The welcome to Upper Dublin Township may not have been what one might have hoped for — getting stung by a bee while touring the Fort Washington Office Park — but state Sen. Vincent Hughes seems eager to pull the township into the fold of his 7th Senatorial District.
“I love Upper Dublin,” the 58-year-old Democrat said recently. “I’ve been there a lot. I started meeting people when the court approved the [redistricting] lines.”
The 7th Senatorial District picked up Upper Dublin and Conshohocken Borough and dropped Springfield Township under the 2012 reapportionment plan. The district also includes Whitemarsh Township and parts of West, North and Northwest Philadelphia.
A member of the Pennsylvania Senate for 20 years, Hughes previously served in the state House from 1987 to 1994. A native of Philadelphia, he attended Temple University.
So far, the getting-to-know-you in Upper Dublin has been all positive.
Following the “very memorable” visit to the office park, Hughes said, he attended an Upper Dublin High School football game in the fall and has taken to doing his morning workout wearing his Cardinal red shirt. In late December he attended a brunch at the township building, where various members of the community were invited to meet him.
“It was an Eagles Sunday and more than 100 people were there,” he said. “I thought that was pretty good.”
Hughes said he envisioned a smooth transition into adopting the township.
“The changes for me policy-wise mean little, except for the fact that it’s a new community,” Hughes said. “Everyone wants the same thing: good schools, safe communities, thriving communities, and a government responsive, transparent and helpful to their local community.
“There are nuances between the different communities,” he said, “but most want the same thing.”
Reflecting on “how you achieve that for different constituencies,” Hughes said, “expect someone who is very vocal, expect someone who is very engaged, someone to be there or have my folks there.”
He has already started working to bring in some funds for the revitalization of the Fort Washington Office Park, Hughes said, noting investment in the business center was “highly important.” Taxes from the park help invest in the schools, and Upper Dublin has made a “large commitment to educate children, evidenced by the new high school,” he said.
As Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he said, “We’re at the table. We’re there for them. We’ve got our ears open.”
Hughes said he hopes to establish a regional office in Montgomery County this year, “so we have a presence people can visit.”
Among the issues he supports at the state level, Hughes favors a severance tax on the Marcellus Shale gas drillers.
“Most [legislators] in Southeastern Pennsylvania support a severance tax. The difference is in how much and how the money is distributed,” he said.
“I’m a much more aggressive advocate in that area. The industry has gotten off scot-free in the last couple years. It’s a fairness issue.”
Hughes said he would like to see the tax proceeds go to education, economic development and job growth, and to develop other non-carbon energy sources, such as solar and wind. Investments also should be made to make houses and businesses more energy-efficient, he said.
“Four years ago Pennsylvania was a leader” in alternative energy and energy efficiency, Hughes said. “We’ve dropped back a lot; we need to come back.”
He criticized Gov. Corbett’s alternative to Medicaid expansion as “a disaster,” saying, “we have to figure out how to fix it.”
Hughes said he supported Gov. Wolf, “has a good relationship with him and his staff,” and is looking forward to working with the new administration.
Previously chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, the third highest ranking position, from 2008 to 2010, Hughes has worked on efforts to raise the minimum wage, establish a statewide jobs program, provide funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program for those who need assistance with their heating bills, and obtain funding for HIV/AIDS programs, according to online sources. He has served on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency and the Cheyney University Council of Trustees, and he and his family established the James Hughes Memorial Scholarship Fund in honor of his late father. The fund has given out more than $1 million in scholarships to more than 400 students.
A member of the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church and its Trustee Board, Hughes is married to actress, entertainer and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph. Their blended family includes four children, two girls and two boys.