Republican state Rep. Russ Diamond is set to face Democratic challenger Matthew Duvall for Pennsylvania’s 102nd district in the Nov. 3rd general election.
Duvall, district leader for Lebanon County District 8 (Annville-Cleona), since 2018 and an unsuccessful candidate for Annville Township Commissioner in 2017, seeks to seize control of the seat from Diamond, who before he obtained his current office in 2014 ran several times as an independent or Libertarian Party candidate.
The 102district covers the boroughs of Cleona, Jonestown, Myerstown and Richland and the townships of Annville, Bethel, Heidelberg, Jackson, Millcreek, North Lebanon, South Lebanon, Swatara, Union and West Lebanon.
Each candidates answered nearly a dozen questions on a variety of topics — including the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, and police reform — for the Pennsylvania Voters Guide.
Here’s a sample of how the candidates answered some of the questions:
What is the top issue facing the commonwealth, and how would you address it?
Diamond: “Ending the executive overreach of the COVID-19 response which has caused undue harm to Pennsylvania’s working families. We can accomplish this by amending Pennsylvania’s constitution to require legislative input on, and firm authority to terminate, any disaster emergency declaration.”
Duvall: “The pandemic, which is addressed in other questions, has highlighted a serious issue in Pennsylvania and across the country: politicians have worked to cater to the wealthy and well-connected, at the expense of the rest of our citizenry. I would focus on issues that will make a positive impact for our constituents, such as raising the minimum wage, increasing state funding for education to reduce pressure on local property taxes, and moving our technology infrastructure into the 21st century.”
How do you plan to reduce the spread of coronavirus in Pennsylvania and prevent future outbreaks?
Diamond: “The expectation that government can seriously mitigate or eliminate a virus by ending human to human contact is unreasonable and unsustainable. Pennsylvania’s response to COVID-19 began with a reasonable desire to “flatten the curve” to prevent healthcare facilities from being overrun. That effort was successful. To move the goalposts to “stopping the spread” is unrealistic, and court testimony has revealed that the Wolf administration has been operating on fear and speculation rather than an informed and rational decision-making process.”
Duvall: “Epidemiologists and medical experts, as well as case studies from other countries, have shown that there are key common elements that reduce the spread of coronavirus. Individually, we need to wear a mask, wash our hands, and watch our distance. The government needs to partner with healthcare organizations and other businesses to facilitate rapid-result testing, contact-tracing, and effective quarantine measures. We should also be focusing on getting PPE to healthcare workers and others on the front lines in order to keep them as protected as possible.”
How can Pennsylvania grow jobs following the pandemic’s toll on the economy and employment?
Diamond: “The state is not capable of “growing jobs.” Only job creators can do that, and the best way for that to happen is for the Wolf administration get out of the way.”
Duvall: “The governor has recently called for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, which would create a new industry and add jobs. There has also been a pilot program for growing industrial hemp, which could be expanded and allow us to add industries that could use that crop, such as brick manufacturing.”
Should Pennsylvanians be required to wear masks? Why or why not?
Diamond: “No. Such a policy is unenforceable. There is no actual science proving that masks work. The initial hype about “asymptomatic carriers” was based on a report of a single individual who traveled from China and spread COVID-19 upon return. That report was later found to be in error, as the individual in fact was symptomatic. A telling fact is that the Department of Health does not even ask about mask wearing when conducting contact tracing. One would think that would be the best way to track whether masks work or not, but they don’t even ask the question. They ask about sexual orientation, but not about masks. Further, the psychological impact of universal masking on children and society in general cannot be ignored.”
Duvall: “Everyone who is able to wear a mask should wear one when they are indoors with non-family members or outdoors and unable to maintain at least a 6-foot distance from other people. If you’re unable to wear a mask, you should consider whether an activity is truly necessary for you to participate in. The best current evidence on controlling the coronavirus shows that properly wearing a mask is a low-cost option that helps reduce the spread of the disease.”
The pandemic has cost government agencies billions of dollars. How can the government pay for these services and balance the budget? If a tax increase is needed, whom would you tax?
Diamond: “Sacrifices and cuts needs to be made. You cannot shut down an entire economy and expect government services to continue as if revenue streams have not been interrupted. I would not increase any taxes.”
Duvall: “If a tax increase is needed, we need to make sure it goes to the people who can most afford it. One way to do this is to split personal income tax into two categories: wages and interest, which could be taxed at a rate lower than the current 3.07%, and wealth income (for example, dividends and capital gains) at a higher rate. One study by the PA Budget & Policy Center found that taxing wages & interest at 2.8% and wealth income at 6.5% would increase tax revenues by $2.2 billion, with 82% of Pennsylvanians seeing their income tax stay level or decrease. In the 102nd district, 86% of constituents would have an income tax the same or lower than it is currently.”
Should the governor’s powers to issue an emergency declaration be curbed? How?
Diamond: “Two constitutional amendments are on track to be placed on the May 2021 ballot. One would require legislative approval of a disaster emergency declaration within 21 days. The other would eliminate the requirement that a concurrent resolution to terminate a disaster emergency, such as my HR836, be presented to a governor for approval. I was happy to author one of these amendments and consult on the other. These amendments have been passed once, been advertised, and are targeted for early adoption again in the 2021-22 legislative session so they can appear on the May 2021 ballot for ratification by the voters.”
Duvall: “The point of an emergency declaration is that it needs to be done quickly. However, at some point it can become problematic for an emergency declaration to be renewed over and over. Based on the actions earlier this summer, it seems that the legislature could override an emergency declaration, and if they have enough votes, a subsequent veto by the governor. If the constituents of Pennsylvania want a broader change than this, we need to propose an amendment and allow the citizens to vote on it.”
What further police reforms are needed to address issues of racial bias and police brutality?
Diamond: “We need to re-establish respect for authority by ensuring that authority is carried out with respect. The vast majority of our law enforcement community are good people and we need to work with them to create processes for weeding out bad actors when necessary. This spring and summer I collaborated with a working group of the Legislative Black Caucus as well as other colleagues to develop House Bill 2852, which would amend Act 111 to change the arbitration process regarding disciplinary action. While this legislation will not likely get to the finish line this session, I will continue to work with the LBC as well as law enforcement entities to address this issue during the next legislative term.”
Duvall: “There are many issues in this area that need thoughtful consideration, debate, and change. One example is drug policy: we should be focusing on treatment and health-based solutions rather than immediately going to criminal punishment. Incarcerations for drugs across the US, and in Pennsylvania, continue to rise, while drug use rates are relatively constant. We should focus our efforts and resources on prevention rather than punishment. We’re also the only state in the country that doesn’t provide any funding to public defenders’ offices, leaving people who are unable to afford an attorney at an automatic disadvantage. Finally, we need to look at communities with problematic police relations and focus on funding mental health services, informal educational opportunities, and other community supports so that police in those areas can focus on the job they signed up to do: addressing actual crimes that occur.”
How do you plan to further environmental protection?
Diamond: “Pennsylvania has gone to great lengths to protect our environment and will continue to do so in the future. One of our biggest problems is that action is being mandated based on modeling rather than actual metrics. As a result, the Commonwealth is not being given enough credit for efforts already undertaken, for example, by the agricultural sector in regard to Chesapeake basin efforts.”
Duvall: “Pennsylvania and Lebanon County have some of the best farmland in the world. Preserving as much of that farmland as possible should be a chief consideration. At the same time, it is imperative that we act to preserve our planet for future generations. Clean water, including the storm water management project, is important for our community. Climate change as a result of human activities is one of the major issues we need to address. Joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a first step Pennsylvania could take to do our part. New and future energy projects should focus on sustainable and renewable energy projects and provide jobs/training to Pennsylvania’s workers.”
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana? Why or why not?
Diamond: “The current efforts at legalization seem to be dominated by the notion of providing more revenue for the state. I am not inclined to give the Wolf Administration one more dime to waste. We also need to address Pennsylvania’s “zero tolerance” for THC levels under the DUI law, which is already problematic for legal patients of our medical cannabis program. Further, one of the most important features of PA’s medical cannabis program is a clinical research component. That research has been delayed by court battles and has not yet produced meaningful results. I am concerned that legalizing recreational marijuana would interfere with the progress of that research, which is greatly needed to help inform patients with serious medical conditions. I worked hard to bring our medical program to fruition and I was the prime sponsor of the legislation which returned industrial hemp as a legitimate crop to PA. I am adamantly opposed to creating another system resembling the state’s liquor monopoly.”
Duvall: “Yes, if done with care based on an examination of what has (and hasn’t) worked for other states like Colorado. Legalizing marijuana for recreational use would help the economy and free up our police and justice system to do more important work.”
Should Pennsylvania take steps to protect aspects of the Affordable Care Act should it be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court? If so, what should those steps be? If not, what should be done instead?
Diamond: “It is impossible to predict what the Court may or may not decide, therefore it is difficult to say how the Commonwealth should respond.”
Duvall: “So far, 13 states have taken steps to protect their citizens if the ACA is overturned by the US Supreme Court. However, states are limited in some ways, both monetarily and due to regulations such as Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). We should do whatever we can, however, to at least preserve key preexisting conditions protections, including nondiscrimination, essential health benefits, and preventive care.”
What makes you the best candidate for this office?
Diamond: “As a life long resident of Lebanon County, I understand and share the values of the vast majority of its residents. I have applied those values in Harrisburg by using my voice to lead the legislative efforts against executive overreach during the COVID-19 crisis. As I have been for the last six years as the 102nd District’s representative in Harrisburg, I remain committed to protecting individual liberties while formulating policy to ensure that Pennsylvania’s working families can thrive and prosper. My experience allows me to hit the ground running when our next legislative session begins in January, and I humbly ask for the support of our community in this election.”
Duvall: “I believe our elected representatives are public servants. I’m running to give a voice to everyone in PA House District 102. Even when we disagree, I promise to treat all of my constituents with respect and dignity. I will listen, identify areas where we agree, explain areas where we don’t, and promote solutions that get us to our common goals.”