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Democratic Candidate For U.S. House Lee Griffin On Health Care, COVID-19 And Why He's Running

Head and shoulders shot of Lee Griffin standing outside
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The election is Nov. 3. WPSU is speaking with candidates in the race for the U.S. House in central and northcentral Pennsylvania. WPSU’s Anne Danahy interviewed Lee Griffin, the Democratic challenger in the race for U.S. House, 12th Congressional district. Yesterday, we heard from the incumbent, Republican Fred Keller. The district stretches from Perry County in the south, up to Potter and Susquehanna counties, including Clinton County and part of southern and eastern Centre County.

Anne Danahy: The election is November 3rd. As part of our coverage, WPSU is speaking with candidates in the race for the U.S. House in Central and North Central Pennsylvania. Today, we'll hear from Lee Griffin, the Democratic challenger in the race for U.S. House 12th Congressional District. Yesterday, we heard from the incumbent Republican, Fred Keller. The district stretches from Perry County in the south up to Potter and Susquehanna Counties, including Clinton County and part of Southern and Eastern Center County. Lee Griffin, thank you for talking with us.

Lee Griffin: Thank you for having me.

Anne Danahy: You live in Sunbury in Northumberland County. For voters who don't know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you think you're a good candidate for the U.S. House?

Lee Griffin: Sure. So, I was born and raised in rural Pennsylvania. I grew up in a log house in the woods that my dad built himself. My first job was on a farm, a very rural upbringing. I'm an Eagle Scout, grew up hunting and fishing. So, I'm really steeped in the area. I've got a lot of family in Susquehanna County, Northumberland County, and in Union County. So, I feel a real deep connection to the area. I'm not a career politician, but this year I decided to get into the race, because, frankly, this is the most important election of our lives. And it's going to take all of us pitching in and doing everything that we can to get the country back on track. I've seen the impacts of the last several years of policies and rhetoric that hit my family personally, and to explain that my wife is from South Africa. So, we met in Taiwan teaching English. And we came back to the States and she went through the immigration process, became a naturalized citizen, but over the past few years, because she's of Indian descent and is Muslim, there's been a lot of the conversation nationally that's made this-- it's kind of an unwelcome conversation, and I don't want this country to be a place where my own family is made to feel unwelcome. And when I think about our future kids, and the society that they're going to grow up in, I want them to have-- be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else, and have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Anne Danahy: What would your top priority be if you were elected?

Lee Griffin: So, the top priority has to be dealing with COVID and recovering from that. And so, there's two elements to that. One is a health side of that, making sure that we continue to keep people safe, follow our precautions, while getting a vaccine approved safely and out to the public, so that we can start to reopen things in a real way. And also making sure that we have another stimulus plan passed and continue that support for workers, for small businesses, for farms into next year, so that we can bridge people through and make sure that we can recover more quickly once we do have the vaccine and are able to get our economy more open.

Anne Danahy: House Democrats did approve another economic stimulus COVID relief package. It's not expected to pass the Senate and there's negotiations on and off. Would you support that? It sounds like you would. And are there specific things that you think need to be in it?

Lee Griffin: Yeah, I do support the Heroes Act. I think it should be passed, and things that are in there that I think are very helpful: One is continuation of the unemployment assistance that we've-- people have had. Also, money for state and local governments, which in some areas actually provide a source of jobs and income. And there's additional funding for schools that needs to be in. I know we're already starting to reopen, but if we can get support for schools to make the physical changes and the infrastructure changes they need to have both students, teachers, and staff safe as we go back to school.

Anne Danahy: What do you think the federal government should be doing to get better control over COVID-19? So, right now, we're talking a little bit about the economic side of it, the relief side of it, what about the virus itself?

Lee Griffin: So, containment is important, and we need to be setting a good example and be on the same page between state, federal, local governments about how we handle this. And, unfortunately, we've had some irresponsible behavior from the federal government, from the administration in not wearing masks. And then we've seen an outbreak essentially that's happened and we've-- not just officials and dignitaries have become infected, but we've also exposed everyone who was working around them: wait staff at the events, the stage crew at the debate-- anyone who was there-- they're now exposed as well. And not everyone has the same level of access to care that the White House does. So, make sure we are continuing to promote good behavior and contain the virus, you know, wear a mask, keep social distance, and quarantine when necessary. And also continue to push for vaccines, but also make sure that the vaccine is properly approved, goes through the process so that we don't have something roll out that could potentially have side effects that we aren't aware of.

Anne Danahy: We talked about your top priority dealing with COVID-19. What would your top priority be aside from that?

Lee Griffin: Access to affordable health care is the top priority. That was where we were going before this kicked off, and then we had a health crisis that just made it that much more important. And there are a couple different elements to this: one is getting people coverage and coverage that they can afford, so that's something. We need to protect the ACA, all of the protections that are in there, including pre-existing conditions, children who were able to stay on their parent's insurance until their 26th, and the expansion of Medicaid, and go further to get more people covered. I do support something like a public option that would either move us in the direction of, perhaps, universal coverage through different means. If we still have private insurance, that's fine, but as long as everyone has coverage. Also, there's the cost of care generally, so things like insulin, heart medications, standard drugs, life saving medication that people need, the costs, because of patent abuse, have gone up and up and up. But we can cap the prices of those things, or at least the copays that a patient would have to pay to allow someone to not need to ration insulin because they can't afford it. Third part of this is in our rural areas in particular, simply getting to care, simply getting to a hospital or the doctor who is in-network who can actually get you the service that you need is a real challenge sometimes. And we actually experienced that here in Sunbury where our hospital closed in March. It was the worst timing ever because that was exactly when the pandemic was kicking off. And we experienced this where I had to take my wife to the emergency room a month or so ago, maybe a little bit more. And we realized this now adds 30 minutes to the drive to an emergency room when you need to, and so that drove home to me the need to make sure we still have the facilities and the infrastructure available to people in rural areas.

Anne Danahy: Lee Griffin, thank you for joining us.

Lee Griffin: Thank you so much.

Anne Danahy: Lee Griffin is the Democratic candidate in the race for the 12th U.S. House District, which covers parts of Pennsylvania. We spoke with the Republican incumbent, Fred Keller, yesterday. To listen to this and other candidate interviews go to I'm Anne Danahy, WPSU.

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.
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