It's time our government put you first
I am a grandfather, a retired teacher, and a career long union member.
It’s now been nearly forty years since my wife, Karen, and I settled in Cherry Valley. We didn’t know too many folks when we got here, but Cherry Valley was, and remains, a small place. We didn’t stay strangers for long.
Within our new community there was Harold, our neighbor and mechanic. Even when our paychecks were spread a little too thin, he would find a way to keep our car on the road. There was Gus, who owned Thompson's Grocery, who even when his store was on a lifeline and had a broken leg, would drive my son's school bus. There was Denny, owner of Eau Claire’s Hardware, whose expertise and tools were vital resources as we built our home.
I have learned that nothing will get better while our leaders still claim loyalty to corporations rather than the hard working people I am proud to call my neighbors. The jobs will continue to move away. The wells will continue to be drilled. Our community will continue to fade.
Enough is enough. It is time we, the working people of this district, stand up and fight back. My name is Michael Bagdes-Canning and I am running for State Assembly to fight for our community. Will you join me?
I got a job as a teacher at George Jr. R, working with students the state had deemed “delinquent.” It never ceases to make me laugh that I became a teacher as I was a horrible student. But just after high school, my father set me up as a teachers assistant for a friend of his. I saw her care for the students who struggled in the classroom just as I did. And I saw that with just her little extra effort, she put these students back on the right track. I wish I had a teacher like Margie Scherer, and from that moment, I knew I wanted to spend my life being that type of teacher for struggling students. Throughout my career, Karen and I would invite students into our home and into our family. I keep in touch with some to this day.
Even then in 1982, the jobs were scarce, and only becoming scarcer. Year by year the major sources of our new community’s jobs closed or moved away. The strip-mining companies had gone bankrupt. Pullman Standard’s railcar manufacturing plant went the way of the steam engine. Year after year would bring more bad news leading to our recent one-two blow of Joy Manufacturing and The Polk Center, two of our major sources of family sustaining union jobs going away.
The loss of those jobs was devastating, not just for our livelihoods, but for our community. As the factories and mines closed, so too did the stores on Main Street. Gone is the car dealership, the diner, the jeweler, the candy store, and even Thompson Grocery and Eau Claire’s Hardware. Our leaders made a big fuss of fighting off this erosion, but their actions were always too little too late.
Where we used to drive five minutes to buy from our neighbors steeped in knowledge, we now drive a half hour to buy from big box stores that pay starvation wages to workers who couldn’t tell you anything about a wrench beyond its location on Aisle 7. The stores in our town weren’t just places to shop, but essential threads within the fabric of our community.
When we drive into Oil City and Franklin, I am always amazed by the beauty and grandeur of the buildings that line its streets. My grandchildren's eyes open wide as I tell them about the world’s largest industries that used to call these buildings home. As we pass building after building sitting empty and boarded up, I am hopeful they will one day get to experience an Oil City even greater than the one of my stories.
When we drive past dilapidated barns, I think of the small family farms that could no longer afford to stay in business, and of the farmers forced to work odd jobs to make ends meet.
After I retired, I felt restless at home watching our community fall further and further, while more and more of our land was torn up and destroyed by big corporations. I joined Marcellus Outreach Butler, and with them organized around the state against Fracking. We would rally whole towns together in opposition to the construction of new wells or pipelines. We had a win here, and slowed construction there, time after time, we would fail. It did not matter that the people did not want the wells or pipelines built because the people who held power did.
What are we fighting for?
For too long the politicians who govern us have promised us the world, only to sell it to the highest corporate bidder. The corruption of our two major parties has been the millstones around the neck of our once thriving working class community. How many good, high paying jobs must move away before we stand up and say we won't take it any more? The jobs we have lost are gone, and we cannot bring them back. But we can create a new generation of high quality jobs by investing in a Green New Deal that restores the damage done by industry and prepares our home for the future. I believe our district can be a place where every person can live a dignified life: where every person who is able to work can work, where every person can comfortably afford the basic provisions they need to survive, and where we exist harmoniously with the land we live and rely on.
Jobs you can live on.
Each week we read about the stock market hitting new heights. Our nation is the wealthiest it has ever been, and the wealthiest any nation has ever been in the history of the earth. Yet too many of us are working longer hours for less pay than our parents. Too many of us fear the first of every month and count the days until the next paycheck.
We need jobs, but not just any jobs. We need jobs that you can live on. We need a $15 minimum wage. We need reinvigorated unions and an end to the two-party war on workers' rights. We need homes and rents you can afford and healthcare that is free. We need education that requires textbooks, not checkbooks.
Water you can drink.
The Oil Region is no stranger to environmental devastation. Legacy pollution from the oil boom taints our drinking water and fouls our soil. Scars from strip mines pock our landscape. Acid mine run-off kills aquatic life. The treatment of radioactive drilling waste irradiated the Allegheny and exposed workers to dangerous levels of radon. Orphaned and abandoned wells from the last two centuries, either unplugged or with failing plugs, belch methane and leak toxins. Brownfields, once the sites of the refineries that made us the center of the oil boom, are now dangerous repositories of carcinogenic chemicals.
We accepted this heavy burden on our land and our health because we got high paying jobs in return. We traded poisoned land and lungs for economic prosperity. But this pact is no longer true. The damage from fracking keeps flowing, but the wealth it once brought stopped long ago. The people of this district are no longer the ones who see the profits of these wells, but we are the ones who have to live with their consequences.
The answer to our economic woes is not more drilling. That will only bring greater environmental devastation, and with it greater health risks placed on our backs and the backs of our children.
We need to hold corporations accountable for their environmental damage, forcing them to pay to clean up the messes they make. We need a Green New Deal that creates high paying jobs within our community to restore the damage a century of industry run amok has done to our land.
Healthcare as a human right.
A broken bone should not cause more damage to one's finances than it does to one's body. Healthcare is not an optional luxury, but an essential resource we need to survive. It's time we started treating it as such. When a simple trip to the doctors office runs up a bill of hundreds or thousands of dollars, that is not having access to healthcare. When it takes longer to repay the medical debt than it does to recover from the ailment that induced it, that is not having access to healthcare.
I am for free healthcare for all. I believe we can create a system where everybody can get the care they need without it breaking the bank. I believe that if you need to see a doctor, there should be no ifs, ands, or buts, you should see a doctor.
And being able to afford healthcare is only part of ensuring access. The Covid-19 Pandemic has made clear what we have always known: we need universal paid sick leave in order to keep both workers safe, and our community as a whole.
Civil liberties expanded and protected.
Our constitution enshrines our inalienable rights, yet after decades of assault from both major parties, our civil liberties stand today in sorry shape. Our most basic rights are a shadow of what they once were, and they will continue to shrivel away unless we start fighting back.
We have lost our right to a fair and speedy trial, as prosecutors and judges set bail higher than any defendant could ever dream of affording, coercing them into waiving their rights to a fair trial and pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. We have lost our protection against "cruel and unusual" punishments, as inmates routinely are subjected to extended solitary confinement, an internationally recognized form of torture. We have lost our ability to peacefully exist within our communities, as too many of our neighbors are thrown away in jail for years and years for minor infractions.
We have lost the ability to care for our families, as the government tears children away from their parents just for the crime of being poor. We are fired from our jobs, denied housing, and thrown out of stores just for being who we are and loving who we love.
We have lost our right to private property, as the government routinely uses eminent domain to steal the homes of working families that stand in the way of corporate profits.
I say no more. It is time to reinstate our right to trial by ending cash bail, ending tortuous practices such as solitary confinement, and ending the destruction of communities by ending mass incarceration. It is time we gave families the resources they need to care for their children, not tear them apart when the government's failure to cultivate good jobs leaves them impoverished. It is time the government stops acting like corporation-hired pinker-tons, and start using its power to lift up working families.
Education that is educational.
Defunding our education system has become a bipartisan project. Suffering from a lack of resources, schools are no longer capable of serving their core purpose: educating and nurturing our children. How is any student expected to be able to learn when class sizes reach as many as 30 kids a classroom? How are teachers supposed to teach when their pay and benefits are slashed and they are expected to pay for classroom supplies out of pocket?
How can we even fathom sending our students back to school in the middle of a pandemic when some schools lack even a school nurse?
The first step towards fixing our schools must be decoupling school budget from property taxes. Every student deserves a great education, no matter whether they come from a rich neighborhood or a poor neighborhood. Students in Fox Chapel don’t deserve a better education than the students in Franklin, Oil City, Rocky Grove, AC Valley or Moniteau. With a greater amount and more equitable distribution of resources, we can ensure every school has great teachers who teach with a passion and love for their students, has social workers and school nurses—not police officers—to meet students emotional and physical needs, and has the supplies and facilities fit for education in the world's richest country.
We need universal pre-k to make sure our kids are getting the education they need at the stage of development when it is most impactful, and to alleviate the burden childcare places on so many working families.
Once our kids graduate from high school, they are faced with few options for continuing education that do not involve crippling debt. When I went to college, the state picked up 70% of the tab and I was able to pay a year’s tuition with just a summer job. It’s time we made college affordable again—even better let’s make all public and community colleges free!
Government that works for and is accountable to you.
Corruption is just how the game is played in Harrisburg. To see how pervasive it is, one only needs to skim the campaign contributions of our incumbent representative, R. Lee James. Huge sums of money from Big Oil and Big Corporations might be the only reasonable explanation for why his voting record has put Oil and Wall Street interests above those of working families at every turn. He is the embodiment of politicians who work for those who pay them, not vote for them.
But Rep. James's actions are not extraordinary, but rather run of the mill behavior among Pennsylvania politicians. Both parties benefit from the same grift, which is why neither has any incentive to fight it. Indeed, Rep. James's actions are completely legal.
Our campaign is funded entirely by small donors like you and run exclusively by volunteers willing to give everything for the sake of our community. As such, we are able to fight for the policies that will root out corruption and make our government accountable. We are for a ban on gifts to legislatures—a legal form of bribery. We are for publicly financed elections, eradicating politicians dependence on large and corporate donors. And we are for making government records public and easily accessible through a free online database.