May 13, 2014 | Vol. 74 No. 43

Harry Readshaw

State Representative Harry A. Readshaw has been representing South Pittsburgh area residents in the state legislature since taking office in 1995.

Harry Readshaw

A lifelong resident of Allegheny County, Mr. Readshaw graduated from Carrick High School in 1959, attended Duquesne University and graduated from Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, becoming a Licensed Funeral Director in 1965. Shortly thereafter he entered the United States Marine Corps and served until 1971, including reserve time.

In his almost 20 years in office, one of the things he's most proud of is getting 11 pieces of legislation passed.

"I think that's an accomplishment in itself. It's difficult to do because sometimes you're in the majority and sometimes you're in the minority in Harrisburg and I've been able to get legislation passed in the majority and the minority," he explained.

Calling himself bipartisan, he said over the years he has been able to work with not only both parties, but a variety of people. While not always agreeing, if the people talk long enough they are apt to find common ground to be able to work together, he added.

"I think that's what government is all about, is working together. I don't think any one party or one person is always correct. And when you represent constituents, or Pennsylvanians, we have to be considerate of everyone's feelings," Rep. Readshaw said.

Living in and representing an urban area, his experiences could be different from a legislator from a rural area and it was important to get to know their concerns as well. As an example, he pointed out in urban areas residents are concerned about mass transit while in many rural areas of the state there's no such thing as mass transit so they're more concerned about roads and bridges.

Mr. Readshaw noted during the days of legislative grants he was successful in bringing money back to the municipalities making up the 36th Legislative District. During those years, he was successful in bringing nearly $18 million to the district.

Among the projects he helped get funding for included the renovation of the Hot Metal Bridge and the environmental studies for the SouthSide Works.

"I never sit around and I like to think I'm humble, I don't brag about things. It's a job and you have to get things accomplished and you have to show credibility and the experience I have in office serves me and the 36th District well," he said.

When he first ran for the office, it was an open seat and Mr. Readshaw prevailed over a field of five vying for the position. Since then he has run an additional eight terms without opposition.

"I would like to think why no one against me was that I was doing a good job and people recognized that really didn't see any need to run against me or replace me. So it was sort of an endorsement of the job I was doing, I suppose," Rep. Readshaw said.

During the Rendell administration, the ability to bring funding back to the district was greatly diminished because of budget cuts. Now, he explains, it's almost impossible to bring any funding back to the district unless it's through a budget line item.

"Those times have changed. A lot of people have different thoughts about those days and the ability to bring money back. I always thought it was the only avenue that you could bring back your constituent's tax dollars back to the community. Now that doesn't exist anymore," Rep. Readshaw added.

He noted legislators live two lives: in Harrisburg with legislation and committee meetings and at home with more local issues. Although he enjoys both sides of the job.

He said he gets a lot of satisfaction from helping people during their stressful times, maybe because he's a third generation funeral director.

As for any goals for a new term, Rep. Readshaw said the taxpayers need defended.

"The last transportation legislation was the second largest tax increase in the commonwealth's history. As I have repeated several times since then, everyone on the planet is for good roads, good and safe roads, good and safe bridges and a serviceable mass transit system. But that was just a straight tax increase upon the people," he continued.

Mr. Readshaw said the legislation increased fees on 131 items from registration to automobile plates.

"It was too much for me to handle, I felt there were other ways solve that problem whether it was increasing Marcellus shale drilling fees. Our neighboring states are at five percent and we're not even at that number," he said.

The Carrick legislator said they have to find other ways to pay for the programs rather than taxing the residents. He noted the transportation legislation will raise the gas tax 29.5 cents per gallon and the diesel fuel tax 30 cents, affecting the price of everything hauled by truck.

Mr. Readshaw said another reason he is interested in serving another term is to provide some stability to government. As a ten-term legislator, he feels he can provide guidance and leadership to newer and inexperienced members of the House.

He also noted seniority is important to the district.

In as far as what he foresees or would like to see happen in the 18th Street-Brownsville Road corridor of his district, Rep. Readshaw said its government's place to create a good business environment. What is needed from his perspective is a safe, attractive corridor, the ability to market services or products and parking.

"You can have the best donuts in town, but if you don't have a decent location with parking, nobody is going to stop because you have the good product but they can't get to you," he explained.

He said State Representatives have a duty to help local governments, hopefully through programs that help get money back into the neighborhoods, to businesses or municipalities to clean up areas.

"I'm always optimistic but with that optimism comes being realist and I think you have to understand the history to understand where we have to go and how we have to get there. I think I've been around long enough to understand those things. And I don't think that's a burden, remembering how things were because you need a basis to form opinions," he continued.

He believes everything is timing and what didn't work 10 years ago may work now. He's also not one to say "we tried that 10 years ago and it didn't work." What didn't work 10 years ago might be the best thing next to sliced bread now.

"Attitudes, attitudes, attitudes."

Before finishing, Mr. Readshaw said he didn't know the answer but he's inquired about the use of the word "progressive."

"I said to somebody in Harrisburg when this thing sort of started, what's a progressive. And he said, 'you know, we want change.

"And I say, 'what change do you want.' And he says, 'we just want change.'

"And I say, 'change for changes sake isn't necessarily good, you have to able to define and judge what should stay and what should be changed, in consideration of all these things.'"

"Well we just want change," he replied.

"I agree with change," Mr. Readshaw said. "But you have to have change for the better. Change just to change, I don't understand that."

Rep. Readshaw related that a group of gay men from the South Side Slopes visited him in his office several months ago. During the course of their conversation, he said he told them spiritually he was not for same sex marriages.

"Constitutionally, that's when the difficulty occurs," he continued. "You know, every time I got sworn-in in the state I took an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States, to uphold the constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

"If it ever came to a vote, since both constitutions state that all men, all people, should be treated equal. That's when the consideration would arise that you have to uphold the constitution. I suppose I'd have to vote for that.

"So you have two different answers, spiritually I'm not for it, but constitutionally I don't see how anyone could avoid voting against it."

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