get my arms around. There are no easy answers.

Congressman Ryan Costello describes his father as a “Pennsylvania public school teacher.” His father Dr. Anthony Costello was paid a whopping $290,000 a year as the Superintendent of my kids’ school district. He has retired and is now collecting a $225,000 a year pension and working as an interim superintendent for another school district for $18,000 a month. If this is what a “PA public school teacher” makes, then I see why we have a public education funding problem. We need to address the bloated salaries of the public school administrators and put a cap on the maximum individual payout for a public sector pension as we start to get our arms around the broader funding challenges for public education.

3. Although Pennsylvania has the highest gas tax in the nation, it continues to struggle to pay for road and bridge maintenance. How would you address this issue?

Marcelles Shale extraction tax and better legislative oversight of the activities of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation as it works to prioritize and plan work efforts.

4. There have been at least five gun-related homicides in the county this year — four in the last few weeks — in addition to a number of non-fatal shootings this year. What would you do to stem gun violence?

A tip of the hat to the Coatesville Police Department and the Chester County Detectives who have made arrests in 2 of the 7 murder cases in Chester County this year. The city of Chester, PA in Delaware County has struggled for years with very high rates of murder and gun violence. Dominic Pileggi was the former Mayor of Chester and as Senate Majority Leader was able to do little to help his hometown with the violent crime challenges that had besieged it. As a state legislator, I hope our legislative body could work to get the State Police and Attorney General teams to augment the law enforcement teams in areas where there are high levels of unsolved violent crimes (e.g. the City of Chester). Although the higher violent crime areas are not within the 160th District, I think all legislators have a moral responsibility to work to make all communities of our fellow Pennsylvanians safe.

5. As the opioid crisis grows, what efforts do you support both to curtail new addictions and help those already in the grip of addiction?

The opioid crisis needs to be addressed by the health department. The traditional response to addicts who will not admit they have a problem and not seek treatment is to let them go on their merry way. The opioid crisis is challenging that approach and we need a health department generated plan that includes financially how to address the high volume of opioid addicts.

Separately, we need the law enforcement community to step back from the health departments issues and get focused on getting the criminals dealing these deadly drugs off the streets. I listened to the Delaware County advocate for NARCAN, but we really need him advocating for going after the drug dealers.

6. Land use continues to be front and center in Chester County — from the development of farm lands to housing developments to needed redevelopment in our urban areas. In terms of your district, what should the state being doing now to better preserve open space and target development to areas with existing infrastructure?

I live in Concord Township and our Board of Supervisors has been composed of several greedy contractors who have profited from over developing what once used to be a very beautiful township. Chester County has fared better at fending off overdevelopment, but continue vigilance is needed to preserve the beautiful areas of open space in the county. My campaign has received no PAC donations, so I can serve to fend off the barons of overdevelopment and work to keep Chester County a beautiful place.

7. Do you support efforts by some to take state legislative and congressional redistricting out of the hands of the legislature and put it into the hands of an independent commission? If so, why? If not, why not?

No, because the commission members are going to have to be appointed by the elected government officials. The problem is the conduct of the last redistricting commission. They lacked the integrity to do it right and heavily engaged in partisan remapping of districts. This political problem will only be fixed by electing government officials with a higher standard of fairness and ethical conduct.

I would be interested in several of the seats on the commission being for appointees from outside the pool of elected government officials.

8. What issue do you feel that the media/public fails to discuss enough in terms of state government?

I feel the local media fails to cover public corruption and ethical problems (particularly the Delco and Philadelphia media). I am concerned that the media is held hostage by political ad revenue and won’t tell stories that in particular would cross the Delaware County Republican machine. Numerous media outlets (as well as judges and lawyers) have been aware that a Delco judge had some serious financial issues. The judge failed to disclose in his statement of financial interests that he was an officer and part owner is a business that ran up a property tax delinquency of nearly $200,000 over a multi-year period. The Delaware County Treasurer never put a lien on the business property, but instead donated to the judge’s election campaign. This is the kind of story our founding fathers envisioned a “free press” would cover. As Thomas Jefferson once said; “Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.”

9. Can you tell us something mildly surprising about yourself (hobbies, unusual past jobs, etc.) that the public might find interesting?

I was born and raised in Bismarck, North Dakota (Carson Wentz’s hometown). I have 10 brothers and sisters, and shared a bedroom with 5 of my brothers as a child.

I have lived in 6 different states and Japan. My experiences from life in other states helps me to base my expectations on what is feasible for Pennsylvania.

I have 286 carrier arrested landings in the F-14 Tomcat, 103 of those at night. Flight operations on an aircraft carrier are an incredibly demanding and intense environment. The sense of urgency and the teamwork on the flight deck is simply amazing, and I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to work in the environment.

I have a team of marathon runners called Team Michael that fundraises for the Organization for Autism Research (OAR). We are in our third year of running the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and we have raised over $28,000 through 29 runners running the MCM. The team is named after my 12-year-old son Michael who has autism.

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