Meet Ryan Mackenzie, the GOP state legislator challenging US Rep. Susan Wild - TAI News
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PA State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie during a press conference introducing immigration-related bills. (PA State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie Facebook account)

Ryan Mackenzie, a right-wing Pennsylvania state representative, won the 7th Congressional District Republican primary on April 23 and will face incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Susan Wild in the November election.

The race to represent the district is competitive, and the National Republican Congressional Campaign is targeting it as one of the seats Republicans hope to flip.

Political experts watching Pennsylvania say that competitiveness is largely rooted in redistricting that took place in 2022, after which the 7th Congressional District became slightly more conservative because it lost left-leaning areas such as Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg and gained the heavily Republican Carbon County. The district also includes Lehigh and Northampton counties and part of Monroe County.

Experts note that Wild won that redder district in 2022 and said the November election could play out similarly — particularly if there’s a large turnout for President Joe Biden.

Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said Wild’s campaign was especially buoyed by voters who were enraged by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“I think a lot of national projections had this district actually likely to flip, and so that she hung on I think was fairly noteworthy,” said Borick, whose college is located in the 7th Congressional District.

Since winning election to the Legislature in 2012, Mackenzie has opposed reproductive rights, gun safety, and workers’ rights.

Mackenzie signed on to an amicus brief in 2020 in an attempt to block the certification of Pennsylvania’s presidential election results. He also signed a letter that asked Congress to reject Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, 2021.

Mackenzie’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Abortion

In recently scrubbed sections of his campaign website, Mackenzie said he would “fight back against the culture of celebrating abortion and those that want to legalize it up until the moment of birth.” He also boasted of a “100% pro-life voting record.”

That record includes votes in 2016 and 2017 to ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, without exceptions for rape or incest, in 2019 to ban telehealth prescriptions for medication abortion, and in 2022 for a amendment to affirm that the state Constitution contains no guarantee of a right to an abortion.

Jennie Sweet-Cushman, a Chatham University political science professor, said these positions are unlikely to garner support following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“To the extent that she can make the race entirely about abortion, she wins,” Sweet-Cushman said of Wild, who backs access to reproductive care and is endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Workers’ rights

Mackenzie has opposed protections for workers while pushing for tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy. In 2023, he voted against a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to collective bargaining and against a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He also voted against a bill that would provide unemployment benefits to striking workers and opposed legislation that would create a state-run retirement savings program for Pennsylvanians who don’t have the option of an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

His campaign site reaffirms his commitment to cutting taxes. In March 2023, he authored a package of tax cuts, including a 0.08% state income tax rate reduction. He framed it as “a lifeline for struggling Pennsylvanian families,” but it would have saved just $40 a year for those earning $50,000, while saving someone earning $1 billion annually up to $800,000.

Those positions are unlikely to sit well with the unions that have a significant presence in the district, said Lori McFarland, a retired teacher who lives in the district and who has worked as an advocate for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a union representing education workers in the commonwealth. McFarland is also the chair of the Lehigh County Democratic Committee.

“Ryan Mackenzie is very dangerous when it comes to his economic policies, and it serves nobody but the special interests and the lobbyists,” McFarland said.

Education

In text recently deleted from his campaign site, Mackenzie promised to “empower parents with expanded school choice.” He co-sponsored a 2023 bill to use public funds to pay for private and religious school tuition and a 2022 “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would have barred teachers from mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary schools.

McFarland said she had routinely tried to work with Mackenzie while she was an advocate with the PSEA.

“I would be charged with going in and meeting with him to talk about policies, and I will tell you that he’s never been a friend of public education,” McFarland said.

Gun violence

Until recently, Mackenzie touted a “consistent voting record of protecting 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners” and the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. He has urged federal action to override state restrictions on carrying concealed weapons and co-sponsored a bill that would have preempted local governments from passing gun safety laws. He voted against background checks, a red flag bill to temporarily disarm those judged an imminent danger, a ban on bump stocks, restrictions on ghost guns, an assault weapons ban, and a requirement that individuals report the loss or theft of their guns.

Gabrielle Klotz, an Emmaus resident who recently won a seat on the East Penn School District’s board, said those positions are deeply concerning to her.

“It’s just crazy to me,” Klotz said. “I have some friends who are very much gun right activists, but even those people are like, OK, we need the background checks. We need to be sensible about this stuff.”

In a statement emailed to the Pennsylvania Independent, Wild said, “It is the honor of my life to represent this district in Congress.”

“I have stood up to extremists like my opponent, who threaten to take away our freedoms, time and time again,” she continued. “Make no mistake, if this seat flips, workers’ rights, Social Security, Medicare and your ability to make choices about your own health care and body, are all on the chopping block.”

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