State Representative James Roebuck is running for reelection for Pennsylvania’s 188th Legislative District, which encompasses Penn’s campus.
A Democratic primary candidate, his sole opponent is Algernong Allen, a community activist. Born in Philadelphia, Roebuck went to Central High School and then Virginia Union University. Afterward, he received a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He has served on the board of directors for Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Assistance Agency and is a member of the Legislative Black Caucus.
The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke to Roebuck about his political platform.
Daily Pennsylvanian: How do you see Penn fitting into your platforms?
James Roebuck: [Penn] has a unique role as a strong, traditional liberal arts university, but it has also got the only veterinary school in the state, which is important for the state’s economy. It is the largest employer in the city, so it’s a major economic factor and an institution where many of us look at to partner and a source of economic support in the community. ... Penn always discusses what their concerns are in terms of securing state funding for the University, but also we talk on a regular basis about the ways in which Penn can be a better part of the community, whether its through First Thursday Meetings but also in terms of individual projects from the University. The relationship with Penn is critical to some of the things I do in Harrisburg.
DP: What do you think the most important skills are to succeed at this job? How are you better for the job than your opponent Algernong Allen?
JR: I’m a native West Philadelphian, I have lived here all my life, I have a sense of what the community is, and I’ve also worked very hard on various projects in terms of promoting art and culture in West Philadelphia. I founded West Philadelphia Partners for the Arts, designed to bring all the art and cultural groups together in West Philadelphia in order to have a common voice and draw down funding from the city and the state to promote cultural activities. We have more art and cultural groups in West Philadelphia than north and south Broad Street combined. ... Beyond that, I’ve been very instrumental in bringing in additional dollars for libraries and other facilities to improve quality of life. ... I am by profession a teacher, and that translates to my strong commitment to education and improving education in Philadelphia and the state. My involvement is very deep and well established. I would argue that you don’t have to ask what Jim Roebuck would do, I have a record in Harrisburg. I have no idea what Algernong Allen’s priorities are.
DP: How can the Philadelphia school system be fixed?
JR: I think it is going to take a lot of things to fix it. The first thing we need is a funding formula. We are one of three states in the United States that does not have a funding formula for our schools. I’m proud of the fact that I was the majority chair of the Education Committee, and I was able to work with [Governor] Ed Rendell in securing education reforms. For example, before Rendell, the state put no money into early childhood education. Rendell made that a priority, and by the time he left the office the state had become a leader in early childhood education. We’ve expanded funding for kindergarten in Pennsylvania. ... We have to fund education if we want it to work and I am committed to trying to turn that around, and I am hoping for a Democratic governor in the future that will do that. Also, we need greater accountability for charter and cyber-charter schools.
DP: What is your stance on the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana?
JR: I support that. When the bill comes up I will vote for it. For most of the student issues my vote is what students are looking for me to do.
DP: What is your stance on marriage equality?
JR: I support marriage equality, and I am a strong supporter of LGBT issues. You will find if you look at the record that there have been very few representatives who consistently support those issues — I’m one of those, and my record is strong which is why Liberty City Democrats endorsed me and I am a supporter and advocate for that community.
DP: Anything else?
JR: I certainly think that Penn students are probably concerned about the gas industry — the fact that it is expanding rapidly and not taxed and an industry that infringes upon the integrity of our natural resource areas in Pennsylvania and brings into jeopardy local water supplies. Therefore, there needs to be greater accountability and regulation of that industry. We ought to tax them at a level so that they return some of the immense profits they make that can be used to fund things like education.
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