Issues to consider when voting

Issues to consider when voting

Editor’s Note As voters make up their minds in advance of Election Day this Nov. 4, The Jewish Chronicle asked a diverse sampling of leaders of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community which issues they feel should be kept in mind when heading into the voting booth. Representing viewpoints and organizations from across the political and religious spectrums, they offered differing perspectives on this election but agreed on one thing: If you’re registered, you must vote.

For those in need, a champion

Robert Nelkin

Living in the city of champions, we throw that term around a lot. But in this election, we need a different kind of champion. We need a champion for people in great need.

This elected champion will have empathy, an understanding of people in our community and their everyday struggles. These are working moms who hold down three jobs and still can’t make ends meet. These are frail seniors, struggling at home to avoid a nursing home. These are students in our neighborhoods discovering that school may be a way to something better.

And these are people living paycheck to paycheck, with no margin for error, who now, for the first time, need help hurdling an unexpected obstacle.

This champion will have smarts to use our precious, limited resources in the most efficient manner. In a time when we face a triple whammy — reduced government services, fewer charitable dollars and more people in need — we need someone who can innovate and serve more people with projected flat funding for years to come. This will not be easy.

This champion will care that the fabric of our community’s safety net is fraying for people with disabilities, as their caregivers grow older and soon will need care themselves.

Finally, this champion will understand that many of the answers to these critical human issues will be found by partnering with “our” community agencies — the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Association on Aging, the Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Friendship Circle — all innovators and, we are proud to say, partners with United Way.

We really need an elected champion for people in great need.

Robert Nelkin is president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Allegheny County.

EITC, disabled top list

Nina Butler

It’s a right and an honor to vote. I typically zero in on a few political issues that touch my family as a means to compare apples to apples. This election, two issues I’m following are the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), because I attribute that extra funding to the significant and impressive increase in enrollment and educational quality at our local day schools, and funding for services for the disabled.

The EITC has been a game-changer, lifting our day schools to financially healthy ground. Day school administrators and teachers are experts at stretching dollars for their students’ sake, but there’s an obvious difference when schools actually can invest in cutting-edge materials and technologies as well as pay their teachers.

EITC has been a blessing, and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has been at the forefront of the program. Over the past three years, Corbett has expanded the program by $25 million, and he has committed to preserve the program for the next term at “current levels.”

The gubernatorial candidates responded in writing to questions from the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center, and Democratic candidate Tom Wolf said, “I do not think that public tax dollars should be diverted from our public schools to create a back-door voucher system.” He doesn’t clearly state that he’ll close down the EITC program, but it doesn’t sound promising for parochial or private school education.

Getting clarity on the candidates’ positions related to disabilities policies has been more challenging. At times, Corbett’s actions were horrifying: This summer, for example, his Healthy PA Plan proposed to repeal a program that provides assistance for 33,000 low- to middle-income Pennsylvanians with disabilities. Within several weeks, though, he reversed his position and said the plan would stay intact. Although he started on the wrong side, it’s encouraging to know that a governor can be swayed by citizens’ voices and more information.

Both candidates responded in writing to pointed questions from The Arc of PA, the leading advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but their responses were full of fluff. My friend, Rev. Sally Jo Snyder, director of advocacy and consumer engagement at Consumer Health Coalition, said, “Statistics show that one in five people are individuals with disabilities. Numerically, they should be a force. Fact is, though, that this group has been so long disenfranchised that every candidate will make clear their positions on education, fracking and employment, but they haven’t provided consistent and solid answers on where they stand regarding issues that impact persons with disabilities.”

We all have to weigh the issues of import to us, and we all have to vote.

Nina Butler is a professional educator who works with the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and other organizations.

Vote for honesty, integrity

Judith Kanal

Voting is a privilege. We are blessed to be living in the United States, and, although I may be biased, even more blessed to be living in Pittsburgh. I take my voting rights very seriously and have voted in 99.9 perecent of the elections since moving to here 36 years ago.

Unfortunately, politics has become dirty business. It’s never about what the candidate has done to improve our city, state or country, but more about what the other candidate has done that either is a major personality flaw or caused catastrophic results. This is abhorrent. The people representing us should be honest and true to what they believe to be best for their constituents. I want integrity, sincerity and most of all, trustworthiness.

Many of you are reading this and thinking how naïve it sounds, but why must it be that way? Why can’t one person stand above the fray and refuse to be dragged into the dirt of politics? But, until that day arrives, I choose my candidates carefully. I research them, listen to and watch debates whenever possible, and I always listen to their ads. The “dirtier” they are, the more I am turned off by that candidate.

Local politics have a flavor all their own. We know the candidates. Some of them we’ve watched grow up before our eyes, others we see at events or meet on the street; we can even email them with questions and get a response almost immediately. It’s easy to vote for friends or friends of friends, but our local politics are just as important as the contests on the state or national level. We need to take our voting privileges seriously and treat them with the great respect they deserve.

Let’s all get out and vote!

Judith Kanal chairs the Volunteer Center for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

Discuss the issues, participate

Clifford B. Levine

Our Founding Fathers created a government that was influenced by the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason, religious tolerance and open commerce. They created an institutional structure that reflected a diverse population and encouraged thoughtful compromise. We need only look to violent fundamentalist theocracies to see the genius of our system. Unfortunately, in our post-Citizens United world, where anonymous special interests spew simplistic and generalized doctrine, our exhausted democracy fails to differentiate between positive thoughtful candidates and mediocre demagogues.

In conservative Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback enacted a massive tax cut to create a supply-side paradise; instead, the state is reeling in deficits and Republicans are working to unseat their own nominee. Across the spectrum, legislators resist any discussion of tweaking burgeoning entitlement programs and then lack sufficient funds to address shortfalls in public education, scientific research and appropriate infrastructure development. In Congress, those who have cut the budget of the CDC and resist international aid now complain the loudest about a limited federal response to an Ebola outbreak. The politics of fear and simplicity are adversely affecting our government.

America’s continued prominence requires a full and engaged electorate that shares in the burdens and opportunities of a vibrant, free society. We should be concerned about a return to wealth disparity levels we have not seen since the Robber Baron days 100 years ago and a diminished emphasis on public school education, the great entry into American society. We should encourage scientific research and innovative energy and infrastructure development. To do this though, we must address unfunded pension liabilities and an entitlement system directed to present recipients without fairly contemplating future viability.  

In a 2012 Republican presidential debate, not one candidate said he would support a deal that would raise taxes by $1 for every $10 of federal spending that was cut. And yet, these voices scream loudest about a lack of federal response to every imaginable situation we face. On the Democratic side, it is rare to hear a candidate address entitlement or workforce reforms.

Filter out the noise and generalized statements. Ascertain which candidates are thoughtful and balanced. Recognize that the resolution of complex issues requires nuanced thinking, and constructive legislation often involves compromise. Participate in a campaign. Discuss the issues and encourage others to participate. And then vote. It is the only way our democracy can flourish.

Clifford B. Levine is a local attorney and was a delegate for President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2008 and 2012.

Looking for a ‘plan’

Cindy Shapira

Pennsylvanians have the opportunity on Nov. 4 to determine which candidate will be charged with setting strategic direction and leading the Commonwealth.  Questions for us to ask ourselves: Who can best develop and implement policies that identify and address the needs of our residents and help ensure a Pennsylvania that is strong and attractive to our children and grandchildren?  Who will establish the tone for progress and ethics in Harrisburg?

The major issues we face focus on economic development, jobs and education, which are interrelated and should be the cornerstones of a “plan” for Pennsylvania.  Can the governor and the legislature create an atmosphere for growth and job development through innovative policies that build on our assets and resources?

The Marcellus (and Utica) shale is a key to Pennsylvania’s economic future. How do we most effectively — and responsibly — take advantage of this huge opportunity to generate revenue for investments in infrastructure, education and environmental protection? Growth for our state needs to factor in rebuilding Pennsylvania’s manufacturing sector so that companies create jobs reflecting the need for high technology, clean energy technology and products and services the market demands.  

Our present and our future rely upon the best educational systems that we can provide to Pennsylvanians. The governor will present and advocate for policy priorities through the state budget. Where will education fall within those priorities: universal pre-K, proven to be a key success factor for children; STEM education; improving student outcomes; access to higher education; secondary and post-secondary curricula aligned with job needs now and in the future?  

As a final note: The next governor should have solid policies that address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens, including seniors, children in poverty and people with disabilities. Are the funding and service delivery systems in place as effective and efficient as they could be? What will the next governor do about it?

Cindy Shapira is secretary of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America and secretary of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

National economy among top issues

David H. Ehrenwerth

­­As one who has advised a number of candidates for elected office, I frequently have been asked, “What issues are most important to the Jewish voter?” Historically, candidates have been under the very correct impression that Israel is our foremost concern. Indeed, it often is and should be. The United States’ role in facilitating a negotiated Middle East peace that protects Israel’s future must remain a central focus. Period. The United States’ response to related international issues such as ISIS, Iran’s nuclear program and Russian aggression are also extremely important to us.

At the same time, particularly when competing candidates both have strong records of support for Israel, a number of other crucial issues require serious

consideration. Jews must view the growth and strength of our national economy as a critical issue; we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same opportunities that we have received to live the American dream. This yields a strong emphasis on job creation, the eradication of poverty, education and tax fairness.

Similarly, as a compassionate people, Jews must push for available and high-quality health care, particularly for the elderly and frail. Issues of social conscience and civil rights must remain at the forefront as well. Jews should continue to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to social justice, ranging from voting rights and women’s rights to diversity in the workplace.

The Jewish community should not be a cheap date. We should support those candidates whose overall perspectives on as many of these issues as possible correspond with our own. I know from my recent time in the Obama administration that the hostility between political parties and constituencies with varied viewpoints is often extreme. Thankfully, there should be much common territory among Jewish voters, and our democratic system requires that we make our voices heard.

David H. Ehrenwerth is a local attorney and former Obama administration official.

A call for ‘values voters’

Christine M. Stone

A week before the midterm elections, there’s a lot at stake: Nearly 1.7 million people in Pennsylvania live in poverty, including one in five children. We have an aging population that’s struggling to afford medicine, groceries and property taxes. Recent changes in education funding have clearly meant drastic cuts for some school districts — largely poorer ones. Hundreds of thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians lack access to affordable health coverage.

As a national volunteer leader of the National Council of Jewish Women, I call on voters to be values voters. As you head to the polls, keep in mind this: Where there is a needy person among us, our Jewish values as elucidated in the Book of Deuteronomy call upon us to “open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs. Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so.”

Given this teaching, values voters know it’s necessary to raise the minimum wage and expand the right to paid sick days. Values voters believe our seniors deserve to age with pride with increased access to home- and community-based care services. Values voters want every child, no matter the ZIP code, to receive the best possible education.

We must bear in mind that these values are not partisan; rather they are rooted in Jewish tradition and amplified by our historical experience. It has been said that “where there is an injustice, the Jew feels outrage; where there is suffering, the Jew hears a call to action.” Our commitment to these values depends on our voices and our votes.

Christine Stone is a national board member of the National Council of Jewish Women.