(L-R) Keystone managing editor Patrick Berkery, state Rep. Melissa Shusterman, state Sen. Katie Muth, state Sen. Malcolm Kenyatta, and Lancaster City Council President Izzy Smith-Wade-El during the Keystone candidate forum at the Bok Building in Philadelphia, Oct. 19, 2022 (Photo: the Keystone). State Legislator Forum
(L-R) Keystone managing editor Patrick Berkery, state Rep. Melissa Shusterman, state Sen. Katie Muth, state Sen. Malcolm Kenyatta, and Lancaster City Council President Izzy Smith-Wade-El during the Keystone candidate forum at the Bok Building in Philadelphia, Oct. 19, 2022 (Photo: the Keystone).

At the Keystone’s candidate forum in Philadelphia, state Democrats cited Republican efforts to ban abortion and their hypocrisy on the issue of public safety as examples of how the GOP-majority are attempting to take away the rights of Pennsylvanians.

Four Democratic Pennsylvania elected officials recently made clear their position that the GOP majority in the state legislature was attempting to take away people’s rights and did not reflect the diverse makeup of the state.

Appearing at the Keystone’s first-ever candidate forum, held at the Bok Building in South Philadelphia last Wednesday, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (Philadelphia), state Sen. Katie Muth (Berks), state Rep. Melissa Shusterman (Chester), and Lancaster City Council president Izzy Smith-Wade-El all acknowledged that many Pennsylvanians understandably don’t trust government officials, a byproduct of feeling they’ve been lied to and neglected.

“What we have is a small minority of people who run the entire state and they aren’t listening to you and they don’t care about your values,” Shusterman said.

The quartet of Democrats discussed Republican efforts to ban abortion and the GOP’s hypocrisy on the issue of public safety while refusing to act on gun safety legislation, among other topics.

Kenyatta said that now, more than ever, is the time for those most frustrated with politicians to step forward and make their voice heard.

“The people you are most frustrated with love when you throw your hands up and stop paying attention,” he said. “Government doesn’t disappear because you close your eyes and wish it away.”

Here are the top takeaways from The Keystone’s panel discussion with these four officials:

The Majority in the State Government Don’t Reflect the Diversity of Pennsylvania.

Republicans have controlled the state House for 24 of the last 30 years and the Senate for the past 27 years.

This November, 203 state House seats and 50 state Senate seats are up for reelection. With new legislative districts and a number of incumbents not seeking reelection, the potential for Democrats to chip away at the GOP majority is a real possibility. 

Bolstering the chances of making a dent in that majority is the surge in young Pennsylvania women registering to vote as Democrats since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, a total that has far outpaced new male Republican voters. Muth and Shusterman see this as evidence that Pennsylvanians feel those in charge in the state government do not reflect their values, and a sign of potential change in the makeup of the state legislature.

“Younger people are activating and some of them can’t even vote yet,” Shusterman said. “What we see is that it doesn’t matter if you are conservative, independent, or liberal, most people do not want more government in their bodies, more government in their bedrooms. People don’t want that.”

Muth said younger voters are more attuned and informed when it comes to government and are more likely to get out and vote when they don’t agree with what lawmakers are doing. 

Smith-Wade-El is running for the state House seat in the 96th legislative district (Lancaster), and would become the first Black, queer person to represent the area if elected. He said he was encouraged to downplay his queerness when considering a run for office, for fear it would alientate voters in the rural parts of his district.

Instead, he pushed back against that advice. Citing the changing makeup of his area, which includes more Latinx and LGBTQ+ residents, Smith said his ascension to the state House would make members of other marginalized communities feel included and empowered.

“There is a thriving community of Black and Latinx and queer folks,” Smith-Wade-El said. “I think that people see someone who reflects them back to them and know they can do that thing too. That’s important.”

Republicans Are Attempting to Take Away the Rights of Pennsylvanians.

The lawmakers pointed to abortion, voting laws, and descrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, as key areas where Republicans in the state House and state Senate are trying to take away the rights of Pennsylvanians. 

“It’s bad out there,” Shusterman said. “The state House and the state Senate are trying to take away all your rights and they don’t reflect the values of the diverse state of Pennsylvania.”

Referencing the constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in the state that the GOP is attempting to pass, Kenyatta said the Republican majority will do whatever it takes to push their agenda through—whether it reflects the wants and needs of their constitutents or not.

“They are as committed as they can be to their crazy, conspiracy-mongering nonsense,” Kenyatta said. “So then we have to be just as committed to the truth and to making government work for communities that it hasn’t worked for.”

The Republican Majority Makes Tougher Gun Laws Impossible

The Republican party has held the majority in Harrisburg for many years, so when Pennsylvanians are upset about things not getting done, they have the GOP to blame, according to Kenyatta. He said a prime example is their inactivity on gun safety measures, which is compounded by their hypocrisy of continuing to make public safety an issue.

“If you do not support common sense gun safety then shut your mouth about crime,” Kenyatta said. “If you do not support investing in people and dealing with the root causes that create the desperation that puts people in the position to pick up the gun in the first place then you don’t care about making communities safer.”

Kenyatta is a 2007 graduate of Roxborough High School where a 14-year old was shot to death in September. He said that until Democrats have a majority in both chambers of the state government, nothing will be done to strengthen Pennsylvania’s gun laws.

“People don’t need to be reminded that there is crime,” Kenyatta said. “What they want is an elected official to give a damn enough to actually support the policy intervention that makes it possible.”

“We need to remind people of who has been in charge for the past 30 years and what they haven’t done,” he said.