When Jim Prokopiak, the Democratic candidate running in the 140th Pennsylvania House District’s special election on Feb. 13, thinks of the state’s future, he dreams of affordable housing and livable wages, of protecting workers’ rights and access to abortion, of equitably funded schools.
The 49-year-old attorney thinks of his own story: how he was able to buy a Levittown home in 2001, one year after he graduated from Temple University’s law school — and how he doesn’t believe the same thing could happen now.
“If I’d graduated from college in 2024, I wouldn’t have the same opportunities that I did in 2000,” Prokopiak, a member of the board of the Pennsbury School District and former Falls Township supervisor who is running against Republican Candace Cabanas in an election that could end the state House’s Democratic majority, said in a wide-ranging interview about his candidacy on Jan. 26.
These economic challenges are, in large part, fueling the Democratic candidate’s bid for the suburban Philadelphia seat that covers Bucks County’s Falls Township, Tullytown Borough, and a portion of Middletown Township.
“There’s plenty of places here where you just can’t afford to buy a place on a pretty good income,” Prokopiak said. “And that affects whether people can move someplace else as they get older and they want to downsize, and then also affects those coming into the job market who are still living with their parents even though they have a good-paying job because they can’t find a place to live.”
To expand affordable housing in his district and throughout the state, Prokopiak said, he supports Pennsylvania adopting an approach similar to New Jersey’s affordable housing mandate. New Jersey law requires that 20% of newly built housing units be reserved for low- and moderate-income families if the development receives any state funds.
“I think that’s a huge issue here in my district because that really is what drives a lot of people’s anxiety,” Prokopiak said, referring to a lack of affordable housing and residents’ general economic concerns. “I think that when we look at many of the social issues, they’re important to people, but the most important thing is, Can I take care of my family? Can I have a roof over their head? Can I pay our bills? Can I make sure that we’re going to be OK? That’s what I think really drives many of the voters here in Lower Bucks County.”
Prokopiak said he hopes that economic issues, and his intention of tackling them in part by backing labor unions and raising the minimum wage, as well as his support for legislation and policy centered around more fairly funding the state’s schools and protecting access to abortion care and contraception, will bring people out to vote for him in the Feb. 13 special election.
Democratic House Speaker Joanna McClinton set the special election following Democratic Rep. John Galloway’s resignation on Dec. 14. Galloway left the seat to assume a district judgeship he won in the November election.
The race has drawn statewide and national attention because it will determine whether Democrats retain their one-seat majority in the Pennsylvania House, which they won last year for the first time since 2010. The party held onto its majority over the course of six special House elections in 2023 — five of which Democrats won. Republicans have controlled the state Senate since 1994, and Pennsylvania’s governor, Josh Shapiro, is a Democrat.
Even with only a one-vote majority, the House has passed a lot of legislation intended to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians, including bills to protect abortion care, raise the state minimum wage, which has long lingered at $7.25 an hour, and address gun violence.
“It’s not just about me; it’s about the whole agenda we’re talking about in Harrisburg,” Prokopiak said of his win translating to Democrats retaining control of the House.
It’s in part that control of the House is at stake that has landed Prokopiak support from such high-profile groups as the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to state legislatures; the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions; and the Planned Parenthood PA Political Action Committee.
“The upcoming special in Pennsylvania in the battleground Bucks County will decide a chamber majority in a critical state,” Abhi Rahman, communications director at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, wrote in an email to the Pennsylvania Independent. “Since winning the Pennsylvania House, Democrats have provided a crucial check on Republicans who’ve been dead set on legislating away fundamental freedoms, showing their intention to go around the Democratic governor. If Republicans win back the speaker’s gavel next month, they’ll move forward with their plans to ban abortion and institute their MAGA agenda.”
In the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO’s announcement endorsing Prokopiak, the group that represents 700,000 workers in the state called the candidate a strong advocate for unions and workers.
“He will work to create family-sustaining jobs by attracting new businesses to the area and to raise the minimum wage,” the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO wrote. “Jim will protect workers’ rights, including the right to form or join a union. He will fight for better pay and benefits, secure retirements, gender equality, workplace health and safety, high-quality public education and civil rights.”
The Planned Parenthood PA PAC focused on Prokopiak’s support for legal and accessible abortion in Pennsylvania in its endorsement.
“Yet again, the makeup of the PA House of Representatives is on the line,” said Planned Parenthood PA PAC political director Adam Hosey. “The chamber has a pro-sexual and reproductive health care majority, and we must protect it.
Landing these endorsements is meaningful to Prokopiak, but, he says, the support and the pressure of maintaining the Democratic House majority weigh heavily on him. He knows people are struggling.
People are tired, Prokopiak said.They’re tired of extremism; they’re tired of feeling like they work around the clock and never have money to show for it; they’re tired of not knowing whether they will have control over their own bodies or whether Republicans, many of them without uteruses, will try to wrest that control away from them in a state where abortion remains legal through the 23rd week of pregnancy.“We see it at the school board level; we see it at the legislative level; we see it at the congressional level; we see it on the right-wing media — they’re only looking for rights for themselves, not for everybody,” Prokopiak said. “They’re looking for everyone to [subscribe] to their worldview and to the way that they think, and that’s just not American in my book. In my book, everyone is entitled to chart their own path and to live their life.”