Get to know your lawmaker: We asked Harrisburg newbies rapid-fire questions to quickly get acquainted
Here are 15 questions asked of the new members in the state Capitol.
New Year, new me(mbers).
This year’s class of freshman lawmakers is among the largest and most diverse in history: The state House alone is welcoming nearly 50 new members, while the state Senate is welcoming two new lawmakers. City & State reached out to all the newcomers entering their first term in Harrisburg for a friendly survey. Here are some of the best responses we received.
Answers have been edited for length and brevity.
What was your initial motivation for running for public office?
Lisa Borowski (D-168th House District): I was first motivated to run for public office by my youngest son, who was upset because his favorite gym teacher at our elementary school told the kids he was afraid of losing his job when our school board was talking about cutting teacher positions as a method to fund the district budget. I started paying attention to the decisions being made by our school board at the time and decided to run for school board director to support a more visionary approach to education in our district as opposed to maintaining the status quo.
Tarik Khan (D-194th House District): The pandemic laid bare health disparities in our community, and I felt that we needed a health care champion in Harrisburg. Also, I felt that we needed more of a sense of urgency for issues such as making our public schools phenomenal citywide, solving our gun violence and opioid crises, and strengthening and expanding our social safety net.
Josh Siegel (D-22nd House District): My motivation for serving in public office has always been the experience of my family; my father is a gay man and my sister is a trans woman. When my father came out to me, same-sex marriage was on the ballot in multiple states in the form of referendums declaring marriage between a man and a woman. I distinctly remember the politics of the time and the willingness of elected officials to demonize an entire community for votes. Today, in Pennsylvania, we still don't have sufficient anti-discrimination protections for our LGTBQ community.
Arvind Venkat (D-30th House District): As an emergency physician, I care for everyone, no questions asked, and see all the strengths and challenges in our community. During COVID, I had the privilege of caring for my neighbors during their time of need. But I also experienced how our lack of investment in public health, public safety, and public education led to the many challenges we see to this day. I decided to run to make sure we build capacity and resilience into these vital public services so that we never again go through what we did the last few years.
What did you do before this?
Dallas Kephart (R-73rd House District): Lawyer to one of the judges on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
Tarik Khan: Family nurse practitioner at Abbotsford Falls in East Falls and president of the Pennsylvania Nurses Association.
John Schlegel (R-101st House District): An American history teacher and coach for 13 years.
What were some of the challenges your campaign faced?
Tarik Khan: I ran for office while leading a nationally recognized volunteer vaccine program for patients with access issues (with fellow organizer Anna Perng), finishing my doctoral program, writing my Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and treating patients two days a week at the health center. The district maps changed twice while I was running, and I suspended my campaign when it looked like fellow progressive Rep. (Chris) Rabb would be in the same district.
Thomas Kutz (R-87th House District): New maps and a condensed timeframe for the election presented challenges. The 87th district is comprised of five former districts, and each of those five incumbents were on the ballot for state office. This made it difficult to convey to voters the state of the race given the new district lines.
Josh Siegel: The 22nd District has a large Latino population and our campaign had to work to make sure we had the ability to campaign bilingually. We had a campaign fellow that was able to communicate with voters in both English and Spanish, which helped us overcome a language barrier.
What issues and policies did voters express concern for during your campaign?
Lisa Borowski: Maintaining access to abortion; threats against democracy; infrastructure enhancements; and open space preservation/over-development.
Dallas Kephart: Higher costs, including concern of rising gas prices; energy supply issues; and constitutional rights.
Nick Miller (D-14th Senate District): Fairly funded schools; infrastructure support; creating more opportunities for small businesses and good, well-paying jobs.
How do you plan on prioritizing those issues next year?
Lisa Borowski: I plan on focusing efforts on ways the state can support our local municipalities when it comes to infrastructure repairs/enhancements. Many state roads and bridges are in disrepair and municipalities are having to make fixes, which means residents are paying twice on the state and local levels to maintain this infrastructure. I'd also like to see how to support municipalities as they look to create more opportunities for open space preservation – which helps the environment and stormwater issues, eliminates wear and tear on state and local infrastructure, and enhances community health and wellness. Another priority is supporting local volunteer fire and EMS services. Loss of volunteers and increased operating costs is impacting these valuable and necessary community resources.
Dallas Kephart: Reining in wasteful spending and unnecessary regulations and supporting and defending the constitutions of the United States and Pennsylvania.
Thomas Kutz: I will work to enact pro-economic growth policies that will help fight inflation, support family-sustaining jobs and make Pennsylvania more competitive across the board.
Josh Siegel: I think one of the most pressing issues facing voters in Pennsylvania is the cost of housing, which is two-fold; for seniors, it's the rising tide of property taxes and for those in the workforce, it's the cost of rent or availability of affordable starter homes. I believe these issues transcend district and party. There is no area immune to the shortage of housing or issues about the quality of housing stock.
What should your colleagues know about your district?
Tarik Khan: When someone wants to visit Philadelphia, take them to the 194th. We have the best restaurants, small business shopping, hiking, biking, running and indoor ice skating, and some of the nicest people you will ever meet! Also, the Roxborough raccoon lives here and often visits our office.
Thomas Kutz: The 87th district lies in the heart of Cumberland County and is similar to Pennsylvania's geography as a whole – a commercial center, a rural base and a large number of residential communities. The 87th District is home to beautiful rolling farmland, majestic mountains at the north and south ends of the district, and the serene Yellow Breeches and Conodoguinet Creeks.
Nick Miller: The Lehigh Valley is a diverse region and the 14th District encapsulates a little bit of all of what makes the Lehigh Valley such a special place. It spans from downtown Allentown to the suburbs of Allentown and Bethlehem to rural areas in the northern tier of Northampton County.
Did your predecessor offer any words of advice?
Dallas Kephart: Keep your powder dry.
John Schlegel: Frank Ryan was committed to his constituents and community, and he was very supportive of my candidacy.
Josh Siegel: To take my time to take everything in, network and give myself time to learn the Capitol.
What's the best piece of advice you've received so far?
Lisa Borowski: Exercise patience – both with myself and those who are working to help support the transition. I want everything done yesterday!
John Schlegel: Do more listening than talking.
Josh Siegel: Don't be afraid to ask for guidance, advice or help.
Arvind Venkat: Make sure my focus is on serving my constituents.
How has your transition to Harrisburg been thus far?
Lisa Borowski: It has been exciting, frustrating and, at times, disconcerting. As someone who served in an elected role on local boards, I am used to being in the thick of everything. Being on the outside looking in is an unfamiliar spot for me, but I'm focusing on what is most important, which is getting my district office up and running so I can support my neighbors in the 168th.
John Schlegel: Everyone I have encountered in this process has been professional, knowledgeable and supportive. I am fortunate to have a veteran staff whose knowledge and experience is enabling me to immediately and effectively address issues brought forth by constituents.
Is there anything surprising about Harrisburg that you didn’t expect – the intro process, the Capitol, or the city itself?
Tarik Khan: Amazing Harrisburg staff. I didn't anticipate meeting so many fun and skilled people when I headed up to Harrisburg for orientation, but they work for our state government, and their goal is to make our lives easier.
John Schlegel: At first, the Capitol is a daunting place to maneuver, but as I become more acquainted with the building, colleagues, staff and procedures, I'm gaining a deeper appreciation for the opportunity I have to serve.
Nick Miller: The caucus staff has been incredibly helpful in setting up our offices and filling in gaps while we hire staff. I’m also pleasantly surprised by the number of excellent restaurant recommendations I’ve received from future colleagues and staff.
What do you feel will be the biggest challenge facing your chamber this session?
Dallas Kephart: Uncertainty.
Thomas Kutz: The closely divided partisan makeup of the House with a Republican Senate and a Democratic governor will present challenges that require both parties to come to the table to enact laws in the best interests of Pennsylvania as a whole.
Who are you most interested in meeting on the floor?
Thomas Kutz: Rep. Torren Ecker – that guy is a legend.
Tarik Khan: The Pittsburgh area representatives, including Dan Miller, Dan Frankel and Jess Benham. They've fought hard in the legislature to advance the rights of marginalized groups, particularly persons with disabilities, and (I) can't wait to join them!
How do you plan on reaching across the aisle?
Tarik Khan: I've never asked a patient about their political beliefs before treating them. The work is and will always be about achieving the most good. That takes listening, collaboration, compassion and taking risks. None of those acts mean sacrificing your values.
Thomas Kutz: I look forward to an honest and open conversation and exchange of ideas on the many issues where there is common ground, like making Pennsylvania more competitive for small businesses and supporting our first responders.
John Schlegel: By maintaining an energetic, positive working relationship with colleagues; treating people with the dignity and respect they deserve; and focusing on making a positive impact on the lives of the people of Pennsylvania.
What's your favorite piece of Pennsylvania trivia to share with people?
Dallas Kephart: The state’s largest gun shop is in my district.
Thomas Kutz: “Lady Liberty” in the Susquehanna River was originally placed there in the middle of the night illegally as a tribute to the Statue of Liberty before being blown over. The statue was so popular that a replica was built to replace it and has stood there ever since.
Tarik Khan: James Bond is a Chestnut Hill native (seriously, check Wiki). We're the only district in PA with 007 status.
Arvind Venkat: In 1885, Pennsylvanian Dr. George Holtzapple invented the first successful method to administer oxygen to patients, saving a patient with pneumonia and winning international recognition.
Nick Miller: The Liberty Bell was hidden in Zion’s Reformed Church in Allentown during the Revolutionary War.
What’s your convenience store of choice?
Wawa – Lisa Borowski; Tarik Khan; Josh Siegel; Nick Miller
Sheetz – Dallas Kephart; Thomas Kutz; Arvid Venkat; John Schlegel
List of all new lawmakers:
- Anthony Bellmon - 203rd
- Lisa Borowski - 168th
- Timothy Brennan - 29th
- Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz - 129th
- Melissa Cerrato - 151st
- Kyle Donahue - 113th
- Justin Fleming - 105th
- Paul Friel - 26th
- Pat Gallagher - 173rd
- Jose Giral - 180th
- G. Roni Green - 190th
- Jim Haddock - 118th
- Carol Kazeem - 159th
- Tarik Khan - 194th
- David Madsen - 104th
- La’Tasha Mayes - 24th
- Brian Munroe - 144th
- Chris Pielli - 156th
- Tarah Probst - 189th
- Greg Scott - 54th
- Josh Siegel - 22nd
- Ismail Smith-Wade-El - 49th
- Mandy Steele - 33rd
- Paul Takac - 82nd
- Arvind Venkat - 30th
- Ben Waxman - 182nd
- Joseph Adams - 139th
- Jacob Banta - 4th
- Jamie Barton - 124th
- Marla Brown - 9th
- Mike Cabell - 117th
- Jill Cooper - 55th
- Joseph D’Orsie - 47th
- Wendy Fink - 94th
- Jamie Flick - 83rd
- Dallas Kephart - 73rd
- Charity Grimm Krupa - 51st
- Thomas Kutz - 87th
- Robert Leadbeter - 109th
- Kristin Marcell - 178th
- Alec Ryncavage - 119th
- Donna Scheuren - 147th
- John Schlegel - 101st
- Stephenie Scialabba - 12th
- Brian Smith - 66th
- Joanne Stehr - 107th
- Dane Watro - 116th
- Nick Miller - 14th
- Jarrett Coleman - 16th
NEXT STORY: This week’s biggest Winners & Losers