Kerith Strano Taylor, Chairwoman for the Democratic Party of Jefferson County and former Congressional Candidate, gave a speech at the Democratic Party of Clarion County Fall Dinner on Saturday, October 14, 2017. This timely speech provided valuable insight and advice, and a message of hope for moving the Democratic Party forward. The transcript of the speech is provided below:
"Good evening everybody. Thank you, Miranda, for that lovely introduction, and thank you, chairman, for having me.
I know it feels a little out of cycle, a little too early, to be talking about the thing that I intended to come and talk to you folks about, which is running for Congress. You know I always make this joke about there must be something wrong with people who keep running for office. But Bernie Sanders ran and the first time he ran for office I think he got two percent, the second time he ran for office he got one percent and then he got four and then he got twelve and then we know the story that’s been told. He’s changed politics because he just kept doing it.
Not to put myself in the category of Bernie Sanders in any way shape or form, but I don’t think anyone who knows me well would disagree that I’m stubborn. It’s an honest trait, right? I’m Jewish and I’m Italian. We’re a stubborn people.
And we’re watching our politics unfold on a national scale and I think we’re frightened. Right? I don’t know how many of you turn off the news because you just can’t hear one more thing that’s happening. I was watching pictures from Puerto Rico and all I was thinking was what, what, what do we do, there has to be something we can do more than what’s being done. To hear from the highest levels of our government that there’s really nothing wrong there, it’s horrifying. But it’s one of the reasons that you keep seeing my face show up, right?
So I ran in 14, I ran in 16 and 16 was just a helluva year. Let’s just own the fact that Donald Trump changed everything that we thought we knew about politics in rural Pennsylvania. But I’d like to share with you my perspective. It became very real for me just last week.
So I sit on my school board – I know we have Braxton (White), you’re running for school board ... (applause). We’re grateful. There are folks out there who think that we’re very well paid. For those who don’t know, school board is an unpaid job. But we had a really interesting thing happen just last week in my little town of Brookville next door.
As we all know, federal budgets are being cut, state budget isn’t even done, schools are really struggling. I think Clarion even closed a few days last year during the ten-month shutdown, I know some schools farther north did. I know a number of schools had to take out loans to keep their doors open. We managed to squeak by. But we had to put in place an occupation tax that had gone away in 2009. We’d given away about three million dollars in those six years in between and we saw the difference in our budget. We made the hard choice and we did that. Well, the bills hit people’s mailboxes last Tuesday. And we can all imagine what happened on Facebook.
The explosion of vitriol, and name calling, and threats. We actually had to call in security for the meeting. So I’m sitting here reading this stuff at eleven o’clock at night when I should have been in bed, and I had the option to not say a word, or engage, and this clearly was a guy who voted for Donald Trump, right, every picture he has is...not nice, to say the least. But I decided to engage. I didn’t call names and I didn’t insult, I just came back with facts and information every single time. It went on for 141 comments. and in those 141 comments he was vicious and threatening to the point that (someone) sent me a message saying, “are you alright?” This looks really bad.”
And at one point this guy said to me, “Kerith” - he always called me out my name, every single time – “Kerith Strano Taylor, won’t you just stand down.” You can imagine the expletive. And I came back with more facts. Because when we don’t respond to the nonsense, it becomes true. Think about the stuff you guys are watching on Facebook. Right? and we are not responding. I’m not judging anyone who doesn’t, but in our politics if we don’t stand up and respond and we don’t engage this stuff, it becomes true.
The end of the story is we had our (school board) meeting and that guy showed up. The cop sat right behind him. He stood up and spoke. He couldn’t form a complete sentence, he wasn’t the bully that he could have been in the safety of Facebook. In the light of day, all he could say was, “I don’t like it.” That’s okay, I understand you don’t like it. We engaged for an hour and forty five minutes, we answered every question that was asked, and people actually came up to us, thanking us for what government’s supposed to look like. “Thank you for answering our questions. We don’t like it but we understand why you had to do it.” It worked. some people actually thanked us for making good choices for our community. Most people aren’t expecting that kind of response, sitting on a school board.
But I determined that the only way we have a chance of defeating this monolith, the Trump signs that we saw across our community, is by demonstrating what leadership looks like. That sometimes it’s making the tough choices that ... aren’t popular.
The “no tax” people in Harrisburg, they say it because it makes them popular. They have no idea how the hell to govern, they don’t know how to pay the bills, they’re shoving it down to the (county) commissioners’ level. I know the pain that our commissioners and our boroughs are facing trying to make ends meet and pay for all the things we have to pay for to keep our government running when Harrisburg chooses not to do their job. But this is getting to be the year when we get to have an honest conversation about the fact that they don’t know how to lead. They know how to talk – they don’t know how to lead.
And unfortunately for a very long time I don’t know that people knew what leadership looked like. We haven’t talked about what leadership looks like. Leadership looks like standing up, not standing down, answering the catcalls when they come, and surviving until the next day, and keep standing up, and keep standing up, because it takes this kind of perseverance to get it done. (applause).
The most important thing we have going on right now is November 7th. As the chairwoman of the Jefferson County Democrats, I could not leave without mentioning we’re having our dinner on November 3rd., the Friday before the election, over at the Roseville Grange. I hope many of you can join us. We’re having someone from Fair Districts come to speak, and we’re trying to band together all of the folks that agree. There’s a lot more of us, we’ve just been hiding because we don’t always know how many there are that agree. So I’m hoping you might come to our dinner.
Let’s get this election done. The numbers are possible. It requires us to go and do the work, which is hard, right? When you’re knocking on people’s doors that showed up in the presidential, be prepared for what ever comes at you, for you will find Democrats who voted for Trump. You don’t have to talk presidential politics when you’re knocking on doors for judges, but this is the groundwork that we’re going to lay for 18.
Because between you, me and the lamppost, I have no hope that impeachment is a possibility with this Republican Congress. The man could literally shoot someone on a sidewalk and I don’t know if it would matter to a lot of the Republican Congress. We need to replace that Congress. The only way that we have a chance of not having three more years of what we’ve been living through this year is by doing that very thing.
So we’re doing a lot of work, we’re putting things in place, to give this possibly one more go, we’re not official yet, there’s still an election to have, so I’m grateful for you having me over to speak. It’s going to be an interesting year. November 7th is our chance to show what we can do here in Clarion and in Jefferson, in places that have felt like they were forgotten by the state party.
But I will share one last thing. I don’t say this often – I’m really proud to be a Pennsylvania Democrat because what our state party has demonstrated in the past year. Caleb, you mentioned the passage of those five resolutions in state committee. (Caleb Gilliand is vice-president of the College Democrats at Clarion University. He reported that state committee added resolutions including a call for single payer health care, the legalization of marijuana, redistricting reform and equalization of women to elected positions.) There are a lot of people that didn’t want to see that happen. But it was important to demonstrate to the folks on the ground that they hear that these things are important to us. That was a proud moment. And then to see the Slate of Eight (judicial candidates), this “Vote Local” initiative and hear our ... candidates, speak about all of our candidates, because this is a hell of a slate, but to hear our party doing the same thing.
That’s a shift, it doesn’t matter where they’re from, they’re not talking about Judge Debbie Kunselman less frequently because she’s from Beaver County, and I think that’s what it used to feel like – we heard about the candidates from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and those that weren’t we didn’t. And something shifted. So I’m really proud to be a Pennsylvania Democrat, I’m really proud of the work that our state party’s doing because I think they’re finally seeing that there’s something that could happen here, we just need to all work together to make that happen.
Thank you all for your time, I hope to see you all November 3rd and let’s vote November 7th. Thank you. (applause)."