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Susan Wild: Why I’m Running for Congress

(Gerri Hernández/Courtesy of Susan Wild)

“I have taken a pledge not to accept any corporate tax money. One of the first and most important reasons I took that pledge is because I think that the influence of ‘Big Pharma’ is far too great in our legislative body in Washington.”

Susan Wild, the Democratic candidate for Congress for Pennsylvania’s 7th District, joins Merion West‘s Erich Prince to discuss her candidacy and what she plans to prioritize if elected in November.

Can you talk a bit about that moment you decided you wanted to enter the political realm and run for Congress in 2018?

I got into this race in October of 2017. When I got in, it was really a matter of evaluating the political landscape and who I thought might be likely to step into the race once Charlie Dent accounted he was not going to run for re-election. I came to the conclusion that it was incredibly important for me to step up to the plate. I will tell you that my initial motivating was the fact that I am the mother of two kids, who are no longer kids but they’ll always be my kids, in their mid-twenties. They are part of a generation of people who are going to, in all likelihood, be worse off than their parents were, which is unprecedented in this country. I am incredibly concerned about their generation and the generations to follow and the world that we are leaving for them. That was my initial motivating factor.

Soon after I made the decision to get in, I really started to look at and hear from people across the 7th district, across the Leigh valley area. What I really focused on was that working families—and the way I define people working families are people that depend on paycheck in order to get by—not people with inheritance and wealth have been left behind by the current government in Washington. I felt that I could take the skills that I have developed over 30 plus years of being an attorney. I have advocated for people my entire working life, and I felt that it was important for me to step-in and start doing the things that needed to be done. Those were my initial motivations.

I also wanted to see in Washington someone working on behalf of our district who is calm, sensible, not a “hair-on-fire” kind of person but somebody who really is responsive, is willing to listen to people from all walks of life, from all political backgrounds, and I know that of myself.

One of the things that I had to do over the years in my litigation career has been to resolve disputes. My clients don’t ever want to end up in court, so it’s been a matter of working with people on the other side. We are often at each other’s throats when we get started. But, by the end, we are usually able to accomplish some reasonable solutions.

That sort of de-escalation or commitment to finding common ground is probably something that is particularly timely in Washington in 2018?

We’ve become a terribly polarized society; politics has become extremely ugly, and I don’t think its productive. I think taxpayers are not only turned off by the polarization and the anger, but I think they are frustrated that taxpayer money is being wasted because nothing is being done, because of the gridlock. I think it’s incredibly important.

A place like the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania is not overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic, so there is a certain commitment one must have to reach across the aisle. How will you build a coalition between those who do not see eye-to-eye on the issues?

That’s essential. We know from a recent poll that this district is evenly split between people who approve of the president and people who disapprove of the president. I mean, literally evenly split. I think it’s very important that half the population on either side needs to know that they’re being heard and respected.

Senator Pat Toomey has been widely criticized for his perceived reluctance to engage with constituents, even prompting the creation of an app made by Ryan Epp called Snail Mail Congress, which seeks to connect constituents to their elected representatives digitally. If elected, what sorts of policies would be in place to ensure effective communication between your office and the people of Pennsylvania’s 7th District?

So I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I think not only accountability but transparency and accessibility are really, really important factors. So number one, I have already committed that my daily schedule will always be posted online, and people will know exactly where I am and what I will be doing every single day. In addition to that, I will commit to having constituent outreach staff members whose specific job will be to hear from and reach out to constituents.

In addition to that, I have committed to putting my main district office in the city of Allentown. A lot of the residents there do not have access to transportation, and I think it is very important to be located where they can walk or take public transportation to get to my office. But the district, as you know, is pretty large; it spans the whole Lehigh Valley plus lower Monroe County, so I would anticipate having a couple other small district offices in the farther reaches of my district. So right now, just to give you an idea, my personal cell phone number is on our business cards that are handed out everywhere we go. That to me is a key feature for any representative. If you can’t find your representative or your senator, there is something really wrong, I think.

Can you elaborate on your views on the “war on drugs”? It is a sensitive topic, and there is a split in the Democratic Party when it comes to whether or not to re-examine laws dealing with marijuana or drugs across the board. Is there something from your previous legal career that helps you make this call? 

Well, I will tell you that I have not done criminal law as part of my practice. I am pretty well familiar with the incarceration rates in this district, I am close with a number of the DA’s and public defenders and people who do that kind of work. A lot of it for me is anecdotal knowledge from my law practice. But I will tell you this, I am completely aware that here in the U.S., we incarcerate more people than any other developed nation in the world. There is something wrong with that, and that is not a good system. I think we have to do something about prison, I think that the tough on crime policies that the Nixon era brought in back in the 1970’s are out of date and have left too many people incarcerated. I think that we need to get rid of cash bail.

I think that we incarcerate people before they have ever been adjudicated as guilty and they end up staying in jail because they can’t meet bail. Northampton County has eliminated cash bail, and Lehigh County is considering that. I think that’s really important because it’s a perpetuation of the problem because what happens is people lose their jobs because they’re in jail because they can’t make bail or they fail to pay child support. Then you essentially just create a whole new set of problems, which often lends itself to somebody finding themselves in the criminal justice system.

Is this something that you would favor potentially being approached federally—or municipality by municipality? 

I haven’t thought of the removal of cash bail. I think it is a major problem across the country and probably is something that needs to be dealt with at the federal level, but also I don’t know if at the federal level you can legislate which states are going to do it. But I’d certainly like to see attention put towards that and a movement in that direction. What I do know can be done at the federal level is that mandatory minimum sentencing laws need to be revised and or eliminated. I mean we’ve got people in prison for non-violent drug offenses, and it’s just not smart for taxpayers and it’s not smart for us as a society.

We’ve seen a bit of bi-partisan action when it comes to mandatory minimums such as  with Senator Leahy and Senator Paul with the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, perhaps there is some bi-partisan consensus growing on criminal justice reform?

Right, and I’d like to see that continue to move.

When it comes to the opioid crisis, what are some of the approaches that Congress can further pursue to address this situation? 

I think it’s a healthcare issue number one. At the very top of my list of priorities is making sure that we protect healthcare for all Americans and that we fight back against efforts to sabotage the ACA. The opioid crisis is essential for providing substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment; we have to make sure that those essential health benefits are protected and that they are not taken away. I think that we’ve got to get the profit motive out of the health insurance business, and I think that’s got a lot to do with the opioid crisis frankly.

I think that we have to make sure that two things come to mind immediately with the opioid crisis. One is that Medicaid expansion is essential. It’s the nation’s largest payer for substance misuse services, and it offers health insurance. Something like 68 million low-income individuals and people with disabilities [rely upon it]. So it’s of tremendous importance for those who have an opioid use disorder, and we also have to pay attention to our veterans. The opioid problems have reached critical mass among veterans.

So all of these things are, I think, critical to addressing the opioid problem. The other thing I wanted to mention is that I have taken a pledge not to accept any corporate tax money. One of the first and most important reasons I took that pledge is because I think that the influence of “Big Pharma” is far too great in our legislative body in Washington. They have something like two lobbyists for every member of Congress, and I think that also directly affects how we address the opioid problem.

So the role of getting this big money reduced has potentially some far reaching consequences?

I think so, yes. I think campaign finance reform is an essential issue overall. I only mentioned “Big Pharma” because we were talking about opioids. But, for instance, I don’t think you can have a meaningful dialogue about healthcare reform and vote in the best interest of your constituents when you’re taking money from health insurance companies. I don’t that’s possible. As a lawyer for 35 years, we were taught in law school how important it is to avoid a conflict of interest. And, to me, politicians face that type of situation every single day, and, unfortunately, I don’t think we do a very good job of policing ourselves on it.

Erich J. Prince is the editor-in-chief at Merion West. With a background in journalism and media criticism, he has contributed to newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The News & Observer, as well as online outlets including Quillette and The Hill. Erich has also spoken at conferences and events on issues related to gangs, crime, and policing. He studied political science at Yale University.

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