Pennsylvania is a large, complicated state, and there is no better place to observe and understand the complex and sometimes contradictory workings of the Commonwealth than from Harrisburg.
It has been a subject of long-running debate whether Pennsylvania is an East Coast or a Midwestern state, but I would argue that it is actually both. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both exert strong influences on the politics and the character of the state, and in the Harrisburg area you can witness firsthand how these influences clash and combine to make Pennsylvania the unique place that it is.
People in the Harrisburg area are roughly evenly split in their sports loyalties between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and we are on the frontlines of that eternal Pennsylvania debate: Sheetz vs. Wawa, a question that recently sparked a contentious debate on the Ceisler Media Slack channel. Here in Central PA, we appreciate the finer points of both, but also have room in our hearts for Rutters and Turkey Hill. There may never be a definitive answer to who has the finest gas station cuisine in Pennsylvania, but in the Harrisburg area you can decide for yourself, and isn’t that what democracy is all about?
As the place where Pennsylvania comes together, Harrisburg is also the scene of battles that are far more consequential than whether it’s “yinz” or “youse,” and that has been especially true during these unprecedented times. The General Assembly has adapted to meeting and voting online, a process that hasn’t been without its hiccups, but unlike some august bodies, at least we haven’t had anyone enter a toilet flush into the official record yet.
Central PA has been in the middle of the current ongoing battles over how to safely reopen the state, with several Central PA counties having threatened to defy Governor Wolf’s shutdown orders before most of them backed down. In recent weeks, the Capitol has been the scene of two different protests of the governor’s shutdown order, bringing thousands of sign-waving, horn-honking Pennsylvanians to the streets of downtown Harrisburg.
Harrisburg residents are accustomed to such scenes, and we understand and appreciate the fact that our neighborhood is where Pennsylvania comes together to make important decisions. As the editor of a community newspaper, The Burg wrote last week before the most recent protest rally, “By choosing to live in Harrisburg, we know that sometimes we’ll be inconvenienced by this or that protest or demonstration. And that’s fine. That’s democracy.” He summed up the views of most Harrisburg residents, regardless of their views on the merits of the protests, nicely, telling the protestors, “Welcome to Harrisburg. Please respect our city, our regulations and the people who live here... The ‘Golden Rule’ applies.”
The affairs of state will continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently in the midst of what would traditionally be budget season in Harrisburg, and even though the usual rallies and lobbying visits have been put on hold, and appropriations hearings have switched over to Zoom, the budget is still due June 30, and the sausage still has to be made. COVID-19 has made an already difficult budget situation even more challenging, and we at Ceisler Media will continue to monitor the situation closely in the coming weeks as decisions will be made in Harrisburg that will have dramatic impact on our clients and the Commonwealth as a whole.
One of our clients, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, has long been focused on supporting revolutionary technological developments that improve the human condition and address critical challenges now and in the future. But that mission takes on an entirely new meaning in response to the pandemic. Almost from the very first days of COVID-19, Ben Franklin clients have been working around the clock and contributing to efforts to address this public health issue in various ways – from treatments to testing to logistics to other support mechanisms. Innovation has proven to be key in responding to this pandemic and it will remain central to recovery.
Central PA is a tight-knit community. We look out for one another, especially during difficult times. Pennsylvania contains multitudes, and the Harrisburg area embodies the best qualities from all four corners of the state. We love having front row seats to some of the most important debates of our times, and we are proud to be the place where Pennsylvania comes together.
Drew Murren is Senior Associate at Ceisler Media's Harrisburg Office.