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Our Man in Harrisburg
From state capital to home district
with Pennsylvania State Senator Ted Erickson

by Barbara Marshall

Senator Ted Erickson

Part of the Senator’s routine is to present awards to visiting sports teams from his district.

The big topic on Ted Erickson’s mind today is slot machines.

The Methodists are against them. The Presbyterians and the Episcopalians are afraid slots will encourage other undesirable or immoral behavior. The Senate Majority leader lambasted the Governor at the very idea.
Erickson is going to vote for them anyway.

Today, Pennsylvania State Senator Edwin B. Erickson, Ph.D. ’60, representing Senatorial District 26, is wrestling with the thorny issue of holding the line on taxes while adequately funding human services and education. This year, it’s a particular challenge as the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor lock horns in a months-long battle over a proposed budget that cut funding for higher education, health, human services and libraries.

Slot machines at racetracks look like they might be an answer, easily pulling in $400 million a year at each of six licensed tracks. It’s a solution that avoids raising taxes – something Erickson is generally against – and paying for education and human services – something he is passionate about. Erickson considers slots a way through the labyrinth of intertwining issues that include personal income tax increases, property tax reform, educational reform, and even Indian sovereignty, since the Delaware Nation is on the move to gain land they claim is historically theirs and to build casinos on it.

“ People come here and say ‘don’t put slots in. It’s immoral to put slots in.’ On the other hand, I don’t know what you do,” says the Senator. So despite “a twinge” about gambling, “I rapidly came to the point of saying I could vote for it. I did vote for it,” He notes with a grin that “Reverend Bergstresser beat me up on the slots,” referring to his Albright classmate, Rev. Lawrence Bergstresser ’60.

Today, like most days, the Senator’s job requires a combination of Occam’s razor and Solomon’s sword.

District 26 is a generous slice through the middle of Delaware County, with two square chunks of Chester County (Easttown and Westtown) sitting on the top like a pair of wings.

Erickson was sworn in as senator in April 2001 after a special election to fill the seat vacated by long-time Delaware County politico F. Joseph Loeper, who was convicted of obstructing a federal tax investigation. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Erickson “overwhelmed a spirited Democratic opponent” garnering 60 percent of the vote in a combative race. He won re-election to a full four-year term in November 2002.

Erickson knows and loves Delco (as the county is known to those who live there) since he both grew up and spent a sizeable portion of his professional career there. As executive director of Delaware County for nine years until his election to the Senate, he oversaw government operations of one of the largest counties in Pennsylvania. He was a member of Delaware County Council from 1982 until 1989, and chief administrative officer of Delco’s Upper Darby Township, as well as that township’s director of public health.

Erickson is also a Ph.D. biochemist who was regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III, covering the Mid-Atlantic region, and was a tenured member of the faculty of Hamilton College where he taught microbiology, biochemistry and general biology. He has also taught at Drexel University and at East Stroudsburg State College (now East Stroudsburg University).

District 26 is a “microcosm of the state,” he says. “It has everything, even farms. Delaware County has the river, a complex roadway system, rail access, the airport, a bunch of areas zoned for manufacturing, commercial properties. People are helpful and it has a populace who want to work.” Its 89,000 households also reflect an extremely wide socio-economic range, from Tinicum on the edge of the struggling city of Chester to Easttown, with some of the highest property values in the state.

Erickson divides his time between the District Office in Drexel Hill and the Capitol Building in Harrisburg. On this rainy day in December, the General Assembly is in session and he is in the Capitol His agenda is a grab bag. Erickson’s mission as senator, as defined by the Senate web site, is three-fold: lawmaker, supervisor of government operations and constituent representative. He does all three simultaneously today. Clean energy is a priority, small wonder for a man with his environmental background. Today he meets with lobbyists for an environmental group who have a new, more effective design for windmills to generate power, something that interests Erickson greatly.

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