Kenyatta Takes S.E. Support to Dem Candidates Statewide

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STATE REP. Malcolm Kenyatta, R, caught national attention when his impassioned condemnation of a Republican House of Representatives move to oversee election procedures in counties won the day. Kenyatta is campaigning statewide to turn the Pennsylvania General Assembly blue on Nov. 3.

BY TONY WEST
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-N. Phila.) is on the ballot for re-election on Nov. 3 but he is scarcely running. He doesn’t have to. His seat, which abuts Temple University campus, has no other seekers.

Instead, Kenyatta is running for his fellow Democrats across the state, hoping to flip enough State Senate and House districts blue to win a majority in Harrisburg.

In the past 30 days, Kenyatta has crisscrossed the state, spending at least nine days on the ranges where other Ds are targeting or defending seats. He has brought his inner-city sensibility to parts of the commonwealth that political lore has it are alien to Philadelphians … and reports that they’re just like us and looking for the same needs from state government.

Take Erie. Kenyatta was hosted by his colleague State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) and by Julie Slomski, who is vying for the Senate seat held by State Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie), a freshman who won his competitive seat in 2016, 54-46%. Erie is regarded as a bellwether county with a strong Democratic past that switched out for Trump four years ago.

Yet Kenyatta found the discussion at their rallies mirrored what he hears in North Philadelphia. “I could have been talking about situations back home,” he said: “gun safety, property taxes, affordable housing and transportation, forgotten communities put on back burners.”

South of Erie, Kenyatta visited a farmer in Mercer County. The man had been devastated by the “senseless trade war” that had been blocking him from selling overseas. Then came the pandemic and the business slowdown. “Farmers need help,” Kenyatta summed up. “They need to get some of the billion dollars in federal COVID-19 emergency aid that we still have in Harrisburg. The Republicans have been blocking its dispersal. We must get that food to nonprofits and give these farmers a lifeline.”

Kenyatta has taken a hard line to his blue colleagues of late. He lambasted a hastily drawn proposal in committee last month that would have handicapped absentee voting in many ways; Republicans see universal absentee mail-ins as favoring Democrats this year. His feisty speech drew unkind publicity to the Republicans and stimulated them to back away from their plan – while also drawing a couple of on-air interviews on the Rachel Maddow Show, a rare treat for a state lawmaker.

The goal is clear. “Politics is a math problem,” Kenyatta stated bluntly. “In the Senate, Democrats need 26 votes; in the House of Representatives, 102 votes. We cannot get that without a coalition across geography.”

To assume control of the Senate, Dems must net three turnovers. It will take nine in the larger House, up from their current 93 representatives. That figure in itself showed a gain of 14 seats in 2018, so Democrats are shooting for blood this time around.

In Northeastern Pennsylvania, Kenyatta showed up for a fundraiser for Claudette Williams, president of Mt. Pocono Borough Council in Monroe County. She is having a rematch with State Rep. Jack Rader, Jr. (R-Monroe), who beat her in the 176th Legislative District 55-45% in 2018. If elected, Williams would join Kenyatta in the Black Caucus in the House, where he is the first African American LGBT member. He describes her as a mentor for progressives and a model for young people.

Another buddy in the trenches was State Rep. Bridget Kozierowski Mallow (D-Lackawanna), who won a special election last year in suburban Scranton and is now fighting for a full term.
“The challenges here are the same as in the rest of the state,” Kenyatta reported. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”

Will he and the Dems get results this year? Just this week, the reputable Cook Political Report changed the rating of the Pennsylvania House from “Leans Republican” to tossup.

“I’m telling my fellow candidates we can have success,” Kenyatta said. “We are in a stronger position. There are people right now who are hurting. Their problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The Philadelphia Public Record covers politics and government in its city.

“Republicans don’t focus on the problems or the science, but on politics,” he continued. “They won’t look at systemic issues. They won’t invest in education or do anything with grants. They are whining and complaining and obfuscating. Two of my Republican colleagues have tested positive for COVID-19. They won’t wear masks.”

Democrats in the Southeast can build bridges with the rest of the state. The key, says Kenyatta, is to stop using that language.

“For a long time, Republicans have been using disparaging language about the urban Southeast But this is all Pennsylvania, period. When you’re cajoling your government to get financing for a pool or save a throttled restaurant from slipping out of your fingers or develop broadband access, you need a coalition with problems shared across the state. There is power built into that coalition,” he insisted.

“Pennsylvanians cannot allow people to tear us apart. Our problems are not going to be solved in oval office, but right here in Harrisburg.”

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