Last Tuesday’s election was generally a good day for Pennsylvania Democrats. Among the many winners was La’Tasha D. Mayes, who ran unopposed in Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 24 after defeating Martell Covington in the primary.
Mayes has been a fixture on Pittsburgh’s social justice scene fighting for LGBTQ rights for 20 years. Inspired by her late mother, Mayes will attempt to translate her passion for justice into actionable legislation that changes lives. Below is a shortened version of a Q&A with the incoming state representative.
Tony Norman: Congrats on your historic win. What do you envision as your biggest challenge in Harrisburg over the next two years?
La’Tasha D. Mayes: My biggest challenge will be accelerating the glacial pace of legislating, policy-making and governing to serve the needs of Pennsylvanians. I expect resistance from Republican and conservative elements in the General Assembly to the inevitable culture change led by a new wave and generation of legislators like myself who are unapologetically driven by a vision for justice as well as service. This is a new role for me and it does take time to learn how to best serve my constituents and the inner workings of Harrisburg.
Norman: Democrats are poised to take over the state House. This will create opportunities for progressive legislation. Are you ready to hit the ground running when you’re sworn in in January?
Mayes: I’ve been ready since the day I decided to run for State Representative.
With a House majority, I expect to lead the charge on sweeping legislation on a host of progressive issues from abortion access and healthcare more broadly, to LGBTQ+ rights and environmental justice. I have been an effective policy advocate for nearly 20 years at the local, state and federal levels working primarily on state-level issues, including Black maternal health, voting rights, abortion access, healthcare access and LGBTQ+ rights.
I will assume office with existing relationships with my colleagues in the State House from my past work as founder and former president and CEO of New Voices for Reproductive Justice. In my campaign, I said I was the most progressive, most experienced and most prepared candidate and it is based on 22 years of unrelenting commitment and dedication to dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy.
Norman: You defeated Martell Covington for the seat that once belonged to Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. It attracts primary challengers. How do you feel about being a potential political target yourself every two years?
Mayes: Everyone who feels like it is their calling to run for elected office should run. Everyone who thinks they should run because it is glamorous should run in the opposite direction. Facing primary challengers comes with the territory and I will be ready for any challenge to my seat every single time.
My focus will be serving my constituents for the highest good, passing legislation that will change people’s daily lives, representing the interests of my district and the Greater Pittsburgh Region, building pipelines for other Black people, women, femmes, girls and gender-expansive folx, LGBTQ+ people and young people to become even more politically active, and fighting for justice as I always have.
Norman: Will you be able to maintain that as a focus as you work with lawmakers across the state who may have more traditional Democratic priorities?
Mayes: Yes, I can maintain this focus because it is my North Star in who I am as a person, leader and now, legislator.
Norman: As the first out lesbian to ascend to the state House, you’ll be a symbol and inspiration to many Pennsylvanians and perhaps millions across the country. Does the weight of representation weigh especially heavy because of that or will you push that out of your mind as you attempt to do your job as best as you can?
Mayes: I am proud to be the first out lesbian ever elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. If this symbolism can be an inspiration to anyone or many, it is a blessing for me to be able to serve and lead in this way. I know that having a lesbian — a Black lesbian — elected as Pennsylvania State Representative might have changed the trajectory of my life and my political aspirations when I first became interested in politics in my early 20s. If you can see it, then you can be it. Overall, I will be excellent in my new role as State Representative and being a lesbian is core to who I am and it is the cherry on the icing on the well-dressed cake.
Norman: Politics is a full-contact sport. It has the potential to change people for the worse. How will you avoid this fate?
Mayes: I have my lived experience, I have my integrity, I have my closest confidantes for accountability, I have my moral compass, I have fortitude, I have vision and I have my ancestors at my back every step of the way.
Norman: What’s your advice to the next generation of young activists who will run for office to be the next La’Tasha D. Mayes?
Mayes: You are ready to run. You are ready to lead. You are ready to change your community and the world. Prepare for the journey personally, professionally and politically. Know who you are. Choose the elected office you want to run for wisely and strategically with the counsel of those with greater knowledge than you. Put in the hard work even when you don’t want to or feel like it. Then run to win with everything in your soul.
Dear readers: I hope you’re enjoying the change of pace in my weekly NEXTpittsburgh column as much as I am. I’m also working on a new podcast co-hosted with journalist Natalie Bencivenga. In Other News will launch in early 2023! Stay tuned!
Tony Norman’s column is underwritten by The Pittsburgh Foundation as part of its efforts to support writers and commentators who cover communities of color that historically have been misrepresented or ignored by mainstream journalism.