Behind the Blog with the Political Q&A Series

I appreciate your tireless work to illuminate the workings of government and highlight the people who want to be in our elected offices. You provide a lens that broadens a voter’s perspective. Thank you, Sue! ~ Erica Rocchi Brusselars

Probably the most common response to my political/campaign Q&A series is some comment on the length/intensity/depth of the questions. I know, I know. Does each candidate need a double album or tome? Why, yes, sayeth this lesbian blogger. More importantly my readers and the public deserve a deep dive on some issues. Those issues share some commonalities and some individual or unique areas.

Erica’s comment gave me pause though. I always knew I was shining a light on the candidates, but I hadn’t given much thought to how I am helping to “illuminate” the way that government operates. It is a good thing I have a degree in political science. I never thought I’d use it, but then again that was long before blogs came along.

As of today, I have created and published 65 Q&A’s since 2018. City Council, Mayor, State Rep, School Boards, and more. You’ll recognize the names – Lee and Fetterman, Mayes and Benham, Wilson and Gross, Innamorato and Williams. And you may not recognize the others, but that could change.

You write great questions, but they do take some time and thought to actually answer well.  You have the most intensive questionnaire that I’ve seen so far.

This is a lovely bit of feedback, but I often wonder if the candidates actually read other Q&A’s published on my blog before they agree? So many seem surprised that I ask these questions. And when I’m relentlessly chasing them down for their responses, they tell me the depth of the Q&A is the reason for the delay. So why do I still write these types?

As mentioned, I have a BA in Political Science. That’s where I learned about government and the importance of who has which powers and authorities. We mostly focused on the federal level, but the same general concepts apply to state and local governments – a charter somewhere lays out the power structure in tandem with the State constitution. So if someone puts up a giant electronic billboard along a rural state highway, you need to confirm the location to determine who would have authority to regulate it. State road, state regulation. The state doesn’t really regulate billboards. So then what?

I don’t know, that’s why I asked people currently running for State government.

Telling me they would “do everything in their power” to support LGBTQ folx is not the same thing at all as enumerating specific things they had the power to address.

As an undergraduate, I did my infamous six month internship with then-Congressman Rick Santorum. Interns do a lot of rote work such as reading constituent mail and logging it into wherever (this was 1991 so computers were not widely used.) It didn’t take long for me to realize that most people do not understand how government works or where to start shaking trees to get something done. I also learned how political tunnel vision could leave a grown adult more concerned about an extinct snail than the humans living around that person and people focused on survival not connecting to the state of the natural world and environment around them.

Fast forward to my Community Organizing days as a Social Worker. I staffed a government relations committee. I learned that power and access were merited out like candy. I heard an elected officials say proudly “I have a source of income, I don’t need this job” – he stayed in office disregarding his constituents for nearly another 20 years.

Then I began a blog.

Several years later, I volunteered on a few campaigns. And my assignments were – responding to Q&As. Not speaking for the candidate, but reviewing the questions, including official campaign language, proofreading, etc. It was definitely better than canvassing. So, yes, I know how campaigns work and how demanding schedules can be and how many questionnaires are submitted.

I don’t remember why I began the political Q&A series. In 2013, I began publishing brief Q&A’s with interesting LGBTQ folx and allies – I called it LGBTQ&A. You’ll find stories from the late Tonya Payne, artist Vanessa German, organizer and activist Michael David Battle, Dyke March co-founder Eli Kuti, State Senator Wayne Fontana, and many more. In 2015, I launched the #AMPLIFY Q&A series. By 2018, I had decided to focus on a spurt of challengers in State House races.

I use an email Q&A format for multiple reasons. It gives me the best medium to let the voice of the candidate reach my readers without me creating filters. Yes, I write the questions, but I do not edit the answers. This format also creates a symmetry among the posts especially for candidates seeking the same office. There’s another reason – as an accommodation to my disability. Recording and transcribing an interview would require many many hours. If I’m having a day with active symptoms, that’s even more time required. And frankly it allows the candidate to complete at their convenience or in spurts of time.

I started off using a template format, like many organizations to be “fair” and soon realized that was ridiculous. I needed the flexibility to ask questions germane to the person’s actual history and the office. Telling me they would “do everything in their power” to support LGBTQ folx is not the same thing at all as enumerating specific things they had the power and fortitude to address.

Going back to the billboard situation – changing your answering machine to discourage messages because you as a member of borough council cannot regulate the sign is poor leadership. First, you have a duty to educate people and second, if your constituents have identified a problem, you work with them to go state or federal government with solutions. If your council and nearby councils resolved to approach the state about billboard regulation, then that could be a constructive solution. Or you could just never answer your phone again.

That’s what we expect and deserve – a response, not shifting the blame.

And there’s a matter of archiving. Hopefully one day someone will revisit these Q&A’s and compare them to the records of the candidates. Rereading former City Councilwoman Tonya Payne’s Q&A reminded me how she would march *with* the Pride parade, not try to get to the microphone. A powerful memory. Read the policy ideas and responses of the candidates running for reelection this year.

As of right now, I’m expending Q&A’s to any candidate in Pennsylvania who identifies as a progressive, is pro-choice, is an enthusiastic believer in the 2020 validity, and supports LGBTQ equality including full support of the trans community.

What I dislike about this series is the disrespect of candidates who request Q&A’s and don’t return them. They promise and promise. They explain how busy they are. But they don’t send it or they wait until the very last minute to tell me its not coming. This is certainly not the only means to communicate with the LGBTQ community, but it is a significant opportunity. Only one person has ever had the respect to decline to participate. I didn’t have to keep pestering and chasing them for a response. I appreciated their candor. I’m sure that choice had nothing to do with the fact that they lost their race … I’m kidding, but they did lose. Governor Shapiro didn’t respond to my request last year and Lt. Governor Davis requested but did not respond. They both did okay and I still voted for them. Wait, am I making the case that my own Q&A series doesn’t matter?

I dislike having to wrestle with thorny questions that I’m not experienced enough to tackle, but that no one else is asking.

I dislike when other people tell me how to run my blog or my blog project. Start your own blog and get back to me in 18 years.

There’s a lot to like, too.

I like the chance to learn more about government. I’m not exactly wonky, but I have to say it has been a little heady for me to dive into the world of Controllers and Treasurers these past weeks. Who knew?

I like learning more about the candidates. I read their websites and social media, of course. But I also do some deep Google dives and take a peek at my newspaper archive as well.

I REALLY REALLY like that each election cycle features more and more out LGBTQ candidates. When I began blogging in 2005, there were no out elected officials in Pennsylvania (that I knew of.) I remember when the first member of the General Assembly came out in 2012. He was a Republican. And now … we are breaking barriers and crashing through municipal ceilings everywhere.

I like that this social worker with a blog can ask a few questions just like anyone else. And sometimes I get them answered.

This is our seventh year of creating and publishing these Q&As – nearly 80 to date. If you value this work, please consider investing in our blog. Become a Patreon. Create a Steel City Snowflake. Venmo @Pghlesbian Or consider other options. Thank you.

So here’s my ask of you, my dear readers.

  • If you support a candidate who fits our criteria, send them this blog post and ask them to participate. I’d especially appreciate that for municipal offices and school boards outside of Pittsburgh. Judges, too. Any office on the ballot.
  • Share the Q&A’s on your social media feeds. You never know who in your network might be eligible to vote for any certain candidate.
  • Tell me what else I can do with this project.

I anticipate we’ll publish 75 Q&A’s this cycle. I doubt we’ll get to 100, but if yinz bring me some candidates from the outlying counties (especially school boards) … who knows? Maybe I’ll get really lucky and be able to interview Political Journalist Chris Potter for my 101st Q&A if we get that far this season.

Some of the candidates who have completed our Q&As over the years


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