“If you don’t have a challenge that puts a little fear in you, you have the wrong challenge.”
This is State Representative Ed Gainey’s philosophy in life, and particularly in his position as incumbent in the 24th Legislative District of Pennsylvania. Since beginning his service in 2013, Gainey has worked at home, and in Harrisburg, to stay in contact with his constituents and their needs.
“But, you can be involved in a million things, and get nothing accomplished,” Gainey says. “You set a priority on what you want to achieve, and make that your work.”
“You have to be intentional about what you want to do, so every thing I do is with intention,” Gainey says. “I know why I want to increase voting in my District, I know why I want to have an impact in politics in regard to creating legislation. That’s a way we can help people, being intent on moving something forward.”
In just the past year, Gainey has sponsor or co-sponsored more than a dozen bills in the House affecting constituent concerns about safety, education and health. He was co-sponsor of the recently-passed medical marijuana legislation.
Gainey himself, however, is as frustrated with the budget stalemate as voters.
“We have to be honest: This will happen again,” Gainey says. “As long as we, as a state, are electing anti-government officials, or those who don’t want to be in government but want something new that’s outside of government, we will get gridlock. They don’t come [to Harrisburg] with the mindset of creating a better government or a better Commonwealth. They come with the mindset to not raise taxes on anything: ‘We don’t want to fund education. We don’t want our tax dollars going to fix Philadelphia. We took a pledge not to raise any taxes, and that’s what we stand by.’ If that is what they are doing, we have a problem, we have gridlock — we can’t get anywhere.”
Gainey says that the apportionment districts have allowed candidates to be re-elected who espouse these views despite the creation of that gridlock, and will continue to do so.
“If the lines were drawn in a way that allowed competition in a region, you wouldn’t see them be so headstrong, to just say ‘no’ to everything,” says Gainey. “There is nothing the Republican party has said ‘yes’ to. They haven’t said yes to Marcellus Shale tax; they have not said yes to funding education at an appropriate level; they have not said yes, even in the epidemic of drug overdoses and homicides we have, to increasing Health and Human Services to an appropriate level. They have not said yes to anything. The only thing they have done is say ‘we are not going to raise taxes.’ That is the only thing they agree upon.”
“At some level, you have to generate revenue,” says the Representative. “I will be honest; I didn’t go to Harrisburg to raise anybody’s taxes. But the reality is, if it’s going to fund education, if it’s going to fund health and human services, if it’s going to remove the structural deficit so our credit rating will not continue to drop, then that is a decision we will have to make. No question about that.”
“The budget [proposed by Governor Wolf] was a fair budget, but as long as the House and Senate Republicans agree, they don’t need [Democrat’s opinions],” Gainey says. “As long as there is no appetite on the other side [to fund social and educational needs], you have gridlock. There is only room for negotiation if the negotiation is toward what they want.”
“You can look at the votes, and see that is how it has played out.”
Gainey says he does not choose to talk about his own accomplishments, but “in order for me to secure a low-income tax credit deal to build 35-40 units of housing on vacant land in Homewood, for me to be able to get $30 million to bring back to the City of Pittsburgh for the merger of Westinghouse and Wilkinsburg High Schools, for me to be able to help push medical marijuana throughout the state — to the book bag drives I have had, the Senior Fairs I have had, the Scholarship Summit I have had, town hall meetings to talk about drugs, to public policy meetings to talk education and everything else, and to end the year saying ‘thank you’ to my community at a holiday party — I don’t have to brag, because people can look over my record and say, ‘he has done those things.’”
Gainey has also worked on the bill to remove the statute of limitations for victims of childhood molestation and is in the process of working to form a bipartisan caucus dealing with drug abuse issues.
“I asked for a drug policy caucus, and I have been granted one,” says Gainey. “I think the greatest threat right now in the United States, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the County of Allegheny and the City of Pittsburgh is drugs. I think if we find a way to legislate in a different way, because the past 40 years we have legislated drugs is not working, the war on drugs has been really a war on humanity. We need to find a way to get more funding for education and rehabilitation, because the truth of the matter is that you cannot incarcerate your way out of addiction. We have to look at different ways, different approaches and best practices, and legislate new drug policy in order to save humanity.”
“The truth of the matter is that we are in a drug crisis,” Gainey says. “The name of the caucus is Heroin-Opioid Prevention and Education. The reason we called it that is because the acronym is HOPE.”
Gainey focuses on hope in whatever he attempts.
“Life is about how you work, what you live,” Gainey says. “Anger has never built anything but destruction. In three years, I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish. And I am active in my community as well.”
Another issue with which Gainey has been working, even prior to his election, is the gun violence rampant in the District he represents.
“There is no magic wand. The fight we need is the fight of people versus power,” Gainey says. “We can try to legislate to control some of this gun violence, but there is a reason why all the gun legislation we have pushed has been shot down. When the majority of members are NRA members, what are you going to do?”
“They aren’t for any type of reasonable gun legislation. We just have to keep up the fight,” says Gainey. “But what I do know is that one way of impacting gun violence is to re-address how we legislate drugs. We have to be honest. The money has to go to education and rehabilitation versus incarceration. The facts are there, the numbers are there, the resistance again, is fighting a powerful industry and the whole judicial system. There is a lot of money in this, more money than people imagine, but right now is our best opportunity because we have all these overdoses, not in the inner cities, but of rural, suburban Pennsylvanians, that have opened up a new dialogue.”
“I’ll be the first to say that the conversations should have been open when it was happening in the black community,” Gainey says. “The conversation is open [now]. The caucus is bipartisan, and will have an impact like the drugs are having an impact regardless of your race, lifestyle or financial condition. It doesn’t matter anymore. We are all victims of this thing called ‘drug culture,’ and we need to find a way to change the rules so that we get a better man or woman.”
Gainey is reluctant to predict results from the caucus, since they have not yet convened, “but I will tell you one thing: Something’s going to get done. I guarantee you that. So the question is not ‘will something get done? the question is ‘what.’”
Gainey thinks his experience puts him ahead of his opponents in qualification for office. He cites calls for immediate development as an example of how inexperience leads to misinformation.
“There is more to it than saying you are going to make it happen overnight. That is how you know they don’t understand process,” Gainey says. “The only reason things feel like they happen right away is that you see the end of the process, you don’t see the beginning. The beginning could have been two, three years back down the road. You see the building going up, but that is not talking about how the financing came together, how the sketches came together, how the funders came in, and what they had to do.”
“We have to continue to work toward affordable housing development. As we continue to work on it, something will open up, but what that something is, we don’t know,” Gainey says. “We can’t continue to have a tale of two cities. You have to break it down. In my eyes, one of the things we should have done was that, for every building we have that has taxpayer funding, there should have been a certain amount set aside toward affordable housing. The fact that we didn’t make that statement is why we are in the conversation we are now. That is one way of addressing it.”
“But another thing I have to be honest about is that I don’t know. The commitment has to come from the state,” Gainey says. “At the state, Jake [Wheatley, District 19 Representative] and I are pushing for all tax credit deals, any developer coming in there wanting a tax credit deal, has to have a percentage for affordable housing. That has to come with full force from Pennsylvania. But, just because Jake and I are looking at that, doesn’t mean everyone is looking at that.”
“If we are talking about Pittsburgh, the Mayor has to address that,” Gainey says. “I know what should happen, but will it? I don’t know.”
Gainey says that one of the things he has become expert at is “playing the inside/outside game,” and plans to continue fighting to bring the “wins” back to his District.
By Nancy Hart