Billy Penn in Harrisburg

Philly’s younger, more diverse state House delegation doesn’t plan to stay quiet

“We have to break out of these silos to get at the heart of what we care about.”

Malcolm Kenyatta, Jason Dawkins, and Elizabeth Fiedler.

Malcolm Kenyatta, Jason Dawkins, and Elizabeth Fiedler.

Courtesy Jason Dawkins Facebook page

HARRISBURG — Philadelphia’s delegation in the state House will be younger and more diverse next session, and that change is reflected in newly elected leadership.

Rep. Jason Dawkins, who’s represented part of Northeast Philly since 2015, was elected chair of the city’s delegation. Freshmen lawmakers Malcolm Kenyatta and Elizabeth Fiedler will serve as vice chair and treasurer/secretary, respectively. Kenyatta is the first openly gay person of color to serve in the General Assembly.

Philadelphia will also take a more prominent role in House leadership. Rep. Jordan Harris was elected minority whip, the No. 2 leadership position for Democrats, and Rep. Joanna McClinton became the first black woman to be elected caucus chair.

Dawkins told Billy Penn the caucus was in desperate need of diversity, not only racial but also generational. Several members of the delegation — including Dawkins, Kenyatta, and Fiedler — are in their 20s and 30s.

In the state Senate, the Philadelphia delegation will remain unchanged, with seven Democrats representing the city. Just two Republicans will represent parts of Philadelphia in the legislature next session: Reps. Tom Murt and Martina White.

Standing up, speaking out

Having two freshman serving in leadership positions is kind of a big deal. Sometimes, Dawkins said, there’s an attitude that newbies should essentially sit down and be quiet.

The problem with that, he continued, is freshman are elected and “folks expect us to represent them.” He added that new legislators can learn from older members while also being engaged.

“We’re not going to be idle,” he said. Young legislators plan to come together with seasoned ones to create a plan that is “inclusive of everyone.”

If elected officials take away anything from the midterms, it should be: ignore young people at your own risk.

A substantial number of millennials ran for office (and won), while youth voter registration in Pennsylvania surged in the lead-up to Nov. 6. While there was a healthy amount of cynicism about whether young people would actually show up to the polls, those voters helped propel Democrats to victory in the state.

The electorate’s next generation is growing up in the midst of turbulence like regular mass shooting at schools, Dawkins noted, and are feeling empowered to make a change.

“We do not want to continue to essentially…not do anything,” he said.

Plans for 2019

Dawkins didn’t want to give away the delegation’s plans for next session — lawmakers will unveil their priorities in January — but they will reflect a “progressive value system,” he said.

That includes issues like affordable healthcare that protects pre-existing conditions, tackling gun violence in the city, and getting young people prepared for high-paying jobs.

Those topics aren’t too different than the ones on the minds of rural Pennsylvanians, Dawkins said, which is why building a dialogue with Republicans will be key.

“We have to break out of these silos to get at the heart of what we care about.”

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