Last year, all three Pennsylvania United Methodist conferences passed resolutions calling for appropriate environmental regulation of and reasonable taxation on the Marcellus Shale gas formation to protect our natural resources and infrastructure, compensate host communities, and support state funding of education and essential social services. Like most other delegates, I forgot all about it by the time I returned home.
Then two things happened: they started drilling in my community, and I had a total knee replacement on Jan. 3. It's not a good sign that the pre-operation brochure informed me that I may receive medication to help me "relive" my pain, not "relieve." After the fog of pain and pain-killers began to lift, I started to do a lot of reading, and worrying. A lot of worrying. And praying. Nothing deepens your prayer life like lying in bed for eight hours trying to find a position that doesn't hurt so you can get just a little bit of sleep.
I engaged in long negotiation sessions with God; "let me sleep just a little bit and I promise I'll do whatever you want me to (except run for office), first thing in the morning," And so on, until a voice spoke to me out of the darkness, "stop talking and get out of bed and do something!" It was my wife.
I reviewed the news coming from Harrisburg. It was not reassuring. Governor Corbett wants to limit the ability of local governments to regulate drilling activities in their jurisdiction. He wants to use eminent domain to compel mineral owners to allow drilling on their property. A cartoon was published that depicted Governor Corbett as Amy Winehouse; he is singing "no gas tax" to the tune of "no rehab."
I struck back by writing a letter to the editor about gas regulations. I wrote another about redistricting and another, titled, "getting religion" (about legislators and environmental protection). I wrote another about "why good legislators go bad". I called on teachers and concerned citizens to organize and run their own candidates in the primaries (most districts are so "safe" that the primary is the only contest that matters). I have become something of a minor celebrity in my local church and community. But still no sleep at night.
In an act of desperation, I announced that I was collecting signatures to get on the primary ballot for state rep. Everyone has been extremely supportive and helpful (after all, they don't have to run now). I make a point of telling people that I am not officially running until I collect enough signatures (300) and file them in Harrisburg. People are coming up to me and sharing personal experiences of water being polluted or good land being ruined to create roads and drilling pads. Some people feel they have been ripped off by tricky leases.
I'm not optimistic that I will be able to defeat an incumbent legislator and I'm certainly not looking forward to the rubber chicken dinners and endless meet and greet events. But maybe, just maybe, some of the legislators will "get religion" and start taking some of the constituents' concerns seriously instead of swatting them aside as "job killers".
Last week, I attended a senior luncheon and gave my speech and asked for signatures. A retired Presbyterian pastor was sitting at my table and his comment was, "You don't sound like much of a Republican to me." "I'm a Methodist, first", I replied. "Good for you," he said while his wife signed my petition. (He wasn't eligible.)
Like I said, I'm not optimistic about my chances. I just want to get a good night's sleep.