Two weeks ago, I interviewed Pennsylvania Democrat Brett Burman running in the State Senate primary for the ninth District. Here are the questions I asked him followed by his responses.
Kyle Gombosi: Why are you running for State Senate? What do you have to offer that neither your primary opponent nor Tom Killion do?
Brett Burman: I’m running because I’ve been involved in politics a long time, and I’ve seen how our state government does not serve the people the way it should: in particular, in healthcare and education. I saw that this was due to the influence of special interests in Harrisburg, and it outrages me. I realized it wasn’t enough to just continue to try to elect Democrats, which is what I’ve been doing. Mr. Kane has made his career in politics in accruing influence in a system that prioritizes these special interests, and it strains belief that he would work to change this system.
KG: On Ballotpedia, you mention more than once the problem of huge amounts of money influencing public policy specifically in Harrisburg, and you mention comprehensive ethics reform as being necessary to change that. What, specifically, constitutes that ethics reform?
BB: I think it starts with some pretty simple reforms, partly banning gifts to legislators and meaningful campaign finance reforms, like setting reasonable limits on campaign contributions, as well as setting restrictions on how these contributions can be spent. They shouldn’t be personal slush funds for politicians. You can, in essence, give gifts under the guise of giving campaign contributions. We also need better transparency about how public money is being spent in Harrisburg.
KG: I’d like you to describe your time as Auditor in Edgmont Township. What were your responsibilities, and how did that role inform your political beliefs and goals?
BB: Being an auditor is basically [being] a financial watchdog and keep[ing] an eye on the township’s money. In Edgmont, auditors traditionally had not had much of a role at all. When I got in, I felt there should be more involvement from auditors. What it all informed me of is that this question of ethics reform in PA is not just an issue in Harrisburg.
KG: What is your stance on the completion of the Mariner East 2 pipeline?
BB: My position is very clear: the Mariner East pipeline should not operate unless and until Sunoco can demonstrate it can do so safely. Comprehensive leak detection, emergency notification and disaster response plans are all required. Let me be clear: I am not an engineer, so I don’t know whether that’s possible. What I do know is that our community should not have to live with the pipeline if that’s not possible. I would support a freeze on pipeline construction at this point, because I have not seen it demonstrated that this is possible.
KG: Having worked in healthcare, and acknowledging that healthcare is an important issue for many Americans and specifically Pennsylvanians, what do you have to say to voters who feel our current system leaves sick people — and particularly, poor sick behind — behind?
BB: I would say those are valid concerns. In many cases, they’re right. The healthcare system in the US is extraordinarily expensive. I remember seeing those Trump ads that said if we had a public option or M4A, we would pay more and get less. Well, we already pay more and get less than a lot of countries around the world. Because healthcare is so expensive, people who don’t qualify for government programs like Medicaid simply go without coverage. I think that healthcare reform is best addressed at the federal level. It’s best to have a uniform national system than a patchwork. I think PA can, however, institute a public option.
KG: Once again on Ballotpedia, you are quoted as saying that Pennsylvania needs “a comprehensive reinvestment in our common future.” Ideally, what would that reinvestment look like to you? And please be specific.
BB: It’s important to point out I wrote that before the coronavirus hit. The crisis in education has become even more pressing during this crisis. Education is one of, if not the most, important investment we can make as a society. In PA we have a huge disparity between rich and poor school districts, we have money that has been stolen by Republicans from public school districts. It hurts everyone too; our state prospers when everyone is getting a good education. A few years ago, a total of $100 million was sent to charter operators for special education. That money was not spent on educating students with disabilities. We need to rewrite our charter school laws to make them more accountable. We need to overhaul how we award charters to schools.
KG: Beyond the issues we’ve already talked about, what are some others that you feel are important that you would like to address as a State Senator?
BB: Gun safety is something that has to be addressed. The quality of our air and water is suffering in most of the Ninth District. And of course climate change is a global responsibility, and PA needs to do its part to address it. We need to transition to a green energy future and move away from fracking — we can’t tie ourselves to it for the next 20 or 30 years. Shale was sold as a bridge to renewable energy, but it’s ended up being a bridge to nowhere.
KG: Also on Ballotpedia, you are quoted as saying that “we need a fighter” in Pennsylvania’s ninth Senate District. What, specifically, makes you that fighter?
BB: Other than my family’s overall sense of tenacity, I would point to the leadership and effort it took to get the resolution passed on the Mariner East pipeline. I was told by many people in power and in the party to drop it, and I refused. I think that’s an example of the kind of tenacity necessary to fight against the decked being stacked against progressive reforms.
Kyle Gombosi is a senior Music: Elective Studies major with a minor in journalism.