The state senate race in the 8th District pits a seasoned incumbent, State Sen. Anthony Williams, a Democrat, against Republican and professor, Rhashea Harmon.
Williams is trying for a fourth term in the district that covers parts of Southwest Philadelphia and extends into Delaware County. Harmon is attempting to supplant the incumbent, whom she says has not adequately served the district.
Williams failed to gain the Democratic gubernatorial bid in the May primary as he was defeated by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. His gubernatorial campaign focused on school reform through school choice and the extension of magnet schools.
Williams has introduced legislation for enacting programs that would provide programs to help parents become more involved in their children’s education, and for a voucher program for low-income students in school districts with at least one failing school.
Harmon, who is also a proponent of school choice, said Williams has not yielded positive results in terms of school reform during his time in the state legislature. She said that when it comes to educating children a parent’s involvement must be stressed. One of her goals is to better educate parents on the education of their children by working with school districts and education-minded nonprofit groups.
Williams believes that parents are proactive in their children’s education but become frustrated by the lack of educational options they have if they live in a certain area. According to Williams, the vouchers will give families more choice in where they send their children to school.
One argument to the school voucher issue is that low-income families will not be able to choose the right school for their children or will not be apprised of the voucher program and will not take part in the benefits.
Williams said there will always be parents who will not be involved in their children’s education, but those who are will have community groups and neighborhood friends to help them choose the right school for their children.
Williams said those families who live in neighborhoods where the public school is underperforming and access to magnet and charter schools are out of reach will be those likely to be interested in the vouchers.
“What we don’t like are schools who trap people sort of because of their income,” said Williams.
Williams defined himself as a fiscal conservative who believes that government should find more efficient uses of taxpayer dollars, especially during hard economic times.
Harmon said it was disturbing that property taxes were raised during the recession, along with cuts to services.
Taxes on small businesses in Philadelphia are making it more difficult for businesses to be run in the city, said Harmon, who added that some companies are moving outside of the city to avoid being taxed.
Harmon said business owners are the citizens that take the risks that others are afraid to take and should not be subject to a business privilege tax.
“We should be supporting them, not punishing them,” said Harmon.
Williams said that despite being in favor of more careful spending in state government, he is indeed in favor of taxes because certain taxpayer-funded programs are needed.
The sprouting up of the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry in Pennsylvania has caused state legislators like Williams to delve into the policy areas of regulating the business of natural gas and the environmental effects of the drilling.
For instance, Williams has introduced a bill to examine what chemicals are used in the fracking process of capturing Marcellus Shale gas.
Williams said he is in favor of gaining revenue from natural gas development in Pennsylvania through fees and taxes.
The state’s decision in a previous budget cycle to approve the leasing of state forest land for natural gas drilling is something that Williams disapproves of and says should revisited.
Provisions must be made, said Williams, to ensure that gas drilled from the wells is kept in Pennsylvania. The gas could be used to heat people’s homes in the winter time.
In addition, trucking and distribution jobs will be available in the Philadelphia area for the shipping of Marcellus Shale gas.
Harmon said she has not made up her mind on the issue on whether to tax or place fees on Marcellus gas drillers, but said that research needs to be done as to how many jobs will be brought to Pennsylvania. She said that people are moving out of Pennsylvania to find jobs, and bringing in an industry would help not only keep jobs in Pennsylvania but also bring them in.
Harmon said if the industry brings in jobs and industry to Pennsylvania, then they should not be taxed.
Among the issues facing the constituents of the 8th District, the educational system and taxes will play a major part in the November election. Harmon and Williams will be exercising their knowledge of these issues in the weeks leading up to Election Day.