After a little more than two months on the job, Rep. Pamela DeLissio (D-Phila./Montgomery) is feeling right at home in her intimate, two-room district office on Ridge Avenue.
Nestled between a laundromat and tanning salon along the bustling corridor, the space retains a familiar feel under DeLissio, who last November won the 194th House District seat vacated by Kathy Manderino, who stepped down in November after 18 years of service. DeLissio regards her predecessor as a mentor and role model.
Since being sworn in on Jan. 4, DeLissio splits her time between her Harrisburg and Roxborough offices. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are typically spent at the Capitol for voting sessions while Thursdays and Fridays have been mostly designated as district days.
“I enjoy being in both places,” said the Roxborough resident. “What I really like is the opportunity to interface with as many people as possible on a given day.”
She’s getting that opportunity. When the lawmaker isn’t sitting down with constituents and local organizations in the district, she packs her days with caucus, voting sessions and committee meetings in Harrisburg.
DeLissio sits on three separate committees; Aging and Older Adult Services, Human Services and Health, all of which apply her 30-plus years of experience in long-term care and small business. She previously served as administrator for the Roxborough Home for Women as well as president of the Kearsley Retirement Community.
“This has been a great transition,” DeLissio said. “The experiences I have had professionally have come in handy as I interact with advocates, trade associations, individual constituents as well as my colleagues on the floor.”
And those colleagues, she says, have been extremely helpful in getting her oriented and acclimated to the new work environment.
Expressing frustration with GOP policy
But certain aspects of the Capitol do take some more getting used to than others, she says. Take, for instance, the House voting process.
“I’ve been a little concerned since our first voting session on Jan. 18 about a little bit of political gamesmanship as it pertains to what happens on the floor of the House as well as in committees,” DeLissio said.
In a press release sent out on Jan. 26, DeLissio lays out her concerns about the House Republican leadership limiting Democratic input on a package of good government bills and reducing Democratic membership in each standing committee from 10 to nine.
As a Democrat, DeLissio is in the minority, the “deep minority” as her colleagues call it. So, with 112 out of 203 seats held by the Republican majority, she finds a distinct lack of opportunity for discussion of some bills before decisions are made.
“That’s being very disrespectful of the fact that 91 Democrats do represent 60,000 constituents a piece,” DeLissio said. “So, well over 5.5 million Pennsylvanians are not being heard on a regular basis.”
But despite her freshman status in the House, she’s looking for ways to voice her frustration.
“There are procedural maneuvers that have sort of kept us quiet and even though we’ve been kept quiet we’ve been noisy about it,” DeLissio said. “We are constantly looking for strategies to introduce amendments and to make arguments relative to the legislation being voted on.”
Digesting her first budget address
Last week, DeLissio sat through her first budget address. She said new Gov. Tom Corbett’s speech lacked detail “in terms of specific dollars and cents.” She says the main thing that struck her as wrong was his opposition to imposing any sort of tax on Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
“I’m a little puzzled as to how we go forward and discuss cuts in a variety of areas which include higher education, basic education and necessary human services and don’t discuss any new revenue enhancements,” she said.
In reference to the Governor’s proposed cuts to state universities and “state-related” campuses such as her alma mater, Penn State, she said, “It’s going to have ripple effects, there’s no ifs ands or buts.”
But she said she’s hopeful that the legislature can do something to soften the impact of the budget on families paying college tuition.
DeLissio and her staff are working on a bill that would provide tax credits to adult students and offer employers an incentive to participate in tuition reimbursement.
Concerns about budget cuts and lost services have had plenty of people trooping into the district office in recent days, DeLissio said.
“Folks were coming in to explain that they had figured out how to live within those cuts, but their concern was if the cuts were to continue or be deeper, they were concerned about being in jeopardy,” she said.
Keeping communication lines open
DeLissio says one of her main goals in office is to communicate well with her constituents.
That’s where she says new social media tools come in handy. DeLissio and her staff have jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagon in an effort to keep constituents informed. Within her first 90 days in office, five e-mail blasts and five press releases went out updating the public on her plans and projects.
“We do a full e-mail blast, then we’ll excerpt that in a chattier format on Facebook, then excerpt that yet again in an even chattier format to tweet it,” DeLissio said, adding that she likes the challenge of Twitter’s 150-character-per-tweet limit.
She also held her first round table discussion with five local organizations to open a dialogue about economic development in the 194th District. The organizations were: the Manayunk Development Corporation, Roxborough Development Corporation, East Falls Development Corporation, City Avenue Special Services District. and West Parkside Business Association. She says another seminar is being scheduled for sometime in May.
The new politician refers to her predecessor, Manderino, as a “triple I-rated” role model and adviser because she displays “intelligence, independence and integrity.” DeLissio aspires to do the same.
“My goal is to empower constituents,” she said. “I take this job very seriously and I do my homework.”
DeLissio’s legislative district includes portions of Lower Merion Township and the 21st, 38th and 52nd wards in Philadelphia.