Candidate interview: Mary Ellen Balchunis

 

Office sought: U.S. Representative for the Seventh District

Party: Democrat

A native of the Seventh District, Balchunis taught political science at La Salle University for more than two decades, and is the former executive director of The Resource Center for Human Services and assistant to the mayor. She is vying to diversify Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation, which is currently comprised of all men. For more information, visit www.balchunis2016.com

PGN: Will you cosponsor the Equality Act? What do you think is the best strategy to move this bill forward in the next Congressional session?

MEB: I will definitely support passage of that. I think it’s much-needed. I think this election would be a big step in moving that forward, changing Congress, making sure you have members of Congress who are supportive of these issues. That would make a huge difference.

 

PGN: In light of this summer’s mass shooting in Orlando, what confluence, if at all, do you see between the issues of hate crimes and gun violence? And how does your approach to gun control address that?

MEB: This is the area where I think is the biggest difference between my opponent and myself. Pat Meehan in the past has gotten two A ratings from the NRA and taken money [from the NRA]. He was asked after Orlando: “In light of Orlando, have you changed your position on banning assault weapons?” And the events of Orlando have not changed his mind. He will still not support a ban on assault weapons. I’m a Million Mom Marcher and have been fighting for this issue since 2000. In fact, I taught at La Salle for 24 years in the political-science department and one of our students lost his daughter in Sandy Hook. I thought after Gabby Giffords was shot things would change. Then I definitely thought after Sandy Hook, things would change. And then after Orlando … I got the endorsement of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the people who sat on the floor [of the U.S. House], so my staff took that picture of them and Photoshopped me in and sent it and said, “If she were there, she’d be right there with you.”

PGN: Violence against trans women, especially women of color, has been reported at alarming rates in recent years. What is your plan to address this issue?

MEB: I do see it as a really serious problem. I think we have to certainly pass the laws we just talked about like the Equality Act — and really make sure we not only pass them but enforce them. I also think we need public-service announcements talking about acceptance. One of President Obama’s first acts was the Matthew Shepard [and] James Byrd [Hate Crime Act]. We need a president to get behind the issues. Hillary’s been behind this. I saw the letter she wrote [for PGN], and I had Hillary back at La Salle once. I’ve been a huge Hillary supporter.

PGN: How do you plan to demonstrate bipartisanship?

MEB: I grew up in Delaware County, which is heavily Republican. I remember when I was 18 and I asked my dad how to vote, he said, “Register Republican. We’re in Delaware County.” And then I went to Penn and I got politically socialized and learned the differences and what the Republican Party stood for, which is big business, and what the Democratic Party stood for: working-class people, families, women, minorities. So I changed my registration. I have a brother who’s a Republican and a brother who’s an Independent, so we have great Christmases and Thanksgivings. But we don’t fight; we respect each other, so we laugh a lot. And I think that’s what’s lost in this Congress. Mitch McConnell in his first statement after President Obama was elected said his goal was to make sure Obama was a one-term president. That’s so disrespectful. There’s something in American politics that you’re supposed to treat your colleagues with respect, and I think that’s been lost. My opponent voted to shut down the government. The women in the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, get together and have breakfast and talk about their children and grandchildren; I don’t have any grandchildren but I have a daughter who’s plenty to brag about, so I would go to those breakfasts and work across the aisle. I hope at least we can have one woman in the Pennsylvania delegation; now we have zero out of 20. We have two male U.S. Senators and all 18 Congresspeople are male. It’s pretty pathetic. It’s not representative at all.

PGN: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?

MEB: If they back me, I’ll have their backs when I’m in Washington.

The Republican nominee for the Seventh District Congressional seat, Congressman Pat Meehan, did not respond to PGN’s request for an interview.