NAACP forum sees sparse attendance from York County's elected officials

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

A political forum held Tuesday night by the York branch of the NAACP saw sparse attendance — at least from one side of the political aisle.

Of the six races represented at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, only the race for the state's 93rd House District saw all of the key candidates show up: incumbent Republican state Rep. Mike Jones, Democratic opponent Chris Rodkey and third-party candidate Kristine Cousler-Womack.

"We may not agree on everything. I don't get everything right. But those of you that may follow me on Facebook [know] I am at least accessible," said Jones, referencing the lack of turnout by his fellow Republicans. "I at least respond. I'm at least here tonight. And I do my best to represent all of the people."

York NAACP President Jamiel Alexander said he thought the night went well, even though a number of people did not show.

"One of the roles I play as NAACP president in this current time is to make sure people are informed," Alexander said. "The blessing is (the ones who) did come out. But, those who didn't show, it is something to watch."

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After Jones demurred on a question about critical race theory — popular fodder for many Republicans that has resulted in school book bans in the area — Rodkey questioned his opponent's transparency.

"[CRT opponents] in Harrisburg failed to even define what CRT is, to the point that you could teach critical race theory in elementary schools," Rodkey said. "I believe that we should have comprehensive education on the history of race and the errors of our country. We should not be censoring schools. We should not be turning school classrooms into the battleground for every single cultural war we can imagine."

Jones, for his part, defended charter schools and corporations from attacks by others on the panel. He also highlighted his business experience and defended the push for requiring voters to show identification every time they vote, saying that the constitutional amendment meant the issue would be decided by voters.

"The elections in York may well be secure and fair. I think they are. In Philadelphia and Allegheny County, it's a different story," Jones said. He did not cite any evidence to support those claims.

Cousler-Womack, running as the candidate for the Keystone Party of Pennsylvania, said she was not bound by the two-party system and would work across the aisle for solutions.

"My loyalty is to the constituents, and not just a certain select group of constituents, every constituent within my district," she said. "I personally in my day-to-day life have sat and spoken with Mr. Jones on things, and sat and spoken with Mr. Rodkey on things. I have proven day to day I can work with both sides because it's not about my ego, it's not about my beliefs or values, it's about what the constituents want."

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Democratic candidates in other races presented their cases without their Republican opponents in the room.

"Our state legislature is bought, which is why we need Harrisburg to be people-focused rather than corporate bought," said Isaac Riston, who faces incumbent Rep. Kate Klunk in November.

Riston cited his experience as someone who was formerly homeless and said he was running to counter the influence that corporate donors and powerful political leaders have in Harrisburg. He expressed his support for a livable wage and said that school districts should be properly funded.

Dan Almoney, who faces incumbent Rep. Dawn Keefer, cited the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade as his reason for running. In response to a question about legislative gridlock, he said the current power structure is dysfunctional.

"They've consolidated power, they've gerrymandered our districts and our map, and they've also tried this new thing by legislating through constitutional amendments," Almoney said. "That, simply put, is not how they should be doing their job, because their job is to pass laws and laws that represent the people. So if you can't work together and compromise to pass laws that get approved through the governor's signature and courts, you're not doing your job."

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Judith McCormick Higgins, who's running against incumbent state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, said she was inspired to run after her opponent's actions following the 2020 election. Phillips-Hill signed a letter in 2020 asking then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay the certification of the 2020 election, citing alleged misconduct that was never proven.

"I simply said 'I will not accept the fact that one group of people decided that they could throw out our ballots, because they thought that they won.' That was intentional," McCormick Higgins said, "and that misinformation has created the problems we face today. Our democracy is at risk because of the Big Lie."

Of the four invited congressional candidates vying to represent York County, only Democratic candidate Bob Hollister — who's vying to unseat incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker — attended. Smucker and U.S. Rep. Scott Perry did not attend. A Smucker spokesperson said he had a prior commitment. Perry's challenger, Democrat Shamaine Daniels, sent a proxy as she was attending a Harrisburg City Council meeting in her capacity as an elected official there.

Hollister touted his experience as a school superintendent, saying that democracy begins with education. There need to be multiple pathways to success, he said, including both college and vocational training. He also said he would support the decriminalization of marijuana and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. He did, however, break with some members of his party by saying he would not support full student loan debt forgiveness.

The Rev. Yvette Davis, attending on behalf of Daniels, pointed to the candidate's experience as a civil rights and immigration attorney. She said Daniels supports the decriminalization of marijuana as well as the release and expungement of those convicted of nonviolent crimes associated with marijuana. In contrast to Hollister, Davis said Daniels supported student loan debt forgiveness.

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

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