Pennsylvania Statehouse Election Shows the Path Forward for Democrats in 2024
Democrats will hold on to their razor-thin majority in the Pennsylvania statehouse following an election last month in Pittsburgh.
Lindsay Powell, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., ran and won on a platform of safe, affordable and dignified housing, a strong economy and ongoing efforts to rebuild infrastructure and community assets.
We see a number of lessons that can be drawn from this race and others like it, particularly for state and local leaders running across the country.
The fact is that once-in-a-generation federal investments turned into a strong and resilient economy; record-low unemployment is uplifting Black and Brown communities; and inflation is in check.
Looking forward, state and local leaders have the opportunity to translate how smart public investments are solving problems — consistent with their vision for the future and focusing on what will resonate in their communities.
Accelerating Economic Growth and Infrastructure
President Biden came into office in January 2021 facing a global pandemic, an uncertain economy and a difficult path to recovery and federal investment.
Democrats were able to pass the American Rescue Plan Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law, which created a historic partnership between the federal government, states and localities to respond to the crisis and rebuild our economy from the middle class out.
At the state and local level, Cleveland’s investment to revitalize the city’s southeast side through affordable housing initiatives and Montgomery, Alabama’s, plan to expand and modernize the city’s transportation system are two examples. Similarly, Shelby County, Tennessee, is investing federal dollars to train the state’s public health workforce while Lincoln, Nebraska, is creating a grant program to help small businesses cover their water and electric bills.
Yet, there are still millions of Americans in need of affordable housing, broadband internet and safe transit. Democrats must learn from each other’s successes and relentlessly tell the stories of how these investments improve the quality of life for the middle class and underserved communities.
Climate Investments Support Good Jobs and a Strong Economy
Meanwhile, investments in American infrastructure must also be sustainable. July was the hottest month ever recorded on planet Earth, and the urgency to combat climate change has never been greater. The good news: local leaders have stepped up to the challenge.
In Boise, Idaho, the city is adopting numerous utility-scale renewable energy projects to reach its goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035. And North Dakota’s carbon management initiative, Project Tundra, plans to capture 90% of carbon dioxide emitted from local coal-powered plants. And in cities facing record summer temperatures like Phoenix, Arizona, elected officials are expanding solar and microgrids to strengthen the city’s energy supply.
With our climate crisis only accelerating, local and state leaders across the country must seek out federal funds and enact policies that complement them — like building the charging infrastructure to make possible the transition to electric vehicles — while showcasing how climate action is really about good jobs, resilient communities and new opportunities.
Defending Democracy Is Vital
None of this economic progress is possible if the infrastructure of our democracy crumbles.
Many state and local officials have doubled down on electoral protections in the face of unprecedented threats to our democracy.
Earlier this week, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announced a plan for automatic voter registration; New Mexico approved the most comprehensive voting reform legislation in decades; and Nevada strengthened laws related to harassing or intimidating election officials.
While there’s agreement that our free and fair elections are at stake, the threat of voter suppression remains ever-present. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon recently testified that there was a “noticeable uptick” in abusive behavior towards state election administrators in 2022.
Our democracy playbook lays out vital steps to restoring confidence in the voting process, including increasing voting access, protecting election administrators, and strengthening the integrity of our electoral system.
Looking to 2024
Across the country — in red states, blue states and battlegrounds — Democrats are finding common ground and transforming communities with an unwavering commitment to economic and social progress at the state and local levels. I’ve seen firsthand the impact of once-in-a-generation federal investments in cities nationwide — but we can’t stop now.
NewDEAL polling indicates that voters by strong margins (66%) want leaders who work together to get things done.
Election results like Powell’s win in Pennsylvania, as well as Tuesday’s victory in a traditionally GOP statehouse district in New Hampshire that reduces the Republican majority to a single seat, show that voters can see Democrats as the party to deliver what they want.
So in community after community, Democratic leaders must double down on efforts to tell the stories of how government is working to address voters’ top issues, and that they continue to learn from their colleagues across the country to ensure their investments pay off in tangible ways.
Debbie Cox Bultan has more than 30 years of experience in center-left politics, public policy and nonprofit leadership. As CEO of NewDEAL, she oversees both strategy and day-to-day operations for the organization. She is a frequent commentator about trends in, and the importance of, state and local government, and co-hosts the award-winning podcast “An Honorable Profession,” where she speaks with state and local leaders about their work and path into public service. She can be reached on LinkedIn.