Bizzaro, Lucas face off in state rep race

Category:  News
Sunday, November 6th, 2016 at 10:08 PM

Ryan Bizzarro

Democratic State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro is an Erie native. When he was young, he worked in the kitchen of his uncle Louie’s restaurant. He graduated from McDowell High School in 2004 and graduated from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in 2008 with an associate’s degree in political science and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Additionally, he has a master’s degree in public administration from Gannon University.

Before becoming state representative of the third district in 2013, Bizzarro was a victim/witness coordinator and advocate for the Office of the Erie County District Attorney and the Crime Victim Center. Additionally, he worked as a behavioral health specialist at McKinley Elementary School and created a partnership between the school and the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Bizzarro worked as a liaison for the local and national campaign offices for Hillary Clinton when she ran for president in 2008.

Currently, Bizzarro is a board member for the Northwestern Pennsylvania Big Brothers Big Sisters program, a member of the Erie County Industrial Development Authority, a committee member of the Erie County Truancy Task Force and co-chairman of the Young Erie Professionals civic engagement committee.

Q: Why are you running again?

A: I have a genuine interest in public service and people. I want to see this region be at the forefront of Pennsylvania. Erie is the hidden gem of Pennsylvania and is an untapped resource for all intents and purposes. We need someone down there [Harrisburg] who has innovative ideas and who can supplement what's going on here locally with state funding and try to find state means into the federal means in order to get more funding for the region. I'm looking to enhance the overall health and well-being of our area, and that's why I’m running. I’ve got a great track record and people can see what I've done for the district and what I've accomplished and I want to continue to do it at least for another term.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish if re-elected?

A: I want to continue to focus on my priorities that I've been working on since I've been elected. Literally in 2013 when I took office, we hit the ground running. No other legislative office has come close to northwestern Pennsylvania with the type of constituent services that we provide here. Just from Jan. 1 of 2015 to now we’ve taken care of almost 20,000 people and helped them with state related issues. And that's just the people we have on record. We let the people know we are their gateway to Harrisburg and I want to make my legislative office a one stop shop for all your state government needs. I want to take care of people, that is exactly why I’m here and I want to keep focusing on that. Not only do I help on the human element of things but, I'm also passionate about animal abuse. I have a piece of animal abuse legislation out there that made national news and has come to national attention and I want to get that across the finish line too but I need a little bit more time to do that.

Q: During your time as representative, what have you accomplished that you are most proud of?

A: I would say definitely on the legislative side of things, bringing attention to a national problem that we're having that is the abuse with animals. It's something I'm passionate about. I had no idea that when I introduced this bill it was going to cause this much of a ruckus here in PA and really start an animal rights movement. I'm really proud of that and I'm proud of ending the budget impasse. I was one of 13 Democrats to break ranks to stop the 9 1/2 month budget impasse and I'm very proud of that. I'm proud of working with the other side of the aisle in order to get the job done and I'm proud of delivering for the people of this region. It's way easier to under promise and over deliver 100 percent of the time than to give somebody your word and not be able to fulfill that promise, so that's why I never make a promise that I don't keep.

Q: The committees you’ve served on as representative are Consumer Affairs, Insurance, Judiciary and Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness - why are these important to you?

A: I’m also the Democratic secretary of the Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee and I am the cochairman of the subcommittee of the courts on the Judiciary Committee. Generally with a lot of those committees it takes some seniority to get on because they are considered relatively important committees. I'm lucky to be a second term member of the house and not only be appointed to those committees, but also have some leadership position in them. With Consumer Affairs, we’re protecting consumers on utility issues and on every other issue; Judiciary is anything related to what we do in our courts, changes to come to our court system have to come through that committee, and if we were ever to impeach an elected official it would have to come through the committee; Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness - I’m a big vets guy, I’ve always wanted to take care of vets. I used to volunteer at veterans organizations when I was a kid, so that was a perfect committee for me. We do a lot, it's a very bipartisan committee and it's one of the best committees to get some real comprehensive pieces [of legislation] out there that actually help veterans and do some good. It's one of the few times that Democrats and Republicans agree, so I really enjoy that committee; Insurance - Erie Insurance is a major employer in this region, and we’re a big insurance town. I think it just made sense geographically for them to put a member of the house that was so close to this corporation here because it employs people from all across the commonwealth.

Q: What is your vision for education in Pennsylvania?

A: I’ve been a big proponent of public education and what we've seen in the past few years is a $1 billion cut to public education. If you look at that, it's had devastating effects on classrooms across Pennsylvania. I'm a big supporter of education and getting the appropriate funding that we need. We're looking at not only K-12 but also higher education. I fought tooth and nail to try to get the PASSHE schools additional funding this year and we were successful at doing that. Any investment in human capital is investment in our future and you [college students] are our future. We have to have a skilled and educated workforce that can meet the demands of the 21st century workforce.

Q: Do you support the Fair Funding Formula for the commonwealth? Why or why not?

A: It's an equal distribution of the funds that we have; it's fair to school districts across the commonwealth and we're not so blatantly picking winners and losers. We’re not giving all the suburban districts the money, which I have the suburban school districts so obviously I love to see them be successful, but we can't just give them all the resources and forget about the urban areas. It's not fair and it's got to be fairer and we’ve got to be on a more even playing field. The Fair Funding Formula has tried to right the ship by doing that. It’s not a be-all and end-all for education funding problems, but it's a start and it's a marking point to where we need to move the future.

Q: How would you increase transparency?

A: I think we're a fairly transparent state. I'm one of the most transparent legislators out there because I put out a weekly email blast and every time that I put up a vote, I make it public so the public doesn't have to join any right-to-know requests and they don't have to search for what I'm voting on. I put it out there for the public to see, I put it on my website and everything I do is transparent. I think we’re a fairly transparent state. Are we perfect? No, but if you look at us in comparison to some of the others, we have the transparency laws in place. I'm not trying to hide anything, I make things easily accessible, you can see what I spent my money on, you see how I vote, I put it all out there and I have nothing to hide.

Q: The current presidential election has divided many citizens on issues and discouraged bipartisanship. Additionally, the state had an extremely hard time compromising over the state budget last year - how do you aim to repair that relationship between parties?

A: I think that what the public doesn't understand is that we get along far more than they see. They see us going at each other on the hot button issues, but most of the time we're on the same page. We’re voting on things of unanimous consent or putting up votes where it's very bipartisan in nature. The political divide has gotten extremely rough in this country and particularly in the commonwealth. That 9 1/2 month budget impasse, I'm not even kidding, was the worst 9 1/2 months of my life. I didn't run for office to make people's lives more difficult and I thought that the legislature was in fact doing that. It was almost at a point where I wasn't sure if I was going to run for re-election or not because I just had such a bad taste in my mouth. That being said, I was one of the 13 Democrats to break party ranks and vote with the Republicans to end the impasse, so I have a fairly good relationship with my colleagues on the other side [of the party lines]. I'm a pretty moderate Democrat: I work from the center because that's where real compromise is. People need to understand the art of compromise; not everybody should be able to get what they want to 100 percent of the time. When both sides walk away feeling like they lost, that's real compromise and that's what I want to do. I want everything obviously, but I'm realistic about it. We’ve got to be realistic about what we can and cannot do.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: I hope that the students of Edinboro University get out and vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Of course, I would respectfully ask for your vote but just get out and vote and be active in your communities. This is your future, have a say in it regardless of what party or candidate you're supporting, just go out there and fulfill your civic duty. I think you owe it to your nation, and you can't complain if you don't vote.

Greg Lucas

Republican Greg Lucas moved to Edinboro with his family in the 1970s, as his father was a college professor. He graduated from General McLane High School, and then graduated from California University of Pennsylvania with a degree in industrial technology education and taught shop classes.

Lucas ran a construction company in Edinboro for over 30 years, but eventually sold out to his partner and taught construction management at Fortis Institute.

He ran for the state house of representatives in the fifth district in 2012 and won. Lucas served two years in the house until his seat was eliminated due to redistricting. While in the state house, he introduced legislation to let the state universities decide how much they were going to charge out-of-state students. Edinboro University did a pilot program last year and set the tuition at 105 percent. Lucas says this was done in order to boost enrollment for the university.

Additionally, Lucas started the PASSHE caucus and served as co-chair. He and the representatives who had PASSHE schools in their districts met so they could discuss common problems with the PASSHE system, meet with the chancellor and other people within the organization and try to raise money for the schools.          

Currently, Lucas works in construction management, running crews for other companies.

Q: Why are you running?

A: When I was a representative before, I had an agenda that I started two years ago and I want to finish that agenda. My biggest concern is job creation; I lost my house seat a few years ago because we lost population and we’ve lost population because we’ve lost jobs. When I graduated from high school at General McLane, we had 225 kids graduate. They peaked out at around 300 [students] during the 1990s, and now they’re down to about 175 kids. People aren’t having as big of families as they did, so that’s part of a problem that the population of the high schools as well as the colleges around here have.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

A: Again, my biggest thing is job creation and making sure that the commonwealth is receptive to new jobs and making sure we have a tax structure that invites people in. When I worked for the governor’s office, I worked for community and economic development and I enticed companies to come to northwestern Pennsylvania through grants, workforce development, tax breaks and other things to bring companies in so we can bring people to work. In exchange for that, they had to tell us how many jobs they were going to create. Additionally, I am a fifth generation teacher and so I’m all about public education and making sure we have the funding for public education.

Q: During your time as representative, what did you accomplish that you were most proud of?

A: I had one bill that became law that I was the prime sponsor of and it was about a consolidation merger. I think that what we need to do is start consolidating a lot of these small towns and even larger. I would love to see the city of Erie and Millcreek consolidate, because then they would be back to being the third largest city in Pennsylvania and along with that comes a lot of grant money, a lot more clout, so I think that we need to start doing that. On-time budgets [is another thing]. I voted for two on-time budgets with no tax increases that put more money into public education than ever before. Ryan Bizzarro will tell you he’s the sole reason that they got this budget [2015] passed, but the Democrats and the governor are the sole reason they had a 9 ½ month length of time that they didn’t have a budget passed. A lot of times egos come and personal agendas come into play. The fourth time he [Bizzarro] had the chance to vote on the same exact budget that passed (that the governor let become law because the governor didn’t sign it) he crossed party lines and voted for it, but those votes didn’t make any difference. There weren’t enough votes to override the governor’s veto, it was just a political stunt. Thirty years in small business and I’ve actually started four businesses. I sign the front of the paycheck, not just the back; that means I’ve put a lot of people to work. So I guess the answer to your question is the legislation I got passed, on-time budgets without tax increases and I voted for property tax elimination which helps senior citizens out.

Q: The committees you served on as representative were Aging and Older Adult Services, Game and Fisheries, Labor and Industry and Local Government – why are these important to you?

A: I am a big hunter, so Game and Fish was for me. I introduced legislation, but nothing ever made it through. Labor and Industry because I was a contractor. A lot of it had to do with new building codes and things like that so I wanted to make sure that they weren’t putting undue pressure and undue responsibilities on homeowners as far as costing them a lot of money for things they didn’t need. Local Government was where I got my bill through; being mayor of Edinboro and in borough council, that one made a lot of sense for me to be on. Aging and Older Pennsylvanians I wasn’t all that excited about, but we did some legislation with nursing homes and things like that and I toured the nursing homes in my area and a big issue right now is funding for the nursing homes and making sure that people who don’t have family to take care of them have someplace to go.

Q: On your campaign website it says you want to “cut wasteful spending.” What does that entail?

A: Well, there’s a lot of what I’d call fluff and a lot of that fluff has to do with newsletters that representatives put out. For the record, I never put a newsletter out. I voted to reduce the size of the legislature. I support term limits. I think maybe back in the day we needed 203 [representatives] because we didn’t have the communications and technology like we have now. A lot of this stuff can be handled over the internet now. There’s a lot of wasteful spending. The perks of the representatives and senators are pretty good, I’ll be the first to admit that and could those be reduced? Sure, but some of it does get expensive (hotels, driving to Harrisburg, etc.). It’s not a get rich job, but you get compensated pretty well and automatically get a cost of living raise, it doesn’t have to be voted on. Reducing the size of the legislature would definitely help and then cutting spending within the office. How many flu shot seminars do you have to have? Everyone has one, but is that a core function of government? Is that a core function of a representative? To me, the core function of a representative is passing an on-time budget.

Q: What is your vision for education in Pennsylvania?

A: The two biggest issues right now in public education are pensions and charter and cyber schools. They both have to have something done and the teachers union will fight tooth and nail on the pensions. We can’t touch any existing pensions, but I really and truly don’t think that new hires would care if they went to a 401K. Thirty-five percent of the budgets are for pensions in school districts now and it’s not going to get any better. Cyber school and charter school funding has to have accountability.

Q: Do you support the Fair Funding Formula for the commonwealth? Why or why not?

A: Sure, absolutely. They need to make sure that the schools are funded and basically what that [Fair Funding Formula] does is it says that the state will pay more money to the school districts who can’t afford it. I don’t have a problem paying a little extra money for our school districts. We have a good school district, and I want to make sure that those kids are educated, but I also want to make sure that the money is spent properly and isn’t wasted. Again, you have to have accountability.

Q: How would you increase transparency?

A: As far as being a legislator, almost everything is out there: all of our expenses are out there, and the Internet makes it so much easier. You can find the salaries of everybody, how much money is spent on campaigning, every dime has to be accounted for. I don’t know how you can increase it any more than an already is, to be honest. It’s all out there, you just have to look for it.

Q: The current presidential election has divided many citizens on issues and discouraged bipartisanship. Additionally, the state had an extremely hard time compromising over the state budget last year - how do you aim to repair that relationship between parties?

A: The biggest thing as a rank and file representative is you pick your leadership. That’ll happen right after the election and every two years in the house you pick leadership: speaker of the house, the leader, secretary, on down. As a rank and file person, you have to look at who wants to be in leadership and you have to vote for someone who will put the needs of the commonwealth before their own needs. Right now, we don’t have that. You have to compromise and you have to work across the aisle. No one benefited from those nine months [of the budget impasse] except the bankers who got the interest on all those people who had to borrow money.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: I did not graduate from Edinboro, but Edinboro’s my town and without the university, Edinboro is McKean. As a representative, I will do everything in my power to do everything I can to make sure that Edinboro is funded, that they have as many students as they can get in there and that their programs are available to the masses. I think it’s a good school, everything I can do is for them and I’ve proven it in what I did in two years’ time. I did more in two years’ time than probably anyone has done in the last 20 years. I personally asked Governor Corbett for more money for the universities, specifically Edinboro University and he told me no but I asked up so I really have tried hard to bring more money to the university to try and make it easier for kids to go to school here and recruit better. Throughout my life as a regular person and as a political figure I have always supported the university, I have always tried to make sure that they had the funding they needed fought for whenever I could for them.

Dakota Palmer is the Voices Editor for The Spectator.

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