Allow us to introduce Chris Rabb, the new Democratic state House member representing northwest neighborhoods in Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, and West Oak Lane.
The 46-year-old legislator is an author, educator, father of two sons (10 and 13), and Yale grad - with a master's degree from Penn. He's a Chicago native who's been in Philly 15 years. He's taught a business course at Temple based on his 2010 book, Invisible Capital: How Unseen Forces Shape Entrepreneurial Opportunity.
Rabb previously worked in Congress as an aide to then-Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the first female African American senator. He also worked for the White House Conference on Small Business during the Clinton administration.
Rabb's family tree includes branches of politics, journalism, and medicine.
His great-great-grandfather founded the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper in 1892, which still publishes. Rabb served on its board of directors from 1997 to 2007 and was a political blogger during the 2004 and 2008 national conventions.
His grandfather was a Baltimore judge. His mother hosted one of the first fund-raisers for Harold Washington, Chicago's first elected African American mayor (in 1983), and later served as director of Chicago's Office of Fine Arts. In 1996, she introduced Chris to newly elected Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama.
His father was a Chicago ophthalmologist and taught at the University of Illinois.
Oh, and Rabb sometimes walks on his hands. (More on that later.)
You were elected in the 200th House District, which for decades had a reputation for politically tied ascension, and you beat an incumbent (Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis) backed by Gov. Wolf, former Gov. Rendell, and Mayor Kenney. How'd you do that?
The short answer is I worked ridiculously hard. I wasn't connected to any political clique. I wasn't from Philly. I wasn't an insider. But my strategy was high-touch and high-tech.
Touch was knocking on as many doors as possible. Tech was use of social media to get out my story. There's nothing more powerful than a good story. And people wanted to see someone fight the machine. I said people should be represented by someone who's elected, not selected.
Well, but you came to the campaign with pretty impressive credentials, right?
Yes, but got a lot of pushback. And if I got so much pushback with a background including the Ivy League, the U.S. Senate, the White House, how hard would it be for an unconnected gay Latina in a wheelchair whose work ethic and intellectual capacity exceeds my own? What are her chances?
If I was iced out, doesn't that say so many others shouldn't even try? I'm concerned about the process. We need good people for public service. It just makes me mad as hell. If the system is about concentrated power, that's problematic.
And, having beaten "the system," do you expect repercussions for going against the party?
Yeah! I expect a serious challenge in 2018.
But for now, you're in. First impression or general impression?
My general impression is, structurally, how challenging it will be to do any substantive legislation. The place seems systematically hobbled. It seems set up to fail.
For example, I haven't seen nonpartisan resources (the House is GOP-controlled) that might make it easier to engage. There is lots of duplication and infrastructure supporting each caucus that's reflective of different sides. There are separate policy and research offices. Where are the resources we can draw from the same well?
Even members' emails are different despite the fact we have the same job. (Democrats are @pahouse.net, Republicans @pahousegop.com)
What policy areas attract you most?
I don't know that anything I do will see the light of day. I'm told no House legislator of color was able to pass a piece of legislation last session. (A House official confirms this.) As Donald Trump might say, "The system is rigged."
But I'm interested in education, pension reform, criminal justice reform, good government, ethics; helping a larger proportion of businesses interested in social responsibility, businesses that put that first, profit second, and want to improve public health, public safety, education, and the general welfare.
Any immediate legislation you're working on?
Yes. I've authored a bill to make presidential electors in Pennsylvania prospectively give their (Electoral College) votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationally. This, obviously, would not be retroactive. (This would put Pennsylvania into a compact with other states - so far about a dozen - agreeing to alter the current presidential election process while keeping the Electoral College.)
And I have a bill to reduce sentences for third-degree misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct from one year to 364 days because on a federal level, one year is a felony and that could subject a non-citizen resident to deportation. What if that person has kids? We need families intact.
I'm a policy nerd. A comprehensive bill providing automatic voter registration, with an opt out, when someone turns 18; no-excuse absentee voting; early voting and mail-in voting. Things that increase civic participation are things we need to embrace. And they save money. We'd need fewer polling places and less Election Day infrastructure.
Who, in public service or other fields, has been most influential in your life?
My grandmother, Madeline Murphy, a journalist for the Baltimore Afro-American and the Baltimore Sun and a onetime Baltimore City Council candidate who narrowly lost when opponents ran a person with the last name Murphy. And Harold Washington. As a black boy in Chicago, he was a towering figure for me. I was 13 when he was elected. In barbershops there you'll still see three pictures on the walls: Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, and Harold Washington. He was incredibly impactful on my life.
Finally, tell me about walking on your hands.
I walked down a flight of stairs on my hands as a fund-raising stunt for some cousins and friends. I do it once or twice a year. I'm an enthusiast of capoeira (a Brazilian martial art). I've been doing it since I was 18.
Somebody suggested I do it on the Capitol steps on the theory I'm trying to turn politics upside down. But I'd need a really good excuse - like maybe seeking bipartisan support for some legislation.