My whole life I have pursued careers where I feel that I can make a difference – and it is why I’m running to represent my neighbors in Pennsylvania’s state legislature. Unfortunately, there are many individuals who have lost faith in our government as an institution that can bring positive change to people’s lives. These skeptics believe that our government is run by the rich and powerful, and they see politicians as corrupt individuals working only to preserve their own jobs and power. This is not the government that I wish to be a part of, and I believe we can change the system to move away from career politicians who preserve the special interests of themselves and their friends.
Gerrymandering is a real problem, and politicians on both sides of the aisle are guilty of working to craft districts that benefit themselves and their friends. This process also creates districts that are safe for one party, creating a benefit for candidates who are more partisan and cater to the extremist wings of their parties. We need competitive districts so that more of our elected officials are held accountable to governing based on moderate principles of both parties. Only then can we have a government made up of individuals who want to work together to solve problems and effectively govern, not score political points by holding only radical positions.
I support an independent redistricting committee who can use data and technology to craft districts that meet the constitutional requirements of being compact, contiguous, respecting municipal boundaries, and keeping communities of interest together. I believe that creating an independent commission is an important start to remove the politics from our redistricting process.
Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform
Pennsylvania has some of the most lax regulations on campaign contributions and gifts to elected officials and government employees. I support creating campaign finance limits for each level of elective office in Pennsylvania so that our politicians are accountable to citizens and not large-dollar donors.
I also support a gift ban for public officials. Currently elected officials can accept an unlimited number of gifts with no caps on their value, and only need to report gifts valued over $250 or hospitality and transportation of over $650. This means our elected officials are easily influenced by lobbyists, donors, and individuals who can afford to spend time and money to grease palms and protect their interests. I would support this legislation without exemptions or carve-outs.
In addition to limiting campaign contributions and gifts, our state government needs to create greater transparency around both campaign contributions and ethics disclosures. Anyone who has attempted to search campaign finance reports or the financial interests of members of a state commission knows that our state websites and search features are severely limited. I strongly support upgrading the Department of State and State Ethics Commission filing systems and websites so that information is not just available, but is easily accessible and searchable. According to my commitment to this transparency, I have posted my own campaign finance reports on my website at lissaforpa.com/cfr.
Finally, I would reexamine the requirements around the revolving door of legislators and lobbyists. Current law permits legislators to lobby their former colleagues after only one year of leaving office. Attorneys (one of the most common professions in state government) are exempted from even this short waiting period.
Ending Harrisburg’s “old boys” culture
Harrisburg has not been spared in the era of #MeToo. Hearing from women who have spent long, successful careers in our state’s Capitol, it is clear that the culture is in need of significant reform. Not only are there men who have created hostile work environments, sexually harassed, or even assaulted co-workers, but these actions have often been swept under the rug or actively covered up by those who are supposed to be leaders. I strongly support ensuring that there are required workplace policies for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and that legislators are not exempt and do not receive special treatment under these policies.
Related to this, a professionalization of legislative staff is very important. There are many dedicated public servants in our state government who have invaluable wisdom and expertise. However, the relics of an era of party bosses and jobs doled out as political favors still linger. Ensuring there is a standardization of legislative jobs and pay that is based on standard factors like education and experience would ensure fiscal responsibility and address the pay gap within our state government.
Another way to demonstrate fiscal responsibility is by legislators taking the lead. Currently legislators can profit from the use of state vehicles and claiming of “per diems” for their state-related travel. As a legislator, I would not only decline these benefits for myself (accepting only reimbursement for actual expenses), I would support legislation to do away with the per diem so that all legislators only receive reimbursement for actual expenses incurred. I would also publicly post my personal and office expenses, and support legislation that would require all state elected officials to post this information in an easily accessible and searchable format.
Protecting Voting Rights and Increasing accessibility of the ballot box
I support dramatically expanding Pennsylvania’s new vote by mail system. In response to COVID-19, I have already publicly stated that I am in favor of proactively mailing a ballot application to all registered voters. When it comes to election reforms, ensuring that voting is safe and convenient should be a top priority. This also means that we should work to permit same-day voter registration to further reduce barriers to participating in elections.