Op-Ed: “Save the sympathy, we need solutions to gun violence” | Bucks County Courier Times & The Intelligencer

Posted Mar 16, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Over the past few weeks, students across the country have called for reasonable measures to make our communities and schools safer. These students, including many right here in Bucks County, continued their leadership by holding walkouts and marches in support of their cause. Their message is simple: It’s time to do something meaningful about gun violence.

As a citizen and former teacher, I’m proud to see these young people embrace their civic duty and commit themselves to changing things for the better. As a father, however, I’m angered that we adults have left our children to fight for their own safety and security.

Nearly 100 people are killed with a gun every day in the United States. The number of mass shootings have risen over the past 10 years. And on an average day, seven children and teens are shot and killed.

We have a gun violence epidemic in this country — plain and simple. Our children know it, and they are fed up. It’s beyond time that we adults also acknowledge it and demand that anyone who holds, or seeks to hold, public office tell us plainly what their solutions are to this pressing national problem.

Soon after the heartbreaking tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, I vowed to be an advocate for common sense laws to stop and prevent gun violence.

As a state representative at that time, I proposed and supported several pieces of legislation to strengthen gun safety laws while also respecting the constitutional rights of all Pennsylvanians to bear arms.

In an effort to seek common ground, I consulted with all sides in the debate to forge a solution that everyone could live with. I quickly realized, however, that the National Rifle Association and its supporters were not interested in compromise. They, and the politicians who do their bidding, were only interested in obstruction.

For example, the Republican leaders of the state House refused to hold hearings let alone a vote on legislation like my bill to close the background check loophole in Pennsylvania. Instead, they passed a law, which later was struck down by the courts, to allow the NRA to sue our towns when they passed reasonable ordinances, like the one in Lower Makefield that prohibited carrying guns in playgrounds.

As our children are showing us, it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are many causes to this epidemic, and no one law will stop it. But preventing guns from falling into the wrong hands has to be one of our primary goals.

To that end, I have proposed five pieces of legislation to address this issue. Universal background checks and a court process to allow for the issuance of Gun Violence Restraining Orders are two effective common sense proposals. Additionally, we should adopt a “No Fly, No Buy” rule that prohibits terrorists from buying firearms; a “Lost and Stolen” rule that requires gun-owners to report lost or stolen firearms; and a ban on military-style assault weapons coupled with a voluntary buy-back program.

Our children are right. It’s time that we finally act. No more excuses, and no more vague statements by elected officials. I challenge all federal and state officials to state with a simple yes or no as to whether they support these measures.

Steve Santarsiero is a former state representative and the current Democratic candidate for State Senate in the 10th District.

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Five state Senate races to watch in 2018 | City & State PA

With petition season right around the corner, it’s no secret that Pennsylvania Democrats are hoping to ride a wave of perceived suburban resentment towards President Donald Trump right into the General Assembly. And they have reason for cautious optimism: While some national polling shows the Democrats’ advantage may be narrowing, many Republicans in the Commonwealth freely acknowledge that 2018 is going to be a year of simply trying to hold the line.

Some Democrats argue their party has the most to gain in the legislative chamber where they have the least left to lose – the state Senate. There, Republicans hold their largest majority since the 1950s, with 34 seats to Democrats’ 16. As a result of this dominance, they have few districts left through which to make easy inroads.

That leaves the GOP on the defense this year. In contrast to previous election cycles – when Democrats have been justly criticized for giving up on heavily Republican districts – David Marshall, of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said his party is currently planning to field candidates in all 25 state Senate races this year.

With that in mind, City&State PA took a look at some of the more competitive Senate races across the state. Politicos from both parties returned largely similar lists of Senate races where Democrats think they have the best shot at flipping seats or where Republicans say they will have to fight the hardest to stave off challengers.

10th District – held by Republican state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (retiring)

2016 Presidential result: Clinton +4

The retirement of state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney just weeks ago left a void at the top of the Bucks County GOP. An influential Republican who sat for years atop the Senate’s powerful Law & Justice Committee, he chose to follow other colleagues in the metro area into retirement rather than face a tough reelection fight against likely Democratic candidate Steve Santarsiero.

Portions of the 10th senatorial district overlap areas where Santarsiero performed reasonably well in his unsuccessful 2016 congressional bid for PA-8 – which is itself now seen as a vulnerable congressional seat held by the man who beat him, moderate Republican US Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.

Some GOP sources said the 10th senatorial district could already be a lost cause, barring the entry of a strong Republican candidate. Santarsiero, who has campaigned on ed funding and gerrymandering reform, has already garnered some name recognition in the district and turned out votes in parts of Lower Bucks that overlap the 10th during his congressional bid.

There had been rumors that Republican state Rep. Marguerite Quinn would follow her 143rd District predecessors’ example by stepping up to run for McIlhenny’s soon-to-be-vacated seat – the past four Republican occupants of that House seat had done so.

“I am holding off on laying odds on the 10th until I know who the GOP nominee is,” said GOP consultant Chris Nicholas, adding that if Quinn chose not to run, “that’s good news for the ‎Dems.”

Quinn would have history and past popularity in her House district on her side: She won her last election by nearly 20 points. But GOP sources said that Quinn had still not made a decision to run. It was unclear, for now, which other local Republicans would step up to face Santarsiero.

26th District – held by Republican state Sen. Thomas McGarrigle

2016 Presidential result: Clinton +14

Few other state Senate districts held by a Republican broke more heavily for Hillary Clinton in 2016 than this Delaware County seat, currently occupied by auto repair shop owner and former County Council chair Thomas McGarrigle.

Area Republicans have had their reelection hopes in 2018 pinned on the unique nature of candidates like McGarrigle, who have survived years of Democratic voter registration gains thanks to strong constituent service records and incongruous backing from local unions.

“He reps that district really well,” said Republican campaign consultant Mike Barley. “I think he’s the kind of guy who can hold that seat.”

Still, recent results have shaken conventional wisdom here. A powerful Republican machine had kept a near monopoly on power in the union-heavy county for a century more through outreach and patronage power than ideological appeal. That ended last year, after history-making wins by Democrats in county elections. Chester County, which also includes a portion of the 26th senatorial district, saw similar losses to Democrats in the county seat.

Some are worried that McGarrigle could fall victim to the same voter dissatisfaction that turned out many of those county row officers last year. But the GOP is still banking on 26th District voters seeing “Tom from the garage” – and not President Trump – when they step into the voting booth this year.

McGarrigle is far from a strident conservative ideologue, typically concerning himself more with neighborhood-level issues. In recent years, he’s aided archdiocesan cemeteries facing financial ruin and has paid close attention to public transportation service in the fairly urbanized county.

Still, McGarrigle coasted into office with just 3,000 votes in 2014 – about five percent of the vote. He will be face a challenging Democratic opponent in Tanner Rouse – a former Philadelphia homicide prosecutor and son of the late developer William Rouse – who moved back to the district last year expressly to challenge the senator. Democrats hope the potentially deep-pocketed attorney can give McGarrigle a run for his money – but Rouse will first face Swarthmore Mayor Tim Kearney in the May primary.

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‘THERE’S A NEW DAY DAWNING’: Former State Rep. Steve Santarsiero announces candidacy for State Senate in Bucks County | News | buckslocalnews.com

NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> Former State Representative Steve Santarsiero is back on the campaign trail.

A little more than a year after losing his Congressional bid to Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, Santarsiero stood before a wildly enthusiastic crowd inside The Temperance House to announce his candidacy for State Senate in the 10th Senatorial District.

The seat is currently held by Republican Chuck McIlhinney who announced earlier this month his retirement at the end of 2018. He has held the seat since 2007.

“There is a new day dawning here in Bucks County, in Pennsylvania and throughout United States. We are that new day,” said Santarsiero, as cheers erupted from the crowd.

“I know there are Democrats, Independents and Republicans in this room and frankly throughout Bucks County who just want to see a return to sanity,” said Santarsiero. “They want to see people who are going to go to Harrisburg and to Washington not to shout at each other, but to reach across to each other and get things done, find common ground where we can move our community, our state, and ultimately our country, forward. We can do that,” he said, to more cheers and heavy applause from the room.

“These elections this year are that critical first step to get us to that point,” said Santarsiero, who was joined at the event by State Rep. Tina Davis who is running for State Senate in the Sixth District, State Rep. Perry Warren who is seeking re-election in the 31st District and Solebury Township Supervisor Helen Tai who is running for State Representative in the 178th District.

“What a year this has been. It seems more like a decade,” said Santarsiero, who represented the 31st Legislative District in Bucks County from 2009 to 2017. “But the truth is these problems didn’t start on Nov. 8, 2016. Yes, we need to replace Donald Trump in 2020 or perhaps sooner,” he said to a roar of support.

But truthfully, said Santarsiero, the problems began with the Tea Party wave in 2010.

“The people who were elected and came into the Pennsylvania legislature at that time had no interest in governing. Their interest was in tearing things down,” he said. “They made it hard for moderate Republicans in the legislature who wanted to get things done.”

The Tea Party, he said, set out to make it hard for people to vote. “Fortunately the courts told them no, you can’t do that and struck that down. They tried to put up more obstacles on a woman’s right to choose … They cut billions of dollars from our public schools, our state universities and made it harder for kids to realize their dream and a great education to move themselves forward so that they could do as well if not better than their parents. They made it very difficult to get anything done. And that was before Donald Trump,” he said.

“Now, with Trump and in this climate, as we are seeing in Washington, very little is getting done. We need to change that. It’s not about partisanship,” he said.

Santarsiero, a former public school teacher in Bensalem, said if elected he would “put investment back into education at the public school level locally and our colleges. We need to make our colleges more affordable.

“We need to make sure we have job training. We talk about globalization, automation and about how good manufacturing jobs are leaving our shores. And it’s a complex issue,” he said. “But what we need to do is make sure that right here in Pennsylvania we train and follow people throughout their careers so that when industries change they’re not going to be left behind and fall prey to the false promises of a demogogue down the road as we’ve seen with the current occupant of the White House.

“We need to be there for them first,” he said. “We have a great system with our community colleges. Let’s partner with our community colleges, vocational schools and the private sector in creating a job training program that follows people throughout their careers. We can do that,” he said.

“We need to invest in new industries and in particular renewable energy,” he said to more loud cheers. “When the history of our times is ultimately written, the number one issue historians are going to look at is global warming because it is the issue that has potential to wreak such havoc across our globe. It is our responsibility as a state to make a difference right now. The great thing about investing in renewables, we also create jobs here at home. Pennsylvania can be a leader in that and Pennsylvania ought to be a leader in that and I will fight for that as a member of the senate.”

Santarsiero said he’d also fight for the right of working people to organize no matter what segment of the economy they are in. And Santarsiero said he would work “to rebuild our democracy. We need to make sure the mechanisms of our democracy are strong and will enable us, as a country, to move forward. And when we say democracy we actually mean it, that is the majority of people get to decide.”

He continued, “We need to reform the way we draw legislative districts. It should never be the case that someone gets elected to office purely because he or she were able to draw lines to make that happen. People have the right to have their voices heard. We need to make that reform happen.

“We need campaign finance reform,” he said. “We need to make the system more transparent, we need to have limits and we need to make it easier for people who want to run for office so that we can get a wider range of voices heard,” he said.

Santarsiero also said he would fight for a free press, which he called “one of the pillars of our democracy. I’ve been in office and I know it can be challenging sometimes, both for reporters and elected officials. But without a free press and without confidence in that free press and its ability to do its job, everything falls apart.”

As a member of the senate, which votes to confirm appointments made to the judiciary by the governor, Santarsiero said, “We can make sure the person will stand up for the right of a free press to do its job.”

Santarsiero said he would also fight for the health and safety of all the people in the community.

“Certainly we have to fight for a woman’s reproductive rights as I did in the State House and will do again,” he said. “And I will be a leader in the fight to make sure that if the law says you are not allowed to have a firearm, that we are going to have a system of universal background checks that ensures that does not happen.

“We are in challenging times and it’s very easy on a daily basis to open a newspaper or turn on the TV and come away thinking, ‘Oh my God, is there nothing we can do and just throw up our hands,” said Santarsiero.

“We have to fight against the cynical urge,” he said. “We cannot succumb to this idea that our voices don’t make a difference, that the things we do in our community don’t matter and the people we elect to office don’t make a difference. They do.”

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‘They Can’t Wait to Vote’: Energized Democrats Target Dominant G.O.P. in Statehouses – NY Times

NEWTOWN, Pa. — For Republicans in the states, the political warning signs keep mounting: In Virginia, it was an electoral shellacking that nearly snapped their 20-year grip on the State House. In Wisconsin, it was a midwinter rout in a special election for the State Senate, fought in a conservative district.

And in Pennsylvania, it has been an exodus of state legislators from the Philadelphia area, where more than half a dozen Republicans have opted for retirement over a strenuous campaign in 2018.

“It looks like it’s going to be a war zone,” said State Representative Gene DiGirolamo, a moderate Republican, of his native Bucks County, a spacious suburb on the New Jersey border.

As national Republicans dig in to defend their majorities in Congress in the midterm elections, party leaders across the country have grown anxious about losses on a different front: state legislatures. Over the last decade, Republicans have dominated most state capitals, enacting deep tax cuts, imposing new regulations on labor unions and abortion providers, and drawing favorable congressional maps to reinforce their power in Washington.

Yet that dominance appears to be fraying, strained by the same forces taxing Republicans in Congress. National strategists in both parties see the landscape of legislative races expanding, especially in areas around major cities where President Trump has stirred an insurrection among liberals, and college-educated voters and white women have recoiled from Republicans.

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Over the last year, Democrats have snatched away Republican seats in more than a dozen special legislative elections from Seattle and Tulsa, Okla., to Atlanta and Miami, in many cases electing female and minority candidates with strong turnout on the left.

Republicans will not be easily dislodged: In many states, Republican governors have built powerful machinery to defend their allies, and Mr. Trump remains popular enough across much of the Midwest and South to limit Democratic gains. In 31 out of 50 states, Republicans command the entire legislature; in 25 of those states, the governor is also a Republican.

Photo

Representative Darren Jackson, the Democratic leader in the North Carolina House. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in challenging incumbents, even in fairly red areas,” he said. Credit Chris Seward/The News & Observer, via Associated Press
But with some momentum behind Democrats — at least for now — the party appears positioned to make inroads in crucial legislatures, winning a new measure of relevance in state policy and perhaps limiting Republicans’ influence on congressional redistricting after 2020.

Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, the party’s national hub for legislative campaigns, said Republicans were on the defensive in all but a few states. Citing Democratic turnout in recent special elections, Mr. Walter said Republicans should use the next nine months to sound the “alarm bells” for their voters.

“What we have seen in the special elections is a significant spike in the interest, engagement, spending and energy by the liberal Democrats and progressive movement,” Mr. Walter said, adding: “The spending is real. The organizational prowess is real. And the energy is real.”

That energy was on raucous display last weekend in the Bucks County borough of Newtown, where well over 100 Democrats packed into a red-brick tavern to cheer Steve Santarsiero, a Democrat seeking a State Senate seat left open by a Republican’s unexpected retirement. Before a lively breakfast crowd, Mr. Santarsiero needled Mr. Trump and hailed his fellow Democrats running for the legislature’s multiplying number of open seats.

Applauding from the front was Helen Tai, an official in nearby Solebury who is running in a May special election for the State House prompted by a Republican’s resignation. Democrats nearly swept local elections in four counties outside Philadelphia last November; Ms. Tai said the combination of Republican retirements and liberal enthusiasm had transformed the fight for the legislature.

“I wish it was a presidential year,” she said. “People want to vote. They can’t wait to vote.”

Adding to Republicans’ unease are several unresolved lawsuits that could unravel carefully drawn maps in states like North Carolina and Texas. The United States Supreme Court is expected to consider a number of cases involving gerrymandered maps this year, and Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said the group is considering new litigation against state legislative districts in the Pennsylvania courts, which voided a Republican-drawn congressional map last month.

Ms. Post said special elections over the last year had revealed “early indicators of the wave.”

In many of the biggest purple states, however, Democrats must overcome huge Republican majorities and forbidding legislative maps. In Pennsylvania, Republicans hold 120 seats in the 203-seat State House, and 34 of 50 in the State Senate.

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Gov. Scott Walker at the State of the State address in Madison, Wis., last month. Republicans began last year with 20 of 33 State Senate seats, but that number recently shrank to 18. Credit Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal, via Associated Press
Though Republicans have thin majorities in a few states, like Colorado and Minnesota, the party is entrenched by gerrymandering across most of the Midwest and has long controlled Sun Belt prizes like Florida and Arizona.

In North Carolina, Republican legislators wield margins enormous enough to override a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, on a party-line vote in both chambers. For 2018, Mr. Cooper and state Democrats have announced a “Break the Majority” campaign, not to capture either chamber, but merely to deprive Republicans of their supermajorities.

Representative Darren Jackson, the Democratic leader in the North Carolina House, said there had been a surge in candidate recruitment, and Democrats plan to pursue more than five-dozen seats where Mr. Cooper won about 44 percent of the vote or more in 2016. They are especially hopeful about the areas around Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte — the state’s three largest cities — which resemble suburbs in other states that have turned on Republicans.

But Mr. Jackson takes an unromantic view of his party’s prospects. A screen saver on his laptop cycles through headlines from when Mr. Trump won the presidency, as a reminder that any anticipated victory can evaporate.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in challenging incumbents, even in fairly red areas,” Mr. Jackson said, cautioning: “You’ve got to have good candidates.”

Democratic legislators in several states said in interviews that they were waiting on a major trove of data related to last year’s elections in Virginia, where a coalition of educated white, young and minority voters delivered the party a 15-seat gain in the House of Delegates. State leaders say they intend to use that information to hunt for targets even in areas with unfriendly district lines.

Republicans are most concerned about a collection of big states where they hold at least one legislative chamber by a narrower majority. In Florida, they hold the State Senate with 23 of 40 seats, and in Arizona both chambers tilt Republican by five seats or fewer. Mike Gardner, a former Arizona legislator who is now a Republican lobbyist, predicted Republicans would keep power in that state, but noted surging energy in the “hatred-toward-Trump camp.”

State Representative Jose R. Oliva of Miami Lakes, a Republican in line to be speaker of the Florida House, doubted Democrats could win either chamber, but said Mr. Trump might hobble Republicans in the ultra-diverse communities in and around Miami. Democrats picked off a State Senate seat there in 2017, though they have faced their own woes, including the resignation of a state party chairman amid harassment allegations.

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