A National and State Perspective
Normally I have great difficulty on how I am about to begin an article. I always want to have just the right tone, with an opening sentence that will capture the reader’s curiosity, enticing them to read on. In this case perhaps the best way to begin this story is with the end. My history with Representative Lynda Culver goes back a number of years to Representative Merle Phillips’ days. My recollections of Representative Culver is one of an individual that is always willing to help anyone whether they were a voter in her District or not. I can name on one hand how many State Representatives that had this work ethic and thought process when approaching their own constituents and the public in general. Representatives like Senator Jim Rhoades, Representative Bob Belfanti, and a few others come to mind. As I consider this point, I believe the best question to begin with is the last question I asked Representative Culver during our interview.
Anything you would want to add to the interview?
Rep. Culver: “I would have to say the one thing I always tell people is that you are not always going to agree with me on every issue. And there are times I vote a way that I don’t actually agree with personally but the District as whole tends to like it. Just because you don’t agree with me on one issue doesn’t mean we can’t agree on an issue going forward, or we can’t have productive conversations. I tell people, and I am pretty sure some people will never vote for me, come in here to converse with me about bills, or issues, or problems because I still need to hear the other side. I still need to know where are the issues, where are the problems, so that we can make legislation better. And I know sometimes when people come in I know that they are never ever going to vote for me. That’s not the point, I still represent them. And it’s important they still dialogue with me and reach out to their elected officials, we are hired by you, we are accountable to you and it is our job to hear what is going on in the District.”
“Just because you have an opinion and your neighbors have another opinion doesn’t mean I am not getting 6 others within the District. And I have to find that common ground between the strong opinions that are going on. That is my biggest message. Whether you like me or not personally I am still elected to represent the 63,000 people of the District, it is important that I hear from people on their issues.”
“The best thing you can do is be honest with them, listen to them, and do your best to represent them.”
Her Early DaYS with Merle and others
How did you ever get into Merle Phillip’s office in the first place?
Rep. Culver: “It’s a funny story in my family my Dad said we were all going to college. But, we were all paying for it. So, my oldest sibling was my brother and it was much easier when I was growing up for men to make more money than women. He could work a construction job and knock out his tuition in the summer. It wasn’t as easy for women to do that, so my sister and I always worked two or three jobs to be able to pay for school. And we also took loans out. My Dad was at a wrestling banquet because Shikellamy High School had won states. And my Dad was the Athletic Director and Merle Phillips was there handing out citations to the wrestlers who had won states. And Merle said off handily, ‘Hey I am looking for a summer intern. Someone who could work during the day you know 5 days a week.’ My Dad said, ‘My daughter is looking.’ Because I already had two jobs that were nights and weekends. So, he said, ‘Have her come in.’ So, I called, went in and I interviewed with him. And I don’t how well you knew Merle. I think pretty well. I walked out of the meeting and his secretary said to me, ‘How did you do?’ I don’t know. ‘Did you get the job?’ Because he had that poker face to him. She asked, ‘What did he say?’ He said I’ll see you Monday morning. Does that mean I am coming in for another interview? She said, ‘Nope he hired you.’ So that’s how I started as summer intern.”
“I always combined it with the Marine in him and being Pennsylvania Dutch. They tend not to like to say good-bye. Because they don’t typically do that. I yelled at him once and I said what happens when you don’t say good bye to us somebody will call in for you and I’ll say you are here and all of sudden I am saying you’re not, here because you’re really not and they think I am putting them off. I can remember him leaving and driving around the block and coming in the other door and say, ‘I am leaving.’ Because he realized if he didn’t tell us we had no idea because he would just kind of sneak out.”
So how long did you work for Merle?
Rep. Culver: “21 years.”
How long have you been a representative now?
Rep. Culver: “This my eighth year.”
What year did you graduate from Shikellamy?
Rep. Culver: “1987”
Then you went on to Bloomsburg?
Rep. Culver: “I did.”
What was your degree in?
Rep. Culver: “Political Science. How I would think I was going to get into this I had no idea.”
You had no political aspirations at the time like running for office?
Rep. Culver: “I did not. No.”
What did you do to chill out at college when you weren’t studying?
Rep. Culver: “I liked to travel and went to other people’s universities. We did that a lot for my high school friends at least once a year (all of us) would pick a weekend and go to a college that one of us attended. And we would have friends up at West Point and so we would go up to West Point once a year and experience that. So, we were all over the place. I worked a lot. I don’t know my roommates and I liked to cook on the weekends. I had a roommate that would prepare like a Thanksgiving dinner once a week and we would live off the leftovers all week.”
You said you went up to West Point several times and I know you are heavily involved in Veteran’s affairs as a legislature and you’re always doing things for the Vets. I know they have good accessibility to your office. What did you think of West Point and how did it influence you?
Rep. Culver: “It’s like one of those moments you are like ‘Wow’! It is in a beautiful setting and to think of the brain trust that is in that facility and how normal they can interact with other people in society despite the pressures they must feel as they are training. And knowing what they are going to have to go out into the world and do for us. They do help ensure our freedoms. “
Who had the most influence on you growing up? Your Mom or Dad or combination of both?
Rep. Culver: “It was a combination of both. I was the last child and my brother and sister were 7 & 8 years older than me. So, they were in college when I was finishing elementary school. As you grow up you say things that oh this is just what my Mom or Dad would say. I think I am a pretty good mix of the two. I look like a good mix depending on if I am wearing sunglasses someone would say oh my goodness you look just like your Mom and if I take them off I look just like my Dad. I can take different things about both the good and the bad and that I am probably like both.”
What made you chose Political Science?
Rep. Culver: “You know I am not even sure. My teachers would ask, ‘How did you not see this coming?’ I don’t know I started off in Speech Pathology. I always knew I loved being near people I loved helping people and, in my mind, I think I thought it had to be nursing or Speech Pathology something in the health field. But it wasn’t my natural inclination. And my teachers would tell me as early as second grade that I was arguing and very factually over the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter presidential election. And I wouldn’t get off it and wanted to know where everyone was and what everybody thought. And I always ran for student government. And they were even kidding me at my last class reunion and they did a little quiz and I answered all the political questions. And they said, ‘See you know all of it’ and I just always thought it was just more like hobby. Often times we would discuss how women enter into in government and politics. We wait to be asked before we enter the race. I am not sure why we do that but I believe things are starting to change. Often, we will wait to be asked to run, I asked a lot of the women and they say, ‘Oh yes, so and so asked me or suggested I run.’ I find it interesting”
Upon graduating college did you immediately start for Merle Phillips?
Rep. Culver: “I had already been interning for him. He had some staffing changes my junior/senior year. And PHEAA required that you were going to have to pay the interest on your student loans as they went. I couldn’t afford that because I was paying for myself. So, I ended up commuting in my junior year and worked in Merle’s Office all year long a couple of days a week. I lived in Bloomsburg my senior year and commuted down to work. When I graduated, Merle offered me a fulltime position.”
You have a long-storied history in the Pennsylvania House. Were you asked to run?
Rep. Culver: “Merle basically shoved me through that door. At the time I had an 8-year-old son, and I just didn’t know if I wanted to put myself out there. One of the draw backs the year that I decided to run was that it was the first year the House of Representatives implemented a policy that if you run for office you cannot work for the House. So, it was a huge stumbling block because like most families in the area we need both incomes. But it all happened very quickly. Now with that said I have told HR and Leadership it is a fantastic rule or guideline that we have because I don’t know how you don’t blur those lines constantly if you are working the job and running for the same office. And it probably would have given me an unfair advantage.”
A National Perspective
Right now, the news cycle is constant with Donald Trump. The Republicans have control of a lot of things right now and Trump is always in the news cycle for good or for bad. What do you think about National politics and where it is going right now especially from the Republican perspective?
Rep. Culver: “I think the general electorate is tired of it. I know when I watch the news I have to watch for actual news not just Trump news. It’s all the media really talks about, so it is making me look at other news areas and what else is going on this world. I think people are tired of it. I think some people are scared by what they hear. Some people think it is not true. I don’t think it is good for the media to continue this way. And it is hard, for they are grasping for facts as well and they are going to report what sells for and draws people to their station. But it is difficult, and I watch this, and a lot of people say they don’t of one person that I know that says I love his Tweets. But while the world is talking about his Tweets he is moving on and doing business. So, I can’t tell if he is doing that on purpose or he can’t help himself with his Tweets. But he is going on and continuing with business but for all the negatives you hear in the media as I travel around the District he has a strong following yet. People like what he is doing. They may not like his methods, they may not like his morals, but they are feeling more confident in being an American and with their money. Typically, I find people can find a good job. A family sustaining job. Their financial situation is good, and they feel safe. They’re comfortable with who is in charge. And that is all anybody ever asks for. So, it’s just kind of interesting and when you see some of the polls, they are agreeing with what Trump is doing. It’s just that the way he is doing it they may not like.”
Do you think he is having an impact on state politics?
Rep. Culver: “No not as much. He has improved our budget. His policies have improved our budget this last year. People often confuse federal and state government. But no, I don’t think not so much at this point.”
From a National perspective who do you think would make a good leader from a Presidential standpoint? Trump aside, could you identify a woman who could win the Office of the Presidency as a woman Republican? What names come to mind as a female Republican leader?
Rep. Culver: “Hmm I haven’t thought about that. It is a big deal for women because if we put someone in there who is not strong, not thoughtful, not deliberative it looks bad on all women. Someone who has good moral character and someone that people respect. I don’t know if I could give you an answer right now. I would have to think about it. They would have to be charismatic and it’s funny I think to get the woman elected she is going to have to be almost like a super woman with wonderful qualities. I don’t know. Let me think about that.”
“I think it has to be a Governor is my thought process. Someone who understands government maybe from a private sector perspective.“
Women In Politics and the choices they have to make
How many women currently hold seats in the House of Representatives?
Rep. Culver: “That’s a bit blurry for me because we are starting to count the new ones. I think we are at 42 of 203 Representatives. We are at our highest number, but we lag nationally. We already know we are going to gain women this election cycle.”
If everything was ideal in the world it should be half men and half women, or maybe even in some cases it should be more women. Do you have any ideas on how to get more women into politics and how to win races in Pennsylvania?
Rep. Culver: “I think it is difficult especially if you’re a Mother. When I ran I had the two last names never thinking that I’d run for office. And I had a pretty contentious primary the first time, so we wanted to make sure that everything was legally as it should be, so I ran on my full name. If I knew then what I knew now I probably would have run on my maiden name solely. So, my son without the association of his Mother as the elected official could have gotten through school. I didn’t hyphenate, my last name I just kept it. I was one of the first to choose to keep my maiden name and go down to the House of Representatives with two last names. And I remember the Speaker of the house calling me a day or two after election and said, ‘Ok I am going to ask you a couple questions. When you introduce yourself, how do you introduce yourself?’ Lynda Culver. ‘When you sign documents how do you sign them?’ I said it depends on what it is, If it is my son’s excuse for school I just use Lynda Culver. If it is my insurance or my driver’s license, then I use the full name. He says, ‘Good I don’t want to say that, I practiced it. That’s a mouth full and it’s not working. And I don’t have room to put it up on the board.’ Since then a lot of women coming in have been, if they are married, using two last names. So Legal called me and asked me some questions. And I am like look (with emphasis). If a woman puts a hyphen in it, she means to use it. If there is no hyphen she may or may not mean to use it. I didn’t mean to use it. So, it kind of makes sense. And most women who hyphenate it mean to use it.”
“The running joke is that everything runs on alphabetical order within your class in seniority in the House. If Sam Smith would have went with Schlegel Culver and being S I would have been at the bottom of my Class. But because Sam decided to drop the Schlegel and just use Culver I am at the top of my Class.”
I know you are always passionate about what you do. I am sure that working in Merle Phillips’ office and then becoming a State Representative has had its challenges and has possibly made you think do I really want to be here? Do you have some examples of really difficult times and the choices you had to make?
Rep. Culver: “You always have conflicting decisions to make between family and work. You have to say to yourself the priority is my family. This is a job like everybody else but a job that’s twenty-four hours a day. So, I really try to make that balance. And it’s not a 9 to 5 job. So, when my son was younger I would try to pick him up from school everyday if I could. Because a lot of nights I am out. And then I would do his homework with him. Get supper ready even if I wasn’t eating with them. My husband would come home and those two would have supper and I would at least get them fed and then head off for the night. So, it was a little different, and I tried to make sure we got our time. I was worried I only had one. My son says I am like an Italian Mother. He says he got plenty of attention. But you do you make them your priority. He is a Senior now and obviously wants less time with us than he used to. Yeah it is just different. It takes me longer to get through the grocery store. You know if we must drive by there after church on Sunday for milk or something simple. I’ll say are sure you want me going into the store. Yeah, yeah go ahead twenty minutes later I went in for one thing and they will be calling where are you. Well I got stopped in there. But people tend to talk to you on matters where they are most comfortable. They are more comfortable at grocery store or a football game, wherever. My staff always knows where I am at because I will either text or I will email because it is off hours and I don’t want to forget. And then they will ask were you at the grocery store at 8 pm last night because they will see the request come through.”
“I can’t say that I have ever thought that I didn’t not want to have this job. It was frustrating when the budgets would go into Christmas on two levels. You are away from your family more and you can’t plan anything with your family. And if I remember correctly, I had to cancel around 65 appointments and commitments the one year because I kept getting called back to Harrisburg. I always say to my husband if I start to complain I am not wanting to go somewhere you need to make sure I am hearing that. If I start to say that it probably means I am getting tired. But I am not there yet!”
How many of the women in the House of Representatives are Republicans?
Rep. Culver: “Until recently there were more Republicans than Democrats. And I think that is a misconception sometimes as we have more women in Leadership on our side. I don’t think you can go by party anymore. There are 42 women in the House split evenly with 21 Republican and 21 Democrat. There is a Women’s Caucus, but even before we had the official Caucus we were trying to get together as women a couple times of year. Just to get to know each other because then you begin to build respect for each other. Whether you agree on an issue you still need to have respect for each other. We haven’t done that as often as of late, but it is something we strive to do because we are small in numbers. We do communicate differently than men do that we try to keep that respect for each going. A lot of us are Mothers and it is different to be a Father and being a legislator typically, than being a woman and being legislature. Traditionally a lot of the mothers you would think are non-traditional mothers having non-traditional job. Nothing could be further from the truth we are very traditional mothers in a non-traditional job. So, it makes it a little more stressful.”
Do you think things are changing for women in the workforce? I mean, overall being a Mother and having that challenge also associated with being a professional? Do you think we are becoming more accommodating as society?
Rep. Culver: “No, I don’t think we are yet. I think women are over extended 90% of the time trying to make it work. I think women carry a lot of guilt around with them trying to have their own careers and their own lives while making sure their children have everything they need. I think for any problems or issues their children may have mothers probably take full responsibility. I am not saying men don’t, but I find that women tend to feel, Oh My Gosh, I forgot to do this for my children. I think generally though probably men and women are coming to a better partnership when it comes to family life and children. It’s just an evolution nothing happens overnight. I see a lot of women pulling back from the workforce while their kids are young. Then they start on all these different paths for work. A lot of them are working from home. I know two of my nephews, one is married, and one is getting married next year. Both of their wives are relocating back to Pennsylvania. Both will be working from a very large firm from home. They are Washington, DC housed businesses that allow both of these young women to work from home. That wasn’t as much of an option when we entered the workforce as it is today.”
Do you think that employers look at women differently when they are hiring? Especially younger women that have the potential to have a family?
Rep. Culver: “It would have to cross their minds at one point. Women are not having babies like they use to most people are having one or two. A lot of them are returning to work, with the ability to work from home now. For example, I had a friend that just had surgery, I don’t know if she took sick time or not, but she worked the whole time from home remotely. So, in that respect I think things are changing.”
Legislative Initiatives and the needs of the constituents
Tell me a little bit about why you are sponsoring the Habitat for Humanity day?
Rep. Culver: “I kind of have a rule typically I don’t do any legislation without being asked by my constituents. That doesn’t mean I won’t go on any legislation. But typically, if someone from the District doesn’t ask me to do it, I typically don’t. I introduced this legislation. We have Habitat for Humanity in the area. They have been helping some of my constituency get in to home ownership that otherwise probably would not be able to do it. And when they explain the structure of it like you must work so many hours to help within your community and if you can’t then maybe someone can on your behalf. You can do other jobs for them. You may not be able to climb up the ladder to the roof and out on the roofing. Habitat for Humanity was having difficulty finding clients qualify. We started working with some of the credit unions and some of the banks in the area and we decided to introduce a resolution to bring attention to Habitat for Humanity and how they are helping people to achieve their dreams in home ownership. So, we re-introduce this resolution every year to remind everybody that they are out there and that they are helping people.”
Is there any legislation you are particularly proud of that you have sponsored or passed?
Rep. Culver: “I try to focus on one or two pieces a year because it is difficult to get a piece of legislation through. I am preparing for next session already. My inspiration for legislation comes organically from right in the District. The one thing I am specifically working on is “Safety Deposit Boxes” and I am meeting with some of my banks and credit unions to iron out the details. We have a situation where a woman and her husband had a safe deposit box traveled to Florida together and before they left she put some of her family jewelry in her safe deposit box because they weren’t going to be home. He took ill and she was caring for him, so she did not get back immediately. And he passed unexpectedly. So, after he passed his wife was trying to settle the estate. She went to the bank and they wouldn’t let her into the safe deposit box because she was not listed on the safe deposit box as the owner. Her family jewelry was in there.”
“‘She asked how to get it out?’ And they told her she would have to probate the will. She said, ‘I’m his spouse why should I have to spend $1800.00?’, because that’s what the attorney told her to probate this will to get in and get her jewelry. But the bank is saying it’s the law. It is the law however; some banks might recognize her as spouse and let her in but technically the law says she can’t. And then after so much time they would sell off the contents and turn it over to the state as unclaimed property. We are talking to the banks now because I don’t want to make it that anybody can get into anybody’s safe deposit box. But when I do this let’s make sure that it is safe. So, that is what we are looking at there.”
You’re on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee, Transportation, and Aging. I know that Veterans are an important part of your own constituency, but they are also important to you on a personal level. You mentioned Merle Phillips being a Marine. What are you doing right now with Veterans?
Rep. Culver: “Once a month we have the Veteran’s Representative come from the American Legion into my Office. He is usually booked solid with problems and issues. He works well with Belinda Albright from Northumberland County Veterans Affairs and Tony Korzenaski in Snyder County. Sometimes it is easier for the local rep at the county to do it, and sometimes it is easier for the American Legion to do it. We worked well with both coming in here. We are always working on legislation for the Veterans and making their life easier. One of the things we have been trying to do is to encourage the federal for faster implementation of the Veteran’s Access Card. It can be difficult for veterans from rural areas to get to a VA hospital. Veteran’s that need health care are aging and they are in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. We really don’t have Public Transportation. Getting to some of these places is difficult sometimes being an hour and half or two-hour drive or more. If they take transportation it is not feasible to take one Veteran at a time. So, they will take a van, but they will leave early in the morning and they will have their appointment and then they will have to sit and wait all day long to get back home because all the other Veterans must be seen. A lot of them won’t do it. As you know our Veterans come back they don’t ask for anything it’s like pulling teeth to get them to take what they deserve. We want to make sure they know that this is here. We have tried different things with them over the years. We do a Veteran’s breakfast every year, which we move around, this year it is in Milton. We get about 200 Veterans out to the event and we have tried to get a speaker or some entertainment. Locally we try to include the high school kids. Sometimes they (kids) sing the National Anthem or do a poster contest. They (Veterans) get to vote on the poster that they like best. We try to bridge that gap between Veteran and our youth, so, they understand that these are real people in our community.”
“But legislatively we are constantly trying to make their lives easier. One would be that Veteran’s Access Card or Medical Card where they could go to any facility and get what they need. Honestly all I want for them is the best care! The Veteran’s Access Card is a pilot program. We have done a resolution from the State to encourage the federal government to fully implement the program.”
What is your greatest frustration in being a State Representative and our government right now?
Rep. Culver: At this point Rep. Culver took a long pause and consider my question. As she said, “My greatest frustration. Hmmm.”
Allow me to ask it This way. If you could change something what would it be?
She slowly started, “Because I worked at this so long I went into this with realistic expectations. And I know sometimes people think we move slowly. But that is intentional. The design was that no one person or group could ramrod a piece of legislation for their own personal benefit. And it is important that every piece gets the attention it deserves because when people are not asking questions that is when you get all these unintended consequences. I think the more participation from the public and us the better. The Republican Caucus right now is probably the one, I wouldn’t say holds up legislation but dissects it. The Democrats and the Republicans typically go to Caucus at the same time. We have separate Caucuses. And they will ask where are you guys and we say we are still in Caucus. We are only on the second bill (The second One!) and there are like ten more to go. We still have a lot of questions. That doesn’t make us better, just now the makeup of us (Republican Caucus) is to ask a lot of questions. One question will lead to other questions and to another question. We want to make sure we have it right. Then when we go up on the floor both sides ask a lot of questions. Yeah, I think sometimes people think things should move faster than they do and sometimes we will have a great piece of legislation and we are almost ready to get it to the floor and someone will ask a question. Oh, my goodness, like that’s a problem we need to fix that. I think the process is good, but I think people get frustrated because it probably does not move as fast as they would like.”
“Sometimes my biggest frustration is bureaucracy. There is no true accountability from the bureaucracy as there is with the elected official. For me I am really invested, and it is personal to me if anything happens to any of my constituents. I think that one of the most frustrating things for me is when I must keep calling an agency or a department and say where is this it needs to be done. They don’t have to look at the constituent face-to-face. They don’t have to know the whole history. But we do, and it is frustrating for us when we can’t get those results, to resolve an issue. I think probably that is my most frustrating factor and if I can’t get the answer I am looking for I have to dig. The constituent who never deals directly with bureaucracy often times doesn’t know to keep digging and will give up before they get the answer they need. That is probably the most frustrating part of the job for me.”
Leadership roles are important both in the House and the Senate. You only get into Leadership roles if you have been in office long enough to earn that right to be there. So many individuals that run for office especially first-time newbies running for office run on a campaign platform of I am only going to be a 2 term Representative, which in our current system of government, if you really want to help your constituents it’s a bit irrational. Short term Reps don’t have enough juice to do anything. As you gain seniority as a State Rep you earn that responsibility. What are your thoughts about term limits or only limiting someone to two terms?
Rep. Culver: “This is something that is really talked about a lot. And I have talked to people in States that have went to term limits and they say the power shifts to the Bureaucracy. The people no longer have the power because the Representative no longer has the power. So that’s concerning. I think in Pennsylvania your concern should not be term limits because that’s not our issue. Our issue is keeping people there. Our turnover is great this year we are losing 32 House members by choice. Not including the ones that will lose re-election. We average approximately 15% turnover every election and this one will be higher. I don’t know if people from Philadelphia think the pay is not enough. People that come from Erie are away from their families too much. The long time members tell us that Social Media has made this job so much harder and so much more demanding. It is kind of crazy when you think about it. Term limits is not our issue. I am not saying Federally that people may or may not want to look at it. But I have always said we are in term limits. A 2-year term. Every year I am back on that ballot for the voters to decide to do I want to hire her again or don’t I. If the electorate is doing their job, there would be no need for term limits.”
What is the biggest issue facing the House and Senate right now?
Rep. Culver: “The Opioid Issue is huge, and we struggle trying to keep up with the Markets vs. the Drugs that are coming out, supporting law enforcement and families is essential but also costly.”
“We have been getting a lot of complaints on two particular issues. One is Broadband because so many people are working from home and many students need internet access for their studies. The technology is critical for both learning and our future workforce. We have areas of the State that are deserts.”
“One of the other complaints we are getting is the response of government to permitting and different regulations. They are not known for being user friendly. We have been trying to work on this issue and it’s not any easy fix because you don’t want things slipping through the cracks because there is a permitting process for a reason. In the same vain you can’t be holding up progress because you are holding up family sustaining jobs and the economy.”
“Welfare continues to be something we have to work on. I often times hear from individuals with concerns about how we’re allocating welfare benefits and if we’re truly helping people in need.”
Regional Issues and Coal Region Connections
On a regional level what is our biggest challenge?
Rep. Culver: “I think our biggest challenge right now is having a work ready work force. If you look around there are help wanted signs everywhere. You will hear a company hires 7 people, 2 people don’t show up, 3 people quit by the end of the training period, so a lot of them are trying to hire more people. I just talked to a company that told me people say they were going to the bathroom and never return after not even finishing the first day of work. We have a workforce that often isn’t ready or doesn’t have the right training or right skills or; for some reason doesn’t want to do the jobs that are out there. We have a lot of companies with help wanted signs right now. That’s good for the person looking for the job because the pay will be higher and the benefits will be better.”
“I am a big proponent of early childhood education. Crucial skills are developed in a child’s brain between the ages of 3 and 5. And as a society we are not doing enough to develop these problem-solving skills, socialization skills, and the way people interact with each other. All come at that age and we are not putting enough money into their futures. Over the last 8 to 10 years we have put a significant investment into to early childhood education and we still have a long way to go. You can’t do it overnight. As we are progressing through this process we are seeing other issues emerge. If you are giving the child early childhood education but you are sending them home to a parent that isn’t meeting their basic needs either because they can’t, or won’t, you have to then look at that. Now if the parent can’t do it that can be helped. Children in the Foster Care System are coming in and out of the system at the most formative years of their lives. We are setting them up for failure. We have cut the foundation out from underneath them and they are falling because we failed them. Now we are starting to address other problems with organizations like Nurse Family Partnership who offer support to families starting at pregnancy through 2 years of age. Fundamentally most people are good but situations where parents have an addiction issue we need to help the parent and we need to help the child. And right now, we have a Grandparent’s Caucus, of which I am member. We have so many Grandparents raising Grandchildren fulltime, a lot due to addiction issues, and we have to help those Grandparents because they are on fixed incomes. You know it is different to raise a child at 20, 30, or 40 than it is at 60, 70, or 80 and they are doing it. We have to make sure the support is there for them. We are trying to pass legislation to make sure it is an easier for them to obtain necessary documents like birth certificates and school records.”
You just talked about generational issues. I am curious how far back does your own family go in this area?
Rep. Culver: “I think my Father’s side just to my Great Grandparents that came down from New York to Shamokin. They were coal miners. My Mother’s side there were two branches in the family and I don’t know how long they have been in the Coal Region area where they grew up.”
What was your Mom’s maiden name?
Rep. Culver: Burrows. There were 4 brothers that were born Marlin, Joe, Glenn, and Kenny. When all the men went off to fight in the war, my Grandmother and her aunts ran the coal business. My Grandfather Schlegel used to run the cemetery up on the hill in Shamokin.”
What do you think is the best thing about our area?
Rep. Culver: “Without hesitation she replied, “It’s the people. I mean it is one of the only places you can go that everyone looks you in the eye and says hello as you are walking down the street. You can always tell when someone is not from here. My son says he can always tell when someone is not from here. I would ask how would you know. My son would say they didn’t look at my face, they didn’t say Hi, they just kept walking by. Everybody here just waves as they pass you and are super friendly. I think our greatest asset is the people of the area.”
A friend of mine who was an engineer recently shared an article on how kids that are getting college degrees are finding it hard to find jobs meanwhile those who enter into the professional trades are finding work and competitive wages. Do you think this is true of our area?
Rep. Culver: “I am starting to see a turnaround. Lots of kids don’t want to go to college for 4 years. They don’t want the debt. You have kids say I am not really good at school. I say I bet you are you just don’t want to do it for the rest of your life. We did the Act 339, the State required it, and I think most my school Districts are through with it. Where you have to lay out a plan or career readiness for the kids. So, kids K-12 now get exposed to all kinds of careers. The teachers themselves have to job shadow once a year and that it can’t be at the same place. It could be trades, it could be accounting, it could be health care, so they have knowledge to share with the kids. I experienced this here, I experienced that there, and then they might be able to identify the kid’s natural abilities. They are also starting to do these little things to actually see what the kids like. And by late Elementary School they are starting to put them on the right track. You should do what you like, you will be better at it, whether it be a trade, college, or health care. It’s hard when they are young, and they may or may not be paying attention to their natural abilities. We are partnering with certain businesses and our Vo-Techs to specifically train students to go into vocational fields. Sometimes before they are even out of high school they are able to get a full-time job. It will be probably 10 years before we see the fruits of our labor but it’s a start.”
Social Media A Beginning
Have you started to see the trend in politics regarding Social Media? How you are reaching out to your constituency and how do you get a message out you want to deliver?
Rep. Culver: “Yes, somewhat. We still typically mail two newsletters a year. People still seem to appreciate that. Do we do as many as we used to do when we first started, no. I do a weekly eBlast which gets emailed out to about 6000 people. During election year we go to what is called a “Blackout Period” 60 days before the election. So, if you signed up for my eBlast I can send it to you. But if you didn’t, I can’t. So, I think it drops down to 2000 to 3000. I know people complain, ’Why did you stop sending me Eblasts?’” “I didn’t, I am in a Blackout Period and I can’t unless you sign up. I think it’s an ethics rule we are not supposed to have any advantages that any other candidate would have. People kind of look forward to it. It is usually five articles I try to hit things that were not covered in the newspaper or information I think needs to get out. Sometimes when a reporter is writing an article they don’t have time to cover an in-depth piece of legislation or policy that has gone out because the articles are only so long. We will try to hit that in our eBlast, maybe with a summary and link to more details. We do robo calls occasionally just basically to seniors is typically when I will do it. Yeah, I mean even in radio I find that younger generations are not listening to local radio. They are all on Sirius or YouTube streaming content because they don’t like commercials. It’s funny because I like to listen to the local stations, I like to get the local news, I like to hear what is going on. I think as technology advances reaching people with a message will be a struggle.”
I was wondering have you or the State really thought about how they are going to be reaching out to not only the millennial group but the other younger generations? Is there anyone really looking at this from a perspective of how to communicate going forward out of the House and Senate?
Rep. Culver: “Yes, the hard part, and not just with government as a whole. Is when you start making everything digital. Most of my seniors aren’t there. So, you are in this weird kind of thing that seniors want to do the face-to-face, or fill out the paperwork and mail it in. As opposed to the younger group that doesn’t want to do it and they want it all done digitally. Why can’t you? Yeah, I think you are seeing government is starting to make things more accommodating online. I think we are at this transitional period where we saw a lot of people doing things the traditional way. And the new group doing it the new way with new technology.”
What’s the demographic for your District as far as age groups?
Rep. Culver: “I have a lot of seniors here. So, I am sensitive to that. So, I am no, no, no you can’t switch that my seniors may not have access to the technology needed. And some of the problem, even when we talk about TeleNursing, that’s great but they can’t hear you. They already have a hearing problem and then add a telephone to it and they can’t hear you. You are not getting a good summary of how they are feeling. I am sensitive to that issue because a lot of seniors don’t have computers, don’t have cell phones, and if they do it is a flip phone or track phone with very limited usage. Now I have Seniors who are whizzes with technology because they have time to master it or they have Grandkids helping them out. So, it’s a mixed bag but traditionally some people still like newspaper and a lot of people read the newspaper around here.”
Comrades and Mentors
You were talking a little bit earlier about your comrades in the House and how you relate a little differently to the women who are there because of your shared experience of being a Mother and taking care of family. Who do you hang around with when you are in Harrisburg?
Rep. Culver: “When you come in you tend to spend so much time with the Class of members elected with you. You tend to gravitate to your Class members most. Specific Representatives you are looking for example Representative Rosemary Brown, Representative Marcia Hahn, Fred Keller, Dave Millard, Kurt Masser, and Doyle Heffley. We sit in the same row so a lot of it is where you are sitting on the floor because you are spending a lot of time with the people you are sitting near. Most of the people there were in my Class when we came in. We tend to communicate more. You know you have new people coming in with new Classes, not to say you don’t do things with them and you don’t converse with them, but you always have the core that you communicate with when you are not at work.”
How do we get more women to go into professions and take on roles like Public Office despite the fact they also want to be Mothers and raise a family?
Rep. Culver: “When we had Representative Kate Klunk, who got married while she was a House member, they would joke that nobody wants to date a State Representative, it was very hard. She had a baby this year and may have been one of the first to have a baby as a House member. It is a balance, a hard balance, especially if you can’t go home every day. There are women who have children that can not do that and it takes a toll on the family and requires an extraordinary spouse. Sometimes we will have a break on the Floor and we will have face time with somebody’s kids. We will all say Hi and we become their extended family. You know because we are always asking about them and we are always comparing notes on stuff to do with the kids. It’s hard I think, women tend to not naturally be inclined or encouraged to run for political office, but that’s been changing. But typically, it’s not a field you hear many women saying, ‘I’m going into Political Science that’s what I want to do when I grow up.’ I think a lot of times when women run it is because of a situation. There was a House member from the Lancaster area who has since retired. There was a situation where there was a drug problem in her neighborhood. I don’t know if it was gangs or it was just people selling drugs. Well she got involved, that was her mission. Her kids were a little older, so she got involved. She resolved the issue and they asked her to run. I think she ended up being a Senator in the end. Many of the women that have run have children who are older and they’ll ask you, ‘How do you do this with having small children at home?’”
Merle Phillips, you worked for Merle and have been in this office for how long now?
Rep. Culver: “At the end of this year it will be 29 years in the House either working for Merle or as a State Representative.”
I am sure because of the close relationship you had with Merle, despite his being very reserved, he had to be a mentor. Tell me as a mentor what did you learn from Merle?
Rep. Culver: “A great mentor. A couple of things. Merle always said never take no for an answer. No is not a response to a problem. No gets you nowhere. Nobody wants to do anything. You may or may not get what you are asking for but no doesn’t solve the problem. No is not an answer. Everybody knows, I had a young guy from PennDot tell me no, and everyone was like Oh he told her no. I am like I can’t accept that these people have a problem we have got to figure this out! I know you can’t do exactly what we are asking you to do but there has got a be a way to help. When somebody would come in regardless of how they looked, how they acted, where they were socioeconomically, or if they were very angry, he wanted everybody treated exactly the same. But with that said, he would say, ‘Some people are going to come in angry and they are not going to be nice to you, but you got to give them a second chance. You got to get through why are they so angry.’ So, he always believed in three chances for everybody that came in here. And it’s true you have to let somebody vent out their frustrations because clearly if they are here walking in the office thinking that nobody has listened to them, no one has let them vent. So, we will let them vent it out and may ask questions along the way. For as old school as he was (Merle Phillips) he was very supportive of females succeeding in this field, and females in the workforce in general. I remember when I had my son I had a really difficult pregnancy and I decided I can’t come back. I can’t do 5 days a week at work. I can’t make it work. I remember I was all teary eyed and he was like just sit tight don’t do anything and I said ok. He called me back and said, ‘How about 3 days from the office and 2 days you work from home? You’ll easily get the hours in.’ So, I did that until my son went to school. Who would have thought someone so old school coming from a very traditional background being that supportive of women.”
A Few Parting Thoughts
Going back to the National level something else that comes to mind is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a self-proclaimed Socialist that beat the incumbent Democrat Joseph Crowley in New York’s Primary race. What do you think of this new term Socialist Democrat that is out there, and the fact that individuals are beginning to run on this particular platform?
Rep. Culver: “I haven’t been following this closely. I am told we are getting three Socialist women in the House this Fall. Just by virtue of where they are from they will get elected. I think everybody is entitled to their beliefs. Regardless of what your party is just because you are a Republican doesn’t mean you can’t be an environmentalist or can’t be for education. Your core beliefs might just be more conservative. Just because you’re a Democrat doesn’t mean you can’t be fiscally conservative. I think we have fallen into these labels where people don’t think you can be something else. We will have to see what they are proposing, and it will be interesting, it’s a new movement. I don’t know. I find people respond better when they feel in control and you give them responsibility. To not require people to participate or to have something handed out to them makes a society probably lethargic. When you work for something it means so much more to you. I want to make sure that as Americans we continue to instill those values.”
What’s your greatest achievement? Politically, in life, whatever you would like to pick?
Rep. Culver: “Oh, that’s a hard one. I think the hardest thing I have done, and the most rewarding is being a Mother. You know watching the child grow and learn and exposing them and trying to make them into their own adult that is productive in society is probably the thing I am most proud of and the hardest thing I have ever done. I laugh sometimes, I have had these hard jobs, but parenting is by far the hardest job I have ever done. You are always trying to keep up with the changes in your children.”
“I wasn’t thinking along those lines. Sometimes I marvel that I even hold this seat. And I do so knowing it is a true honor and I think with a Servant’s heart I do this job.”
Do you have any aspirations beyond this office? Have you thought about the future going forward?
Rep. Culver: “I haven’t. I love what I am doing so for me I would struggle with changing this office and maybe going up higher because definitely, and I know this is going to sound strange, the intimacy of having 63K constituents as opposed to 250K or 750K. I like being able to attend all the Eagles Scouts and the dinners and events that people invite me. When you hold a higher office you can’t do them all, it is virtually impossible. That would bother me not having that direct, quick feedback from people. The running joke is everybody in the District has my cell phone number.”
“I don’t know how closely you follow the Dornsife Bridge? The road that the Township allowed them to use is used hard and it wasn’t built to be used for that extended amount of time. The Township is working with PennDot and the one Township Supervisor said, ‘Hey when she first ran she gave me her cell phone I’m going to call her.’ The Roadmaster said, ‘She is never going to take your call that’s not her cell phone number.’ I picked it up and I answered, and I said ok how about I come down I’ll call PennDOT and we will get there on Monday. So, when I got there the Supervisor said, ‘I had your cell phone number.’ I try to make sure all my municipalities have it because things happen on non-office hour time. So, I think you need to be in touch with your constituency.”
“I can’t say I wouldn’t consider an opening and I know when we thought there was going to be Congressional Districts opening up, I had been asked a few times would you consider a run. No at this point I don’t want to be on the National stage. I still have a child in High School and you need to put your family first and I don’t think that is putting my family first.”
Author: Steve Bartos
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