On May 27th, Pennsylvania State Rep. Andrew Lewis (HD-105) publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19… on May 18th. While Lewis told his GOP colleagues about his illness, the press release was the first time Democrats who serve at the State House were informed that their colleague may have exposed them to the extremely contagious, extremely deadly virus.
That brazen display of deadly selfishness should tell you all you need to know about Lewis, who has spent most of the pandemic fighting to reopen Pennsylvania’s construction sites so that his family’s non-union construction business can resume work. Just about any Democrat would be better than Lewis, who won by just 500 votes in 2018, and his opponent in this November’s election, Brittney Rodas, is far more than just any run-of-the-mill Democrat.
Just 25-years-old, Rodas has a deep understanding of the government’s complex inner-workings. She worked as a policy analyst in the state legislature beginning in college, working with fellow Democrats to meet with constituents and draft new rules and laws that touched the everyday lives of people across the state. What inspired her to run in this very swingy Harrisburg-area district, however, was the death of her father, a former steelworker and Vietnam veteran. With his passing, Rodas experienced first-hand the very real consequences constituents face when the state falls short of its promises.
“My dad died in July last year after he struggled for a lot of his life with health care,” Rodas tells Progressives Everywhere. “And a lot of those struggles were because of his time in the service. He had COPD and all these other underlying issues. So I had been fighting for insurance for him through [government programs]. Ultimately, he made $7 over the Medicaid limit, which meant he couldn’t afford prescription drugs. When he died, I felt like the system had failed him and I had spent all of my time working for this system.”
As a Democratic aide in a state gerrymandered by Republicans, the countless hours Rodas spent crafting policy often went for naught, with important reforms and new laws meant to help people consistently blocked by the GOP majority.
“I got to a point where I was like, I can’t go back and work for this institution if this is the outcome,” she says. “It weighed on me a lot, but I came to a point where I had to either sit and grieve and not have anything positive come out of this horrible situation or try to make something better for somebody else.”
Understandably, much of Rodas’s focus is on expanding access to healthcare and ensuring that Pennsylvanians are safe both during the pandemic and after it ends. Inherent in that is an emphasis on keeping the air and local rivers clean, which can be tricky in a district where steelwork is a legacy and fracking is a huge issue that can split the normal progressive alliance between activists and union leaders. As the daughter of a steelworker, Rodas understands the feeling of urgency, but has remained steadfast in her beliefs instead of going along to get along with local business leaders.
“I’m running on my morals and my values, and I’m not going to curb that for a check for my campaign,” she says. “I’ve studied what fracking does, primarily to black and brown communities. I think that unions are a little bit frustrated with Democrats in general because of their stance on some of these issues. But we really know that if we would reinvest that money into green infrastructure, we wouldn’t be losing jobs and bringing jobs and improving our air quality.”
Fighting fracking is high up on her list because she knows that the long-term impacts on children who grow up with poisoned air and water are devastating. With two small children at home, the issue is personal for her, as is the fight over education happening in the state.
Charter schools have long eaten up much of the education budget in the state, leaving public schools underfunded and struggling. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has called for changes to the formula, but it’s unlikely to happen without a Democratic majority.
That goal is no longer out of reach thanks to blue gains in 2018 and 2019. Democrats now need just four State Senate seats and nine House seats to flip the entire state, and District 105 is one of their juiciest targets. The district is filled with the sort of educated voters who have been moving left in recent years and will be motivated to turn out at the ballot box this year. Road’s work to turn the district blue will only help in the fight to defeat Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, a state Democrats absolutely must win.