What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? Right now, my No. 1 priority is Senate Bill 690, my open primaries bill. We potentially lost some very good legislators in the House and Senate in this primary cycle, and I believe this Senate Bill 690 would have prevented that. Having a legislature that has the extremes of both parties trying to run the show does not result in good government.
My next top priority is Senate Bill 473, that’s the Bill that Sen. Sharif Street and I have co-sponsored that would allow for adult-use cannabis in Pennsylvania. It’s kind of funny, I’m not a fan of the product. A Republican that’s become the face of legalization, that might sound odd. But from my standpoint, between the medical program and the thriving black market, virtually anybody in Pennsylvania that wants access to cannabis already has it. I look at this as the adult approach to regulation. Might as well catch it, put it in the stores so people know what they are buying and move on.
And this might come as a surprise to you—I’ve worked pretty hard in the Sunday hunting space, and I got a win there, but that’s not what I’m going to list as my third spot. Senate Bill 1042 would reduce the size of the legislature, specifically reduce the size of the House to 150 members. I know somebody always runs a bill that does that, but what makes this unique is that it would put three House members within each Senate district, and that is where I think there is significant change. So, 10 years from now when we go through the redistricting process, the Senate lines would be drawn first, then the House lines would be drawn within that. It would create what I would consider more of a team approach for these regions.
I’ll give you an example: currently, I have six State House reps within my district. Everybody’s all over the place. I really believe, whether they are Republican or Democrat working together, too, if we have three State House representatives within each Senate District, it would create more of a team approach down in Harrisburg for your region, people would be able to get more done, and quite frankly, it would foster some bipartisanship. If they are on your team whether they are Republican or Democrat, I think you’d have more of a tendency to work together.
What is your biggest motivator as a legislator? I ran a very successful business before I decided to run for office. It was my frustration with how Pennsylvania was being run that finally got me to throw my hat in the ring.
My frustrations continue. When I first ran, I was a little naïve about how our state government worked. But now that I’ve been there for almost six years with an insider’s view on this, I’m still frustrated by how long it takes to get something done, especially when you have something that’s polling at 75 to 80 percent from the populace, it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to get done. It seems like with all these competing interests, it’s quite an effort to try and get something together, even when it makes sense for almost everyone’s constituents. I continue to remain frustrated about that.
When I was in private industry, I could literally make a decision on Friday, and on Monday, that’s what we were doing. And now, if I want to get something done, no matter how mundane it seems, it’s typically a two-year battle, sometimes longer, and I really don’t think it needs to be.
Where do you shop locally for food? I’ve become a pretty big fan of Wegmans. I like the layout of their store. It’s pretty close to my home, and their selection is pretty robust. I think they do a good job within the community as well.
It’s a good company, you can tell it’s well run. I’ve never had a bad experience at their store.
We have some of the top-rated sunsets in the world here in Erie, and the sunsets in Maui were almost like ours. For the folks that can’t make it to Maui, they should probably come to Erie this summer.
What is your favorite vacation destination? My wife and I went to Maui back in 1999, and it’s been on my to-do list ever since. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I’ve traveled a fair amount. I like to tell people, with Lake Erie and Presque Isle, I call Presque Isle the Maui of Pennsylvania. I have the experience, I’ve been to both places, and I think they share a lot of similarities. We have some of the top-rated sunsets in the world here in Erie, and the sunsets in Maui were almost like ours. For the folks that can’t make it to Maui, they should probably come to Erie this summer.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Right now, they are all having some supply chain issues and rising costs of everything. The inflation rate has to be difficult for our grocers, to try to keep the cost down for their folks. They also are having trouble finding enough employees.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? There are two things that come to mind. One of them was a personal goal for me, and that was cracking that old blue law about Sunday hunting. I was able to get that done. I realize in the grand scheme of things that wasn’t a huge issue for all Pennsylvanians, but it certainly affected about a million of us. On a personal level, I’m really pleased about that.
The other thing that was a legislative victory, when I ran in 2016, the Erie School District was on the verge of financial collapse. It had gotten so bad that they were considering closing all of their high schools and just educating the kids through 8th grade. That’s still a state law, believe it or not, that’s all you have to do. We were literally on the brink of collapse here.
As you are probably aware, if you don’t have a functioning school district, it’s extremely difficult to try and do any economic development, because why would someone come here, right? With the help of Sen. Mike Braun, I was able to secure an additional $14 million a year for basic education funding, which was the largest per-student increase in basic education funding in the history of Pennsylvania. I’m really proud of that, it literally changed the dynamics up here. They’re not rolling in cash, but we have a functioning school district and things are getting better.
There are roughly 11,000 children in that school district. Hopefully in the grand scheme of things, it changed the trajectory for those kids.
I think one of my biggest frustrations legislatively, Sen. Braun and I put out a co-sponsorship last year that would have raised our minimum wage to $10 an hour. It included an escalator built into it for inflation, which in my opinion is part of the reason we have such a disparity with our minimum wage sometimes. We’ll go years and years and then we’ll do an increase. But if it had been tied to inflation, notwithstanding this past year, it would’ve gone up 10 to 12 cents a year, nobody would’ve noticed, but we’d probably be at $10 or $12 an hour. Now, since it’s taken so long to get any movement on that, the $10 minimum wage is almost a joke. Private industry has gone well beyond that. I don’t think anybody would dispute that. So I’m kind of frustrated about that. I think it would’ve been a good thing to get done last year.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? This might not come as a surprise for your readers, but one of my favorite things is to cook a venison tenderloin over a fire down at my camp. Kind of makes sense, right?
What do you like to do for fun? I like to go out on my boat in the summertime and fish on Lake Erie. I’m a very avid archery hunter. I prefer beach vacations. If I’m sitting on a beach with my wife in a lawn chair with a margarita in my hand, I’m a pretty happy cat.