A Philadelphia Democrat, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, is running for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat in next year's election.
“Nothing changes until something changes,” Kenyatta said at an online press conference Friday morning. “The reality is, for working families like mine, it has been difficult for a long time -- prior to this cruel pandemic -- to get our needs centered in Washington.”
Kenyatta, 30, is in his second term in the state House of Representatives. Last year, he campaigned around the country for President Joe Biden and was one of 17 "rising stars" to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He talked to WESA's The Confluence about it in August.
The grandson of the late civil rights activist Muhammad I. Kenyatta, he became the first openly gay person of color to serve in the state House after he was elected in 2018. He has quickly become one of the most visible speakers in debates in the Republican-controlled House.
“People don’t need to look like me or love like me to know that I fight for working people,” he said. “It’s not lost on me that there will be a lot of little kids that will be looking up and saying, ‘Wow, there’s someone who looks like me….I can do anything.’”
Kenyatta said if elected he would push to raise the minimum wage, make health care “a right not a privilege,” and champion criminal justice reform. He tread carefully when he talked to reporters about fracking, a natural gas drilling technique that has divided his party: It's created jobs in the state, but environmental activists want the practice banned.
“One of the most important responsibilities we have is to be stewards of our public spaces, making sure we have clean air and clean water,” he said. “What I want to do is double down on clean energy and sustainable jobs that that’s going to create.”
When asked if he would ban fracking, Kenyatta said he has supported and still backs a “moratorium," though he did not provide precise details on what form that would take. "I believe that the future of energy production and the future of good-paying jobs for Pennsylvanians is going to be in the sustainable jobs that clean energy can produce. Good, union jobs.”
He said that Pennsylvania should dominate the clean energy job market, and that oil and gas companies should not get tax breaks. Kenyatta referenced a Super Bowl commercial about electric batteries for cars being built in Norway.
“Why the heck aren’t we building that stuff in Scranton or in Altoona? Or in Johnstown or in Pittsburgh?” he asked. “We have to own these future jobs. We have to corner the market in Pennsylvania on clean energy. I want Pennsylvania to be the place where we’re exporting the next technologies that are not only going to preserve our planet but are also going to give folks good, sustaining jobs.”
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, from Braddock, who announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination earlier this month, has recently said he supports environmental justice efforts but commented last year that Democrats couldn’t win statewide races if they proposed fracking bans.
Kenyatta was joined Friday morning by the American Federation of Teachers, the Working Families Party and the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers, among other groups who endorsed him less than 24 hours after he announced his campaign.
“[Kenyatta] is for this generation what people like Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Eugene McCarthy were for other generations,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Actually being a voice for working people, actually seeing what has so often gone unseen.”
The race could become the nation’s most competitive Senate contest next year. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey announced in October that he would not run for a third term.
On the Republican side, Jeff Bartos, the GOP's unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018, has filed paperwork to run, as have more than a half-dozen of unknown or first-time candidates from both parties.