The 171st Pennsylvania House District includes parts of Centre and Mifflin Counties.
Peter Buck is the Democratic candidate running for this seat against incumbent, Republican Kerry Benninghoff, in the general election this year. Buck is a former Chair of the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors in Centre County and served as a representative for the Centre Region Council of Governments. He is the academic programming coordinator at the Sustainability Institute at Penn State.
WPSU’s Min Xian talked with Buck.
Min Xian: Peter Buck, thanks for joining us.
Peter Buck: Thank you so much.
Min Xian: How does your experience in local government influence your motivation in running for state representative?
Peter Buck: Well, I had the really great fortune of being a representative for the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors and served as the vice chair and then as the chair. During that time, I also had to work with our regional council of governments and then working alongside the University Area Joint Authority, the water authorities, also working with citizens. Having to deal with citizens the way you do when you’re a representative. And so, that’s the kind of preparation that you need in order to go into being a representative and be able to faithfully execute the will of the people on their behalf.
Min Xian: What do you believe are the most important challenges facing the 171st district?
Peter Buck: We have COVID-19, obviously, right now. And it’s affecting the district in really different ways, I should say. So the way that the State College Area School District handles it -- so schools are obviously an issue -- is going to be different than how Penns Valley handles it. So that’s a kind of a challenge: How do we deal with COVID-19 with so much variation here?
Obviously under unemployment, economic development is a huge issue in the 171st. So we have seventh generation farmers and we have people who are first generation Americans who work, say, in a really high tech industry, so there’s that kind of variation. How do you represent that sort of economic development and make sure that people are getting a fair shot at a bright future? Part of that has to do with access to the modern market, our modern way of doing politics and modern health, which means that we need rural broadband.
And then there are things like forest stewardship and farm stewardship. So those are four of the issues that are really top of mine. Last one, rural EMS. Emergency medical services have gotten decked and they’ve been decked in part by the legislature itself. We shouldn’t be cutting budgeting to the people who take care of us when we need their care the most, so we need to take care of them back.
Min Xian: One of the main challenges in Pennsylvania right now is handling the social and economic impact of COVID-19, like you mentioned. What do you think about the state’s response so far? And are there things you would do differently?
Peter Buck: Yeah, I would have done things differently. I recognize fully well that Governor Wolf was faced with a rapidly escalating crisis and I will say that the Governor’s office could’ve done better. The Auditor General said as much, especially where the waiver applications were considered for those businesses that were not considered necessary. But what’s happened since is the leaders in the House and the Senate, including my opponent, who’s the Majority Leader, have turned this into a steel cage match and just tried to set the governor’s disaster declaration on fire without actually proposing a plan.
Here’s what I would’ve done: I would’ve proposed a bicameral, bipartisan gang of 16. Eight representatives from the Senate, eight representatives from the House to meet with business leaders, public health officials, epidemiologists like people from the Center of Infectious Disease Dynamics, who I’ve talked to, and folks from the medical industry to determine what the path forward should be. Because we do need shared criteria and we’re not all going to agree but in order for us to craft a plan that makes sure that people are healthy so we can have a thriving economy, then we actually have to talk to each other. So I would’ve proposed something like that, which is, you know, 15 years ago that was a very pragmatic thing. I don’t know, the legislature has jumped ship on that one.
Min Xian: One of your passions is environmental conservation, which includes advocating for clean renewable energy. How do you think the district can benefit from your advocacy?
Peter Buck: Well, in quite a few ways. We know that farms and farmers are struggling right now. I got to work on the state’s largest solar power purchase agreement. I was part of the team at Penn State and I’m not speaking for the university. I do work there. And those facilities -- 150,000 panels on 500 acres that reduce the university’s purchased electricity greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. It’s huge. Huge. we did that with Lightsource BP, worked with a nature conservancy and with seven landowners -- they’re farmers. So if Penn State can do that and work with farmers, so can other developers. You know, there are maybe some policy changes that need to happen at the state level, but we could actually have dual purpose farming, use the power of the sun to grow crops and the power of the sun to provide electricity to people. The farmer can win, the grid can win. We’re providing jobs from GED to PhD. We’re going to be on the winning side of history and the winning side of the economy there.
Min Xian: There have been protests for racial justice and against police brutality nationwide this summer. Are there changes you would make as a state representative to address these issues? And if so, what are they?
Peter Buck: Absolutely. The kind of violence that has been done to Black Americans for a long time is unacceptable. Since some of that has been carried out by the police, it’s really important that we pay attention to the police and then we do things about it. And I’m not saying that cops are bad. I’m not talking about abolishing the police or defunding the police. I’m talking about common sense reform that could be pretty extensive.
There are a group of House bills that sadly, last year, were hung up by the Republican leadership but the Black Caucus got them on the table and hopefully, they all get passed. So there are some that would limit the use of deadly force only if absolutely necessary to prevent serious bodily harm. Another would require the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate fatal incidents. The law enforcement oversight board. And also detailed personnel records.
The last thing I want to say is that for the last 20 or so years and pretty much every morning, I have coffee with cops. And they’re - the cops I know are not like unreasonable people. They have concerns, some of them are legitimate. But we have to work this out because too many of our citizens are being immorally punished and we need to stand for their justice and for their right treatment and I will do that.
Min Xian: Peter Buck, thank you for talking with me.
Peter Buck: Absolutely and thank you very much, Min.
Min Xian: Peter Buck is the Democratic candidate running for the 171st State House District. We’ll talk with his competitor, Kerry Benninghoff, tomorrow on WPSU. You can find more information about this year’s general election on WPSU.org/vote. I’m Min Xian, WPSU.