Last night I sat on a panel that discussed ways the City of Harrisburg and other distressed cities can move forward in their financial struggles. 

My remarks on the panel surrounded three main points, which I will summarize below:

1. Politics is negotiation. No one gets 100 percent. The key players in the City of Harrisburg came together and agreed on a plan to move Harrisburg forward, which is the first step. Although not perfect and there are many uncertainties concerning the plan, it is important that everyone is on the same page, and for the most part that seems to be the case now. 

The focus needs to stay on the big picture and what is best for the city and its residents. Unfortunately, the city is limited with funds, large due to the fact that half of the city's tax base is exempt, and most of that land is owned by the state. A legislative task force recently ended and will propose legislation with changes to the Act 47 law, which addresses distressed cities. Changes will include tax options, for cities with limited tax bases. 

2. As Harrisburg movies forward, there will be options available such as keystone opportunity zones, which are already being utilized; creating a land bank for blighted and abandoned property, and the city should also consider creating a neighborhood improvement district. 

3. The Harrisburg School District must be a priority. Without a good education, children will not be able to find good jobs and rise above the cycle of poverty. Furthermore, poor education and lack of jobs leads to crime. High crime will affect business growth and new residents moving into the city.

There are a lot of problems in Harrisburg, but the city is finally in a position to start to deal with them together. As long as key players continue to compromise for the good of the city, and put personal motives behind, Harrisburg will be on the road to fulfill its greatest potential.

On July 11, 2013, I spoke at a Voter ID Rally at the Pennsylvania state capital on the state’s Voter ID law, which I oppose. The rally brought voting rights advocates from across the country, as we continue to battle for every American’s right to vote. Luckily, the courts has put anther hold on the law so it has not been implemented; but we must continue to fight to ensure that no one eligible to vote is kept from the polls. 

Senator Barbara Boxer once said: every citizen of this country should be guaranteed that their vote matters, that their vote is counted, and that in the voting booth, their vote has as much weight as that of any CEO, any member of congress, or any President.”

Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law could disenfranchise up to 9% of the state's population, which is almost a million people. The purpose of this bill is no secret. The Commonwealth’s Republican House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, told a partisan audience in June 2012, that the voter ID law would allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania. Now that we have fast forward a year, luckily, the bill was not put into effect last year, and Pennsylvanians voted in record numbers. However, we must continue to work hard to ensure the fundamental right to vote is not taken away just to fulfill a political agenda.

Throughout this entire debate, no one has been able to demonstrate a need for stricter ID rules. Voter fraud is most often brought up, but there were no recorded reports of investigations into or prosecutions for voter impersonation on record anywhere in Pennsylvania. A state can't curtail important rights just because it feels like it. Voting is a fundamental right, not a privilege!

My grandparents grew up in a time where literacy tests were used to prevent African-Americans from voting. As a result of these voter suppression methods, an electoral winner sometimes had the support of as few as 10 percent of eligible voters. Those restrictions were wrong because they had a racial motive, but they were also wrong because they were undemocratic.

We must not let people forget that not everyone has ID that meets the requirements of some states. ID requirements disproportionately affect the elderly, young people, racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities and the poor. We are living in a new America. An America that is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before. We must work hard to ensure that not one American is disenfranchised and has the fundamental right to vote.

What many have been calling for, even before the Supreme Court’s decision last month, is an explicit guaranteed right to vote through amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I propose an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution guaranteeing all citizens the freedom to vote. This would protect against attempts to disenfranchise voters and settle this dispute once and for all.

Former President Abraham Lincoln said that “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision.”  We must fight hard to end the practice that a few political part decision makers decide who is on the ballot and ultimately who gets elected. The choice is ours.

Below is a video of my speech from the PA Voter ID Rally: