Lancaster’s newly elected state Rep. Izzy Smith-Wade-El hopes to return some level of power back to the smaller communities across the commonwealth.
While Izzy Smith-Wade-El’s political career might be getting bigger, his focus remains small.
The newly-elected Democratic state representative from Lancaster believes Pennsylvania’s system is not set up for small communities to succeed. The former Lancaster City Council president said he spent a majority of his time on the job finding out all the things council couldn’t do to help constituents.
“I want the power to make positive change to be in the hands of the people who live in the neighborhoods, who live in the communities,” Smith-Wade-El said. “I want to make those structural changes to return power locally.”
Smith-Wade-El is the first Black, queer person to represent the Lancaster area in the state government. He said too many talented young people who have grown up in Pennsylvania feel like they have to leave to find a place where they really belong. He hopes his time on Lancaster City Council and in the state legislature will make people of color, and people of different sexual orientations feel like they belong.
“We want more people to belong because when people feel like they belong here the things they do consistently turn out to be incredible,” he said.
What Are His Top Priorities Heading to Harrisburg?
Smith-Wade-El has already started his crusade for better housing in the commonwealth by circulating his first co-sponsorship memo about a bill he plans to introduce that would expunge evictions from a person’s credit record.
“Every child deserves a beautiful childhood and every parent wants to give their child that beautiful, safe childhood,” he said. “A home is where that starts. You deserve to have it be safe and affordable. You deserve to know that you living in that house is more important than someone else’s profit.”
After spending five years on Lancaster City Council, Smith-Wade-El said he wants to make sure local legislators are able to do for their communities what they promised, like reduce property tax burdens, keep rents down, and improve local streets and roads.
“There are 53 third-class cities, to say nothing of townships and boroughs, that the Pennsylvania legislature does not really allow to govern themselves,” he said. “And they represent 1.25 million Pennsylvanians who deserve better from their government. Our system is not set up for small communities like Lancaster, like Reading, like York. It’s not set up for these communities to succeed. Because they are not Philly or Pittsburgh they pretend like we don’t exist.”
Smith-Wade-El said he’s honored to have the opportunity to not only represent his community, but to help communities across the commonwealth like Lancaster get what they deserve.
Smith-Wade-El said students in the commonwealth aren’t getting what they need and deserve to live their best life, pointing to a lack of school counselors, pre-K and childcare programs, and after school and community programs.
“To have institutions that care for you so that your parents can work and come home and actually be present with you when you are at home together, these are the things that make up a life worth living,” he said. “We need to be fighting for them more.”
Increasing special education funding is another education must for the state lawmaker. Growing up, Smith-Wade-El said he struggled with several learning disabilities and even got thrown out of three different schools. He was told often that he should lower his expectations for what he might achieve in life.
“I want people to know that your learning disabilities do not mean that you cannot achieve something,” he said. “It is not that you are not ready for the world. You are living in a world that is not ready for you.”
How Does He Plan to Work Together With His Counterparts to Get Things Done?
Smith-Wade-El said it’s all about organizing.
“I am not a huge fan of bipartisanship for bipartisanship sake,” he said. “There are people who think people like me—Black people, queer people, disabled people—should not have the right to fully participate in society or that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of our public institutions to accommodate everybody. Fundamentally, I am opposed to that and if that is where your politics are based, it’s unlikely we are going to have a lot of common ground.
“That being said, if you want to work on making life better for the people in the commonwealth; if you want to work on being sure that our agriculture communities, who have fed Pennsylvania for generations don’t have to go broke so their kids can go to college, you are on my team. If you want to make sure that the kids on my block have a crossing guard to make sure that they can get across the street in the morning, then you are on my team. If you want to make sure those kids have food, get prepared in school for a job that is going to treat them well so they can provide a beautiful childhood for their own family, then you are on my team and I don’t care what letter comes after your name.”
How Did He Get Into Politics?
Smith-Wade-El said he grew up in a politically oriented family. His mother was born in Washington, DC and was a member of the Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers. She instilled in him the idea that organizing and politics could be used as a way to change the world.
One Thing Smith-Wade-El Wants People to Know About Him
“My life, which has been really challenging in some ways and really blessed in others, has led me firmly to the belief that we really only get through these things together,” Smith-Wade-El said. “The things we do for the people that we typically ignore are the ones that are most likely to make the whole world better. When we make sure that any person, no matter their circumstances, has a safe home, everybody has better neighborhoods. When we fiercely defend and fully fund our public schools, we know that everyone benefits from a better educated, safer, healthier society. That’s why we do what we do and I hope that motivates some other people to do the same.”