We are revisiting our Political Q&A series for the upcoming elections of 2020. We’ve reached out to candidates who are pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ, asking them a series of questions about their campaigns. We’ve sent out about a dozen Q&A’s to folks and encourage you to suggest others. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com.
Our next respondent is Emily Skopov, progressive candidate for State House District 38. Please take note of her experiences with LGBTQ family. We previously featured Emily in a Q&A in 2018. The original incumbent and former House Speaker, Republican Mike Tuzai, quit. Officially, he retired in June instead of finishing out his term. The next day he was named general counsel for People’s Natural Gas. This means Emily will face Republican Rob Mercuri, a PNC Bank Executive in November.
I realize it takes times to complete this Q&A, but it also takes times to create it. And I think the LGBTQ community deserves every moment.
Your Name: Emily Skopov
Your Pronouns: She, Her
The Office You Seek: State Representative in House District 28
How do you describe your identity? Cishet
What are some under-or-unappreciated strengths in your district. This district has been undergoing a somewhat rapid evolution towards a more diverse, open-minded, progressive culture. Unfortunately, this trend went unrecognized until recently, not only by those outside the district, but also by many who reside within it. While there are still many self-described conservatives, there is a lot of growth here from new residents, and those people are almost entirely younger and more progressive. Many of our newest residents are transplants from out-of-state, and many are people of color; they are also highly educated, and come here to work in Tech, Academia, or Medicine. Also of note is that most people of both parties are actually socially progressive, and overall most Republicans here consider themselves to be moderate. There is far less extremism here than most would think. The rapidly increasing diversity is exciting and dynamic. It has made this district an interesting mix of traditional and progressive values.
This evolution is also one of the reasons that our district is the fastest trending democratic district in all of Pennsylvania. I am excited and inspired to be running during a time when this district is transforming into something far more inclusive, welcoming and forward-thinking.
Tell us what you’ve learned about the LGBTQ community in your district and the region since assuming office. The adult LGBTQ community here in the district is much quieter and harder to identify than our LGBTQ youth. There is a large number of kids, teens and young adults who cover the entire spectrum of LGBTQ identities and expressions, and they are out, proud and not shy about advocating for themselves. They represent the best of where this district is going, and the kind of inclusive culture that is taking shape. More heartening are the reactions — or lack thereof — that I see among cishet kids to their LGBTQ peers. There seems to be an overwhelming acceptance at best, and complete disinterest at worst. Frankly, most kids simply don’t care about these things. They judge one another on the merits of character.
Having said that, I know that we still have a way to go in the region. There are far too many areas where bigotry and homophobia dominate the culture, where religion is used to legitimize hatred and intolerance. Until we can pass statewide non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ citizens of Pennsylvania and see LGBTQ people at the highest levels of authority in all sectors, we have much work to do.
Based on this, what do you now understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the General Assembly? How will you respond to those priorities? I believe that the concerns for the LGBTQ community and its allies remain what they have always been: a legitimate seat at all tables where legislation is being shaped. It is critical they play a leading part in all decisions that will impact their own community, that they have access to lawmakers and influencers. We must work together to create and implement policies of fairness and equity in ALL things while penalizing bigotry and hatred. This must happen legislatively, but also culturally if we are to create a future that respects and embraces all of us, regardless of how one defines or expresses gender or sexual identity and orientation. We must also proactively educate and inform those who remain ignorant or fearful of those different from themselves. These are the steps necessary to build an environment in which members of the LGBTQ community have nothing less than the same opportunities and tools with which to thrive in all aspects of life and in the pursuits of their own happiness and fulfillment.
I know that I can’t create this kind of equitable Pennsylvania without partnering with members of the LGBTQ community. I intend to have ongoing dialogues to ensure that I stay informed about their needs and concerns, and to have their input on any legislation I sponsor or co-sponsor that directly affects them. I would also like to form a local committee inside my district with members of the LGBTQ community to get their ideas on what more can be done to advance their causes in our community and to get their help in creating those changes.
How does intersectionality inform your work? How has this changed since your previous campaign? I find this a difficult question to answer in a detailed, specific way. Intersectionality has always informed my work, long before I was aware of the term, and long before I was a candidate for public office. I have always believed that people, events and circumstances are complex, and you cannot affect real, lasting change without going far beyond a superficial analysis. I have always viewed the world through a prism of intersectionality, and having this deeper kind of understanding, or at least awareness, has given me the compassion and empathy that have allowed me to form more useful, authentic connections and an ability to better address and resolve problems because I can more clearly evaluate and assess them.
Since my previous campaign, I am more emboldened to discuss the importance of intersectionality, as there is an increasing number of residents living in this district who would find this relevant and important, and understand the terminology. But in terms of my priorities, they are very much as they were last time.
The Republican incumbent in your district is not running again. What would it mean to flip this seat from red to blue? A LOT. It will be both a literal and symbolic victory. But not in the partisan way people expect. It shows that this district is no longer the inflexible bastion of ultra-conservativism that it might once have been. That people here are more interested in having a sincere, engaged, accessible and public-service minded representative than staying blindly allegiant to a particular party simply for its own sake. It also would be reflective of the changing demographics and a tacit criticism of the current Republican leadership at both the state and federal levels. It would also greatly aid us towards flipping the state house to a democratic majority, which would allow individual democratic legislators like myself to have the opportunity to advance the policies that their constituents demand and deserve. As the current republican leadership refuses to allow the advancement of nearly all democratically proposed legislation, the only way for democrats to adequately represent their districts and effect any policy changes is to take the majority. While I still have not yet given up hope that a spirit of true bipartisanship can exist in a state legislature, too many of the current republican leaders refuse to allow that kind of culture.
There is need to actively create space for women, especially Black women and other women of color, in elected office AND on campaign and legislative staffs. These are issues of representation and realities. Tell us about your team. Two-thirds of our team are women, and the campaign is being run by a woman. Our campaign has over 170 volunteers, a significant number of whom are BIPOC. We actively seek the advice and guidance of black women, and work with members of One PA, whose endorsement we are proud to have, to ensure that we are always holding space for their voices.
We are committed to developing a more diverse pool of campaign staff in western Pennsylvania. There are very few female consultants and managers, and even fewer black women working on campaigns and this must change.
How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of Pennsylvania? In principle, having any kind of competitive elections should benefit the electorate. It forces candidates to be more specific, to avoid vague generalities and to delineate their beliefs, their positions and policies, etc. It also raises the bar for all candidates, demanding a higher level of quality and work. However, there is a reality to the struggle for finite resources when too many competitive primaries occur in a particular region during the same cycle.
Pennsylvania is a prime example of the extreme partisanship and obstruction that can occur when one party has the leadership of both chambers and refuses to advance any legislation from the minority party. When leadership sets a clear example of having little interest in even the appearance of bipartisan cooperation and collaboration, it becomes critical to remove those leaders from power, and also to remove that party from the majority. While the amount of funding spent on the competitive primaries this past cycle, along with countless volunteers and talented staff, allowed some of those new candidates to win, it simultaneously kept urgently needed resources from other candidates who are looking to flip a seat from the other party.
It is one thing to think those resources could become available after the primary election. But chances are that some of the overall funding available is now greatly diminished and it will not be made up in the months between the primary and the general.
It is a worthwhile cause to replace incumbents who are no longer responsive to the will of their constituents. However, by prioritizing those races when we do not have a majority in the State House, we ensure that those new representatives are never heard. The Republican majority continues to show an unwillingness to even consider democrats’ bills. That will not change until we take the majority.
When there are major massive systemic problems in a state legislature, you can’t simply view each race in its own isolated context. There is a much bigger picture at play, and the bigger picture must be acknowledged and dealt with strategically if you are trying to implement a larger-scale, more system-wide change. Timing has to be considered when evaluating whether a competitive primary is the thing that not only best serves a municipality, but also the bigger issues of the state.
How are you connecting with other female candidates for office? I am very focused on my district and my race and speak often to female local elected officials on our town councils and school boards, most of whom I had previously canvassed and volunteered for. In addition, I have benefited greatly from a strong relationship with Senator Lindsey Williams, and I’m grateful to have her support for my candidacy.
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, United Food and Commercial Workers 1776, Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, Allegheny County Democratic Committee, Women For the Future Pittsburgh, Planned Parenthood, Steel City Stonewall Democrats, Represent PA, Young Democrats of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh Firefighters Local 1, United Mine Workers of America District 2, Sheetmetal Workers Local 10, OnePA, Ironworkers Local 3, APSCUF, Teamsters Local 249 and Joint Council 40, United Steelworkers, Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate, Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District 57, Children Matter Action Fund, Larry Schweiger (former President, National Wildlife Federation and PennFuture), Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
Is there anything you’d like to add? Growing up in New York, and then living in Los Angeles for over two decades where I worked in the TV & Film industry, I came to southwestern PA with a very different background and perspective than many of the people who live here. I have been around LGBTQ people for most of my life, as friends, family, neighbors, peers and colleagues, countless of them in positions of respect and authority. My kids spent their earliest years seeing us support the fight for marriage equality in California. I believe all of these experiences are to my benefit. However, the one drawback was that, until I moved here in 2010, I hadn’t spent time in a region where bigotry and ignorance were still so prevalent and remained part of the cultural fabric. It took me a bit of time to realize how much work still remained to be done to see LGBTQ individuals in Pennsylvania treated fairly, justly and equitably, both under the law and culturally. I am eager to get to Harrisburg and help implement long overdue anti-discrimination policies that will ensure that Pennsylvania is a place that welcomes and embraces those who identify as LGBTQ+, and I look forward to having a hand in ensuring that LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians have a seat at every table, and have their voices heard and respected as we work together to shape a 21st century Pennsylvania that truly reflects the diversity of the Commonwealth and of the country.
Where can readers find your campaign on social media?
Thank you, Emily.
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