Could Mike Jones, iconoclast of the GOP, lose his state House seat in November?

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Incumbent state Rep. Mike Jones, who angered some Republicans this year when he endorsed primary challengers to his own incumbent colleagues, faces two challengers — one Democrat and one conservative third-party candidate — on Nov. 8.

Jones, in an interview, said he's confident that the promises he kept and the work he's done on economic reform will prove to voters he's the right choice for the job.

Chris Rodkey, a pastor who rose to prominence because of his outspoken progressive stances, disagrees. Jones' "Economic Growth Caucus" is just a vanity project that hasn't done much to measurably improve his constituents' lives, he said.

State Rep. Mike Jones (R-York Township) is joined by restaurant owners discuss safe business practices to be put into place for dine-in service during a demonstration at The Paddock on Market in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Rep. Jones is one of the leaders of the ReopenYorkPA movement. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Jones also faces Kristine Cousler-Womack, a conservative who is simultaneously pro-abortion-rights and in favor of eliminating all property taxes.

"It's not about my ego [and] it's not about my beliefs or values," Cousler-Womack said at a recent York NAACP forum. "It's about what the constituents want."

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Ordinarily, Jones wouldn't need to do much campaigning for his District 93 seat. The last time Jones had an opponent, during his first campaign in 2018, he won by a 66-34 margin. During his last election, Jones ran unopposed.

This year's statewide redistricting maintained the status quo in the district. When compared to the previous legislative maps, a SpotlightPA analysis found, House District 93 became only slightly more Democratic — from a partisan makeup that was 54.92% Republican to one that is 54.89% Republican.

But discontent within the GOP over Jones' recent political maneuvering and the presence of a onetime Libertarian, Cousler-Womack, on the ballot leaves open at least a slim chance of an upset in the three-way race.

93rd PA house rep. district candidate Kristine Cousler-Womack at the NAACP York Branch's candidates forum in York on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.

Jones made waves during this year's GOP primary when he endorsed more conservative upstarts Joseph D'Orsie and Wendy Fink, who ultimately defeated longtime incumbents and fellow members of York County's state House delegation, Reps. Keith Gillespie and Stan Saylor, respectively.

In response, Jones was stripped of all but one of his committee seats by House GOP leadership.

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Jones said he backed his colleague's opponents because he was sick of Republicans not doing what they said they would. He specifically highlighted what he views as a hesitance by party leadership to take tougher stances against mail-in voting and COVID lockdowns.

"We don't all have to agree," he said, "but I think you need to do what you say you're going to do. Quit or get out of the way for somebody else."

The incumbent also stood apart from many of his colleagues in another sense.

Jones was the only Republican who appeared at a recent NAACP candidate forum held in York City.

"They might not like what I have to say," he said, "but at least I'm there to engage."

Rodkey said the stripping of Jones' committee appointments should be a cause for concern for all voters in the 93rd.

"I do not believe that Republicans are being represented in Harrisburg," he said.

Chris Rodkey, who is pastor of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Dallastown, and is running for state representative in the 93rd district, speaks during a rally of more than 150 teachers and community members outside Dallastown Area High School in York Township, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. The rally was held just before the Dallastown Area School District School Board would return to contract negotiations with the Dallastown Area Education Association. Three of Rodkey’s four children attend school in the district. Dawn J. Sagert photo

If elected, Rodkey said, he would hold eight to 10 town hall meetings in his district to get feedback from voters.

"I would not be arguing with people on Facebook about legislation, but I would speak face to face and be made available to defend my votes but also to talk about legislation and to hear what people's issues are," Rodkey said.

No matter who the governor is, Jones said, he'll work with them on initiatives including the economy and criminal justice reform. He pointed to several bipartisan proposals he's supported, including reforms to improve conditions for incarcerated women.

Rodkey committed to raising the minimum wage as well as more equitable funding for schools. York City, he said, was the most underfunded school district in the state.

"That means that local taxpayers are subsidizing what the state isn't paying them because the law is based on student populations from 1992 instead of 2022," Rodkey said.

After a soft launch of his campaign last October, Rodkey said he's been canvassing almost every weekend and doing a lot of phonebanking.

"I'm not interested in looking at your party affiliation before talking to you," Rodkey said. "I want to make government more accessible to people."

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If elected, Rodkey said, he won't participate in scapegoating of the governor or the leader of another branch. He said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot of complaining about what was happening, but not a lot of solutions. On inflation, Rodkey said the state needs to find a way to reduce its gas tax as well as give aid to the working class by closing loopholes used by corporations to exploit the system.

Cousler-Womack would not only hold town halls but go to events and festivals where the people she represents gather, she said. She said she'd listen to every constituent, not just those that vote for her.

If elected, Cousler-Womack said, she would be an advocate for women's rights. While she believes there is a "sanctity to life," she also believes abortion is a necessary part of health care.

On the minimum wage, Cousler-Womack said she believes a minimum wage is a handicap to both business owners and employees.

"A minimum wage just hand-ties people into what is required instead of allowing people to negotiate what they can do and what they're worth in the sense of owners and employees, respectfully," she said.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Rodkey raised concerns over a long-running lawsuit against Jones' former company, St. Onge, by a business rival alleging a breach of a non-compete agreement. It's not clear exactly how valid some of the allegations may be, and the key players — excepting Jones — did not respond to The York Dispatch's requests for comment.

For Jones' part, he said many of Rodkey's claims were misleading or took material from the lawsuit out of context.

 — Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.