Reform is the goal of the two Democratic candidates running for the House seat in Dauphin County
Two Democrats running for the 105th seat in the Dauphin County House District each say they want to be both a voice and a vote for state government reform.
Harrisburg native Eric Epstein is one of the founders of Rock the Capital, an organization that in 2005 galvanized public opposition to a controversial pay rise that lawmakers voted for themselves.
He was also president for decades of the safe energy organization Three Mile Island Alert Inc, and was elected in 2013 to the Central Dauphin school board.
Justin Fleming has served as Susquehanna Township Commissioner since 2013, has worked in the press offices of several state agencies, and has worked for various nonprofit organizations that advocate for children and increased mental health services. Fleming has volunteered as a baseball coach, been active in school district activities, and served as president of the Pennsylvania Association of Government Relations.
Fleming said he wanted to address what he says are alarming child poverty rates in the 105th District, which includes Susquehanna Township, Penbrook and part of Lower Paxton Township.
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It’s an issue he says he understands all too well, having grown up in Dauphin County poverty, dependent on public housing, free and reduced lunches and food stamps. He said these things helped his family move out of poverty into the middle class. Subsidized loans helped him graduate from college.
Now he wants to provide those opportunities to others.
As Susquehanna Township Commissioner since 2013, Fleming said he advocates for greater cooperation with the school district that shares the township’s borders. Since 2004, he has worked in the press offices of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Labor and Industry, and the Department of Agriculture, tackling issues such as disaster preparedness, unemployment and public safety. He said he was also an advocate for mental health care and children.
As a state representative, Fleming said he will have the ability to continue these efforts full-time.
“I have dedicated my professional and personal life to the service of others,” he said. “This office would be a continuation of that service.”
Epstein says that as a representative of the state, he believes he will have more opportunity and authority to continue his life advocating for the community and its people.
This plea has its roots in the 1979 crash at Three Mile Island, which occurred while he was attending college. He said it was a turning point for him.
“My work has merged with consumer advocacy and regional environmental concerns,” Epstein said.
As co-founder of Rock the Capital, Epstein fought against the 205 legislative wage increase, spoke out against taxpayer abuse by state agencies, and fought to shrink the slush funds of the legislature. His leadership in environmental issues has included the cleanup of PCBs from gas transmission sites, the disposal of toxic waste from the Harrisburg incinerator, and the prevention of a low-level radioactive waste dump.
He was also president of Stray Winds Area Neighbors in Lower Paxton Township, which preserved open spaces, increased the tax base, and secured funding for the study of the Route 39 and 743 corridors. of the school board, he said he initiated the use of competitive pricing and discounts in his dealings with pharmaceutical companies and advocated for competitive bidding in energy and technology purchases, saving the district money. hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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As a state representative, he said he will have better access to the information needed to better protect his district.
“I will be able to compel them to discuss the issues with me face to face,” he said, “and I will be equipped with a much more powerful toolbox to impose real and lasting reform that brings accountability , the proper use of taxpayers’ money and putting the focus back on our residents rather than special interests.
As a state representative, Epstein said he will fight for more support for school districts in Susquehanna Township and Central Dauphin, which he says are underfunded, resulting in higher property taxes. students. He also wants to address health care needs, especially high prescription drug costs and limited access to doctors.
Fleming’s plans for reform include advocating for social and economic justice in his community and in the state. This includes support for a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
“Dauphin County is a wonderful place to live,” he said, “but like other areas, there are levels of poverty, homelessness and income inequality that need to be addressed. changed, and the quickest fix is for people at the lower end of the income scale to earn more money.
He also supports the establishment of paid sick and family leave for every worker in Pennsylvania.
He is particularly committed to addressing the 19% child poverty rate in Dauphin County.
“That means almost one in five children in Dauphin County lives below the poverty line,” he said, “which is simply not true.”
These children will have fewer opportunities for education and health care, he said. That’s why he advocated before the General Assembly for programs such as publicly funded pre-kindergarten, affordable childcare, and access to health care and insurance.
All of these things helped lift him and his family out of poverty, he said, and he wishes it for others.
“Without the right priorities, my story becomes less possible and thousands of children are left behind,” he said.
Fleming also plans to prioritize support for Bill 77, which allowed mail-in voting, and would fight attempts to pass voter ID requirements and restrict drop boxes.
“In fact, we should do everything we can to make it easier for legal and eligible voters,” he said. He said he would support automatic voter registration, early voting, no-excuse mail-in voting, expansion of drop boxes and pre-survey of mail-in ballots.
The winner of this race will likely face Republican write-in candidate Therese Kenley in November’s general election. She decided to get into the race to give voters a choice in this new House neighborhood.
She is retired from Commonwealth service, having worked as assistant press officer for the communications director of the House Republican Caucus; Deputy Director of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on African American Affairs, Chairman of the State Civil Service Commission, and former Deputy Press Secretary to Governor Dick Thornburgh.
“State government and its operations are part of my DNA,” Kenley said. “I am ready, willing and able to serve the people of the 105th Legislative District, and I proudly wear the Conservative tag.”
PennLive writer Jan Murphy contributed to this article.