We Interviewed Lindsey Williams, Democratic Candidate for Senate District 38


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Lindsey Williams canvassing

Sam Bisno and Daevan Mangalmurti

This Tuesday, May 15, will mark the 2018 Pennsylvania primary elections, by which a slew of candidates will be chosen to represent their respective parties during the state general on November 6. One of the races in question is that of Senate District 38, along the southern cusp of which Obama lays. So, the Eagle took the liberty of speaking with both Democratic nominees about their qualifications and their goals for the position. If you or someone you know will be heading to the polls in two days, then by all means, keep scrolling.

This, the latter installment, features Lindsey Williams. Individual topics are highlighted for reading ease. Our conversation with her opponent, Stephanie Walsh, which involved the exact same questions so as to offer a direct comparison of the two, can be viewed here.

Sam Bisno: So my first question is just for anyone who’s unaware. Could you describe the duties of a state senator as you see them?

Lindsey Williams: I think a state senator is there to fight on behalf of the constituents of their district for the things that will make the district and Pennsylvania stronger.

SB: And what’s your occupation outside of running for state Senate?

LW: I am the communications and political director for the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

SB: What inspired you to run for the position?

LW: I grew up in a union household. My dad’s an operating engineer, Local 542, and I was taught that you always work together to fight for the things that we care about- raising the minimum wage, health care, good strong benefits, strong public schools. And I don’t think there are enough people in Harrisburg fighting for those sorts of things. That’s why I wanted to run.

SB: You just touched on this, but if you could summarize your platform in just two or three sentences, what would you say it is?

LW: That I would be a fighter for working families, and that includes supporting a strong public education and supporting small businesses to grow our community.

SB: What has the campaign process been like for you so far? What have you found most surprising? What have you found most challenging?

LW: Well, I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering on other campaigns for other candidates that I thought were good labor candidates. And it’s different being the candidate myself. I’m used to being on the back end. It’s strange being the one in front of everything.

SB: There’s obviously one other very qualified Democratic candidate, so in your mind, why do you think you are the most qualified?

LW: Yeah, it’s a talented field which, is a really nice problem to have for our district. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to have a strong woman running for the election in November. I think I’m stronger because I have a well-rounded background. I’m an attorney – I moved to Pittsburgh to go to law school at Duquesne – and I’ve spent my entire career fighting for working families. I worked for the Steelworkers and the Teamsters International and the National Whistleblowers Center, where I was fired for trying to form a union. So I know what it’s like to really live your values. And I think that really sets me apart and would make me a strong fighter in Harrisburg.

SB: Would you mind elaborating on the whistleblowers?

LW: Sure! So I was the director of advocacy there. My job was to tell the stories of workers who were fired for reporting waste fraud or abuse, and then work on the Hill to get stronger legislation to protect the next whistleblower. And I loved my job; I worked for some really amazing heroes. But unfortunately, my employer didn’t really like to practice what they preached. So when they weren’t treating me and my co-workers very well, we attempted to form a staff union because we were being paid low wages, and they said we’re not going to explain to you why we can’t pay you more. We said, well, if we form a staff union and you claim inability to pay market rates we can force you to do that. And they fired all five of us. Myself and one of my co-workers filed wrongful termination charges with the National Labor Relations Board and after about two years we successfully settled our case and there’s a story about our case in the New York Times.

SB: Wow, that’s really interesting. I didn’t know that at all.

LW: Yeah, it was very different being on the other side. There’s intellectually understanding what workers go through when they really go up against their boss, and then there’s actually understanding what it feels like to be the one who is fired for doing it.

SB: What does the path look like for you moving forward? What sort of steps are you taking as the election draws nearer?

LW: I’m spending a lot of time talking to voters, going out to meetings all around the district. I spend a lot of time listening to people and trying to convince them that I’m the best candidate.

SB: And if you win the primary, do you think that those strategies will change at all in preparing for the general election, or will they pretty much stay the same?

LW: I think they will pretty much stay the same. And, you know, making sure that I go to all places in the district because it’s a very big district, it’s very diverse. You know you have a little bit of the city of Pittsburgh, and then you have Ross and Westview and McCandless and then you have traditional steel mill towns up the river to like Natrona Heights. Sthere are’s all kinds of different communities who have different needs. And I think that involves a lot of listening.

SB: Pennsylvania is facing a growing shortage of teachers in public schools and funding is obviously a constant challenge. Meanwhile charter schools – in fact, there’s one opening down the road from Obama – are opening all the time, and they’re said by some to be the solution to this issue. What’s your opinion on that?

LW: I do not support the expansion of charter schools in Pittsburgh. I think that our charter school law in Pennsylvania is the worst in the country and it is way overdue in terms of being revised to better protect students. Right now charters do not have to have the same level of standards for teachers. They do not have to meet the same level for students. They often don’t look like the communities they serve, both in racial and socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities. They don’t often take kids with special needs. I think that we need to support public education and fund more public education all the way from early childhood to high school to postsecondary to make sure that everybody has a chance at achieving the American dream, and you get that through a strong public education system.

SB: As in many other parts of the country there is significant income inequality throughout Pennsylvania and in Pittsburgh. Do you support measures like raising the minimum wage? If not how do you propose fixing this issue?

LW: Absolutely. I 100 percent support the Fight for 15 and unions because I believe we need a higher minimum wage that raises everybody up, and then you also have to have strong unions to protect the workers that are in those workplaces.

SB: What steps would you take to address the opioid crisis that’s currently taking the lives of so many Pennsylvanians?

LW: I think we have to start looking at everything from treatment on up. Right now we’re incarcerating a lot of people, and that doesn’t solve the problem, not only in terms of racial demographics and private prisons. We need to be treating this problem, and that goes on so many levels. We need to start listening to the experts on what that really means. What are the programs that we should be funding and how do we make sure people can get out of that cycle?

SB: Do you support fracking? If so, should the industry be forced to pay an extraction tax, and if not, how do we meet our energy needs without fossil fuels?

LW: I believe that absolutely we should have a severance tax. We’re the only state in the country not to have a severance tax. Our corporations should be paying their fair share so that we can fund the things that we need, like public education. I do think we should try to move away from fossil fuels, but that’s going to take a while. And I think we need to make sure that we take care of the workers that are in the industries that we’re moving away from, whether that’s job training or whatever that is. We have to work with those industries because that’s a lot of workers and that’s a lot of jobs. We also need to make sure that any new clean energy jobs are good union jobs, because right now they’re not.

SB: If you end up winning the position, what will day one look like for you? What do you hope to accomplish right off the bat?

LW: Just being an advocate for the people in the district. I think that covers all issues.

SB: If you could send one message to the youth of Obama, or even just the youth of Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania as a whole, what would that message be?

LW: Get involved now. I know a lot of students are, but don’t let other people convince you that you shouldn’t be involved, because every person should be involved in electing officials that they believe will fight for them.

SB: That’s all my questions. Thank you so much.

LW: Thank you for taking the time to do this. It’s really great that you’re doing this article on the candidates. Bye.

The Eagle would like to thank Ms. Williams for taking the time to sit down with us. May the best candidate win!