KINGSTON — Time after time Republicans lined up to try to unseat Phyllis Mundy from the state House of Representatives. But in the end, the only person who will be successful in unseating Mundy is herself.
Mundy, D-Kingston, announced Monday that she will not seek a 13th term in office and will step aside when this legislative session ends Nov. 30, 2014. She’ll leave as the dean of the Luzerne County delegation in the House after 12 two-year terms representing the 120th state House District.
Monday night, speaking from her living room while wearing a green sweatshirt emblazoned with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives logo, Mundy said her decision was spurred by family issues.
Her father, Bill Block, is 96 and living in Florida. Mundy said her three sisters care for him when they can, but she felt it was “just time I start to help my sisters with his care.” She said she goes down when she can, but with her full-time job as a legislator her trips are not what she believes are necessary. She also noted that her son, Brian, lives in California with his wife, April, and Mundy’s grandsons, Mason and Bryce.
She said the tugs of family have had her mulling over her future and she finally made the decision that the time had come. She didn’t want to have any regrets or miss out any more on family time.
State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth, said the time sacrifices legislative members make on the job and campaigning sometimes get to be too much, forcing them to step back and decide where their priorities lie and sometimes family takes precedence.
“It’s a personal decision everybody makes every two years,” said state Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, whose district abuts Mundy’s.
The 65-year-old Kingston High School and Bloomsburg University graduate was working as a manager at Injection Molding Corp., a multi-million-dollar manufacturing company in Laflin, in 1990 when she was recruited to run against incumbent Scott Dietterick, a Republican in a heavily Republican 120th House District, while Dietterick was under indictment for falsifying insurance documents. A month before the election he was found guilty.
She won that election — becoming the district’s first Democratic representative since 1966 — and every election thereafter. Along the way she has disposed of Republicans including Keith Coslett in 1992, Norm Gavlick in 1994, William “Bill” James in 1996 and 1998, Shirley A. Moyer in 2000, Robb Henderson in 2002, John Cordora in 2006, Bill Goldsworthy in 2010 and Aaron Kaufer in 2012.
In 2004 and 2008 she faced no opposition.
She calls her initial victory “a fluke.” But she made the most of her opportunity, being a voice for the concerns of her constituents and looking out for the best interests of the state’s residents. And along the way the district has been redrawn and demographics have changed. Democrats now outnumber Republicans slightly.
Mundy has been financially backed by Democrats and unions along the way, but she also has drawn support from Republicans time after time, and with their support, and votes, was reelected every two years.
“It has been my privilege to serve the people of the 120th District,” Mundy said. “My staff and I have worked hard and done our best to serve all who needed our help. I am humbled by the confidence and support shown to me for the past 23 years, and I am extremely grateful for the tremendous opportunity to serve.”
Mundy said voters want someone who works hard, understands the issues and is approachable and accessible that offers good constituent outreach.
“I think that’s what people liked about me. I did those things and people responded to that,” she said.
Mundy has undertaken health, elderly and education issues over the years, but perhaps most notably was her multi year crusade to cap surpluses for Blue Cross health insurance organizations across the state, including Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania in Wilkes-Barre.
“She’s always been on the side of the working class, and when it came to the senior citizens and children, she was a staunch advocate for those two groups,” said state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, who has worked with Mundy since he came into office in 2007. “She’s going to be sorely missed. She is a no-nonsense legislator that tried to do the right thing all the time. She serves her constituents with honor.”
Carroll said Mundy has a knack for being able to see “big picture policy issues” and the House is losing a “knowledgeable and thoughtful legislator.”
Mundy, who briefly taught at several area school districts after graduating from Bloomsburg, said she’s personally most proud of her work in the early childhood realm.
Voice for many
Yudichak, who has a portion of his 14th senatorial district overlapping with Mundy’s House district, said he has an appreciation for how Mundy has served her constituents and been a voice, especially for early-childhood education and senior citizens.
Among her crusades, Mundy led successful initiatives to expand prescription drug benefits and care for senior citizens, maximize early childhood care and education, increase home visitation services for at-risk expectant mothers and promote quality care for foster children. She also has earned a reputation for being at grand openings, business forums and other community gatherings and for speaking out against rate increases for water utilities.
Throughout her two decades in Harrisburg, Mundy has been part of the majority and minority parties, served on more than a half-dozen committees and fought for funding for numerous projects throughout her district. Among the recipients are the Hoyt Library, the West Pittston Library and The Lands at Hillside Farms, where there’s now a Phyllis Mundy Education Center.
Not all of her initiatives led to victory. A proposal to create a Marcellus Shale moratorium failed to gain traction and her efforts to close the Delaware Loophole also went nowhere.
But she pitted herself against big drillers and big business in doing so. And she drew the attention of her party’s leadership, including House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, who was first elected to the House the same year as Mundy.
“She works hard every day and speaks with both passion and common sense. … She makes the House of Representatives better, and her commitment to the people of this state, especially children and senior citizens, will be missed,” Dermody said.
Mundy, who is the minority chairwoman for the House Finance Committee, has worked in many volunteer organizations, including the Junior League and League of Women Voters, with which she served two terms as president.
The divorced mother of one has also established a good reputation regarding constituent service, and she made it clear after her announcement that her pending retirement will have no impact on her office’s hours or offerings provided at the Park Office Building, Suite 113, 400 Third Ave., Kingston.