Earlier this week hundreds of protestors gathered in Harrisburg in defiance of the statewide stay-at-home order. Among the speakers who commended and egged on the crowd from the steps of the state Capitol was Pennsylvania State Representative Russell Diamond. Diamond is a Republican who represents the state’s 102nd District in Lebanon County and is up for reelection this November. The likely challenger for his seat will be Democrat candidate Matthew Duvall. The Commuter has been in direct contact with Duvall, who answered these important questions.
What are the main ways in which you are different from Rep. Russell Diamond?
I think we would agree on one thing: the role of the representative for the 102nd District is to help our constituents. Where we differ is on how to go about doing that. To me, politics is about helping everyone succeed. It is incumbent on those with power, especially our politicians, to make sure everybody gets a fair shot, and to treat everyone with dignity and respect. So, for example, Representative Diamond focuses quite a bit on helping businesses get ahead. I’m not against that, but I would also fight for workers to be paid a living minimum wage. I respect the rights of women, in consultation with medical professionals, to make their own choices about their reproductive health care. And I value public education and believe we should be working to strengthen – not weaken – our schools.
How would you handle the response to the COVID-19 pandemic if you held his seat?
I would focus on these things: first, doing whatever I could to help our state secure the equipment and supplies our medical professionals need, from ventilators to personal protective equipment to testing kits. I would also be communicating science-based facts about the virus to my constituents and sharing county- and state-level data in ways that could easily be understood, with the hope that doing so would help people understand the importance of following the guidelines for minimizing the spread of the coronavirus. I would focus on helping those who are unemployed to navigate the unemployment system, and work to create opportunities to support both workers and businesses to help them survive this economic shock. I would also be working to help people in need get access to food/shelter, and to create ways for those who cannot pay their rent or mortgages to have options that would let them keep their housing.
What are your views on our current health care system and how do you think it could be improved?
A lot of the changes to health care need to happen at the federal level, although there are some things we could do at the state level. That being said, this pandemic has shown how serious these issues are. I think a single payer system could be a good model. The expansion of Medicaid in 2015 has helped reduce Pennsylvania’s uninsured population, but the economic crisis cause by Covid-19 has highlighted how tenuous our access to health care really is, since most health insurance is connected to employment – when you lose your job, you also lose access to affordable health care.
What are other ways our state government could be helping the people of Pennsylvania right now?
There is an initiative underway to improve our state’s technology infrastructure. This is an important goal that would help in many areas: business, education, and even health care. Telehealth is a component I didn’t touch on above, but is a valuable option that is only starting to gain traction. During this pandemic, having telehealth as an option for non-emergency situations could literally save somebody’s life. However, you need Internet access to be able to use it. Likewise, the current crisis showed the issues around internet access for educational purposes and highlighted the digital divide that exists between urban/rural populations as well as between high income/low income families.
Finally, I read that you are committed to increasing Pennsylvanians’ access to education. How do you think improving our education system would help our nation in times like this?
Improving education would help in a number of ways. First of all, there is a basic level of understanding – science basics, data analysis, critical reading skills – that can help us to respond appropriately to a crisis such as we are facing now. But my view of public education is that it should go beyond K-16; it should include pre-K and workforce training, including vocational/technical schooling options. In the economic aftermath of this pandemic, some folks’ jobs will no longer exist. A strong workforce training (or re-training) program funded by the state could help people in that position to return to the workforce sooner.