As a lifelong Pittsburgher and resident of Lawrenceville for 12 years, I have spent my free time getting to know the identity of each community, sometimes each ward, by listening to the personal stories of my constituent.
This is the next post of our 2022 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. 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. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth
By participating, candidates are saying that they
- must be an LGBTQIA+ ally
- identify as pro-choice
- must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that you accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results
We first interview Sara in her 2018 campaign – she was part of an emerging group of female candidates who were changing politics. Fast forward to her current campaign and you can read the impressive things she’s accomplished below. I am very grateful to hear from her and her accomplishments as a LGBTQ ally in Harrisburg.
Name: Sara Innamorato
What Office Are You Seeking: State Representative, 21st District
How do you describe your identity? I am a cis, heterosexual white woman from a working-class background.
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about? As a lifelong Pittsburgher and resident of Lawrenceville for 12 years, I have spent my free time getting to know the identity of each community, sometimes each ward, by listening to the personal stories of my constituents. There are so many community-driven initiatives in my district that I continue to love to explore and visit. Every time I travel to Millvale, I must visit the Millvale Community Library to see the updated programming. The Millvale Community Library is not just a library where neighbors can enrich themselves through books and gain access to shared resources. But it is a place where every person can find opportunities like the tool library, free fridge, children’s maker’s programs, and more.
As I have a new district to explore, I look forward to finding new spots in the neighborhood. During the week of petitioning, my team knocked on every community in the 21st district. This allowed me to travel to many blocks to explore the streets of Polish Hill, East Allegheny, Troy Hill, and Shaler, which contains one of my favorite trails near the city, Fall Run Park.
How has redistricting impacted your district? The new lines of the 21st District add 70% new territory compared to the previous lines. Our new district includes residents in Shaler Township and new Pittsburgh neighborhoods such as East Allegheny, Troy Hill, Lawrenceville, Strip District, and Polish Hill. Since a large portion of my district is new, I still have a lot of listening to do with residents and community leaders to get up to speed on what community projects and priorities exist.
Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region. How have your terms in office impacted that familiarity? I consider myself an ally to the LGTBQ+ communities in our area. I proudly serve on the Equality Caucus in Harrisburg, which allows for an opportunity for lawmakers to co-govern with members of the LGBTQ-led organizations across the Commonwealth.
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the General Assembly? How will you respond to those priorities? To set the legislative priorities specific to the LGBTQ+ community, the General Assembly convenes the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus in partnership with statewide and national organizations. As a member of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus, my colleagues and I have fought to make sexual orientation or gender identity a protected class in our state’s Human Relations code. In addition, we’ve fought to seek a more straightforward name-change process for trans individuals and demanded a Pennsylvania budget reflective of LGBTQ+ priorities.
I also believe that the LGBTQ community is not a monolith. The needs of the individuals who are a part of the community vary greatly.
We know the conservative playbook and what they’ve already been trying to do: bathroom bills, banning transgender children from participating in athletics, etc. The hard part will be anticipating the effects of SCOTUS’ priorities on topics such as same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption. Because of that, I think we need to fight against conservatives for LGBTQ rights on all fronts in the coming years.
The new lines of the 21st District add 70% new territory compared to the previous lines.
You were elected to your first term in 2018. Tell us about your accomplishments during these terms. If re-elected, what are your policy goals for your next term? In 2018, I ran a massive grassroots campaign against a sitting anti-choice incumbent using messages that resonated with everyday people. Through this campaign, we invigorated our neighbors and encouraged others to get involved in local politics. As a result, we significantly increased voter turnout and won with 64% of the vote.
We continued to engage people in our district through quality services and transparent conversations. As a result, I outperformed every Democrat in my district except Josh Shapiro in 2020, which shows the importance of direct constituent services and bringing more residents out to elections.
My legislative office has secured millions of dollars of funding to help with affordable housing in Lawrenceville, preserve Girty’s Woods in Millvale, and make safer and more accessible streets in Sharpsburg. My office has worked tirelessly to make sure funding was brought back to the residents of the 21st district.
My biggest concern for the future of residents in the 21st district is access to healthy, quality, and affordable housing. We are watching our neighbors lose their homes because of the economic precarity made more predominant by the pandemic. Our society will be stronger when our government enacts affordable housing solutions that keep our neighbors in their homes and strengthen fair housing laws.
Like many folks, I was outraged to see the leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s initial majority opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Unfortunately, if this report is correct, it follows a clear and consistent Republican effort to end the right to safe and accessible abortion. Since the document leaked, many of my constituents have shared their focus on securing the right to safe, legal, and accessible abortions. In my next term, I promise to protect abortion access for all pregnant people.
The threats of ‘religious liberty laws and exemptions target both LGBTQ rights and women’s rights. Pennsylvania has no law protecting marriage equality, second-parent adoption, nondiscrimination, or similar important rights. If SCOTUS overturns or waters down Roe v Wade and the ‘penumbra of privacy’ protecting us, what do you anticipate happening in Pennsylvania? I won’t lie, if SCOTUS starts striking down laws protecting women, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights, a Republican’s first move in the legislature would likely be to attack these rights. While the SCOPA currently has a majority of judges sympathetic to the Democratic Party, it is difficult to say how exactly they would rule on individual cases that come before them, nor is it likely that a GOP governor and Legislature would adhere to and enforce their decisions if those decisions were favorable to those rights.
There are those of us in the legislature who have worked hard to convince the rest of the Democrats in the legislature that we should not be complacent with the status quo, after 30 years of never simultaneously controlling the House, Senate, and the Governorship. Complacency and trust in elites will never work to protect our rights, because even those earnestly on our side will never feel the sense of urgency needed to move a system that was not designed to protect the rights of women, LGBTQ individuals, or the marginalized more broadly. Elected officials need to involve themselves in movements we have is not designed to protect we are dealing with systems that we not designed to protect reproductive rights, women’s rights, or the rights of the marginalized more generally. Elected officials need to get out there and engage with building movements in their area, and go out to talk to people about what is concerning them so we can build a stronger electoral base and fight for our basic rights.
I don’t think Harrisburg has the will to move forward on infrastructure funding. Convince me otherwise. Given the current composition of the statehouse, pushing transformational legislation that will rebuild and fund our crumbling infrastructure can be hard. Still, I work with impacted community members, policy experts, and my colleagues to proactively draft legislation that would create funding to support infrastructure built in western Pennsylvania.
Although it can be difficult to pass comprehensive legislation to support infrastructure needs in Republican-controlled legislation, my legislative team continues to find ways to support projects that would provide funding for bridges. More recently, my legislative team worked with State Senator Lindsey Williams to secure funding to install new sidewalks along Bridge and Butler streets in Etna along with additional improvements. This funding will increase pedestrian mobility in Etna, improve sidewalks to ensure our disabled citizens can safely utilize our walkways, and increase the accessibility to public transportation in Etna.
When I speak about infrastructure upgrades, I am not only referring to physical bridges, roads, and streets that continue to crumble but the actual systems that Pennsylvanians rely on an everyday basis. Systems like the unemployment system failed our neighbors when hundreds of thousands needed it the most. As a member of the Labor and Industry committee, I am committed to working to improve a broken unemployment system to ensure better levels of transparency and easier access to individuals. As a legislator, I will fight to incorporate more funding to assist publicly available resources and education campaigns highlighting these resources.
On your website, you describe economic dignity as tied to paid employment, particularly unions. In other issue areas, you use langueage like “rights” “justice” and “equity” – emphasizing a universality that transcends individuals directly impacted by a specific issue – so how do you include people who are not doing paid work for any reason in the concept of economic dignity? I include people (like myself) who are fully and permanently disabled, people who chose not to enter the paid workforce, people who do not have to enter the paid workforce, people who are locked out of it by the the actual economics of childcare or transportation or public benefits, and people who are incarcerated and paid crumbs for their work or not paid at all. I focus on employment issues because I believe that healthy small businesses and employee ownership are the best ways to tackle long-term inequality. We need to spread out economic power to spread out political power, and I think most people agree that big corporations have too much economic and political power.
But, that’s not the only tool we can use to tackle inequality. I vigorously support adding to the social safety net. I support the notion, long held by advocates and institutions of all kinds, that we value domestic work as a key part of our economy and provide just compensation. I support Medicare-for-All, housing security, and other measures that are intended to decouple the fulfillment of a person’s basic needs from their employment/unemployment situation. I supported using Pennsylvania’s unprecedented 2021-2022 Budget surplus on direct payments to families in need before corporate interests convinced the legislature to spend the surplus on tax cuts for stock buy-backs. I am open to any measures that can be shown to help people in need, expand the usefulness of services to the disabled, and empower marginalized communities to be fulfilled in social and economic life. A just and equal society should value the labor of all kinds, and provide adequate compensation for that labor.
Trans youth, indeed all LGBTQ youth, is under assault in our Commonwealth and even in your district. Programs have closed in the wake of the pandemic. Schools struggle with bullying and book bans. Four young BIPOC trans folx were murdered in the region over the past year. Affordable housing is dear, discrimination is everywhere. But the General Assembly is prioritizing the non-issue of trans girls playing soccer as the real threat. What are you going to do about that? The state of Pennsylvania severely lags in affording basic protections to the LGBTQ+ community. In Harrisburg, I have watched some of my Harrisburg colleagues discriminate and devalue our trans siblings. I have spoken against many pieces of legislation that would create more restrictions on trans youth and adults in Pennsylvania. As a legislator, I support the expansion of the Human Relations Acts, which, if enacted, will add gender expression and sexual orientation as protected classes as a means to combat discrimination in employment, housing, and other public accommodations.
I believe we must invest in and promote inclusive LGBTQIA+ public education. Schools should be required to discuss age-appropriate topics, ranging from safe sex to puberty to gender identity, to build a more tolerant society. I have worked with my legislative team to ensure our legislative office is a haven for all marginalized community members seeking resources.
We have a long way to go to achieve equity and equality for Pennsylvanians. As a community, we must come together to utilize the tools necessary and available to overtly hateful rhetoric and racist systems.
There’s a clear need to actively create space for women, especially Black women and other women of color, in the elected office AND on the campaign and legislative staffs. These are issues of representation and realities. Tell us about your teams. To build an inclusive legislative and campaign team, I have worked hard to prioritize hiring women, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, and people of color. I strongly believe in creating space on my team for individuals with stories and experiences that truly resonate with the 21st district. Stories that many families in our district have battled like housing displacement, opioid usage, discrimination, etc.
As the founder of She Runs SWPA, I know the importance of including marginalized voices in electoral policies. Historically, women, LGBTQIA+ people, and people of color have been systematically excluded from political decision-making. Since being elected, I have supported underrepresented candidates running for office in hyper-local, local, and state political races.
Voter turnout is a significant concern, especially for municipal/local elections. What advice would you offer to organizations and groups concerned with turnout in Western Pennsylvania? When I first ran for office, I worked with many community leaders and organizers to develop a field plan focused on building communities and increasing voter turnout. On Election Day in 2018, we saw the results of spending hours building relationships in all aspects of our district. The 21st district saw a 31% voter turnout in 2018 compared to an average of 19.05% voter turnout in Allegheny County. But my team didn’t stop after the first election. We continued to talk to our constituents using creative methods like hosting a transit town hall on the 91 inbound bus from Aspinwall to Downtown. Our direct constituency services helped us stay connected with voters across political parties. Our relationship with our constituents allowed us to outperform well-known politicians like U.S. Rep Conor Lamb and Joe Biden in parts of our district that overlapped with ours.
In the 2021 general election, I supported hyper-local candidates in my district with similar values and messaging that I ran on in 2018/2020. We spent many days in these districts talking and, more importantly, listening to neighbors about issues that truly matter to these families. On Election Day we saw the result of our efforts by witnessing increased turnout and massive wins for many portions of our district.
As we approach the primary and general, I strongly believe voter turnout will only increase if we listen to our constituents and motivate them with a platform that speaks to the needs of the moment. My philosophy is that projects shouldn’t happen to communities, but with communities.
We need to spread out economic power to spread out political power, and I think most people agree that big corporations have too much economic and political power.
How can supporters get involved with campaigns while practicing social distancing and other protocols? There are many virtual and/or remote opportunities to incorporate into our community plans to make sure our neighbors remain safe. Both my legislative and campaign staff have hosted virtual town halls, meet and greets, and canvassing opportunities to reach our neighbors. As soon as the pandemic hit, my campaign and legislative teams quickly pivoted our resources to conduct phone banks with a focus on connecting people safely to the resources available.
During the primary and general cycles, we will continue to engage in best practices to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We will aim to host canvasses in outdoor spaces and continue encouraging our volunteers to wear masks while interacting with neighbors at the doors. Additionally, we will incorporate relational organizing into our campaign to widen our target audience to include voters that may not be within our reach.
Tell us about your endorsements.
I am endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Young Democrats, Vote Pro-Choice, Planned Parenthood, Working Families Party, AFSCUF/CAP, AFSCME, UFCW, Teamsters, Sierra Club, Steel City Stonewall Democrats, UNITE, Represent PA, and PFT
Finally, what are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?I am dedicated to listening to and understanding the issues facing our constituents. Only when you start building meaningful relationships with the community will you be able to recognize the challenges that resonate with many areas of my district. Challenges like affordable housing, clean air & clean water, our lack of funding to support public infrastructure, more investments to support public education, increasing the minimum wage, and facilitating violence intervention programs. Only through collaboration with communities can we start learning from each other to build legislation and policy that can support the working families of the 21st District.
I work hard to expand and grow a movement of electing candidates that are more representative of our constituents and will bring the priorities to elected offices. I help others develop winnable and realistic strategies for running in local elections by sharing my personal experiences/resources. Only by working in a coalition with each other are we able to utilize our strong people-powered campaigns to win and develop change to create a Pennsylvania for us all.
I am accessible to the people in my district. I make it a priority at my legislative office to provide space, time, and resources to all constituents who need to be heard, understood or assisted. My legislative team prioritizes our community presence by incorporating mobile hours in municipalities across my district to help ease any transportation issues felt by constituents not living within walkable reach of my office. During the pandemic, we hosted countless virtual, hybrid, and in-person opportunities to discuss any issues felt by the community. I promise to continue prioritizing my accessibility during my next term in office.
Please list your social media accounts and your donation links.
- Twitter @innamo
- Instagram @innamo
- Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/SaraForPA
- Website – saraforpa.com/donate
- Donation link – https://secure.actblue.com/donate/sara2022
Thank you, Sara.
- you must be an LGBTQIA+ ally
- identify as pro-choice
- you must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that you accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results
Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here. Responses from this election cycle are listed below in the order they were returned by the campaign
- .Q&A With NaTisha Washington, Candidate for PA House District 24
- Q&A With Jerry Dickinson, Candidate for U.S. Congress PA-12
- Q&A with Emily Kinkead, Candidate for PA House District 20
- Q&A with John Fetterman, Candidate for US Senate
- Q&A with La’Tasha Mayes, Candidate for PA House District 24
- Q&A with Jessica Benham, Candidate for PA House District 36
- Q&A with Deja Alvarez, Candidate for PA House District 182
- Q&A with Summer Lee, Candidate for US Congress PA-12
- Q&A with Sean Meloy, Candidate for US Congress PA-17
- Q&A with Arvind Venkat, Candidate for PA House District 30
- Q&A with Jonathan Lovitz, Candidate for PA House District 182
- Q&A with Malcolm Kenyatta, Candidate for US Senate
- Q&A with Sara Innamorato, Candidate for PA House District 21
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