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Democrats regain PA House majority in special election

On Sept. 12, Democratic candidate Lindsay Powell won a decisive victory in a special election to represent District 21 in the Pennsylvania House. With the win, Democrats regained a narrow majority in the House legislature. Powell’s party will have agenda-setting power as the state government reconvenes in Harrisburg on Sept. 26.

“I've been a lifelong public servant,” Powell told The Tartan. “I've always been very passionate about government and politics, and I'm very excited for the opportunity to serve my community in this way."

Most recently serving as Director of Workforce Strategies at the nonprofit InnovatePGH, Powell has worked in public policy and legislation for over a decade at the local, state, and federal level. She has been a legislative fellow in Washington D.C. and a chief of staff in the Pittsburgh mayoral office.

The special election two weeks ago filled the vacancy left by Sara Innamorato. She stepped down in July to pursue the role of Allegheny County Executive, for which she is now the Democratic nominee. When Innamorato stepped down, the House became evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Elections for the next county chief executive will be held on Nov. 7.

Pennsylvania’s House District 21 encompasses Lawrenceville and the Strip District in the North Side as well as Millvale and Etna across the Allegheny River. Powell said her victory in the district validates the perspectives of her community and reaffirms what it cares about. “I ran on a campaign of dignified, affordable housing; strong, equitable local economies; making sure that we have some beautiful community assets we can all enjoy,” she said. “That message resonated.”

Powell earned nearly two-thirds of the vote in her solidly Democratic district, beating out GOP candidate Erin Connolly Autenreith. She said she was especially pleased to have outperformed in several areas that voted for Trump in 2016.

“It's really exciting to see that folks across our region…want an equitable, more justice-focused government,” she said.

Although a relatively safe race itself, the win was critical for Powell and her Democratic colleagues’ legislative efforts. Prior to the 2022 midterm election, Democrats had not held a majority since 2010. With majority control in the House, which Democrats have not held since 2010, the party can promote its agenda and push its causes in the capital.

One of Powell’s legislative goals is to fund affordable housing, providing families with options and keeping people in their homes, she said. Powell plans to manage what she sees as a “housing crisis” in Allegheny County. “We have to have solutions for all of us,” Powell said, referring to renters, homeowners, and other residents. She hopes to leverage “opportunities to reclaim and reimagine land, through land linking and through land trusting."

Powell said she’s always “believed deeply in community action” and will strive to make sure her efforts are “centering the most vulnerable folks, including and elevating community voices.” Advocating for Pittsburghers is central to why she ran for office.

“Over the past several years, we've seen in Allegheny County in particular a push for more progressive leaders and doing things in a more progressive way,” Powell said, hoping and planning to continue the trend and hold up progressive values.

For college-age students in particular, “there’s so much at stake,” she said. “There have been threats to diminish the funding that public institutions like Pitt receive.” She hopes to combat attacks on funding for education and discover a “more equitable, more fair funding formula at the college level.”

Powell studied Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College before working in legislative offices both in Washington D.C. and at home in Pittsburgh. Her experience at Heinz “didn’t just help me understand a world that I was deeply passionate about, but gave me the tools, the knowhow” to impact policy. For any students interested in politics and government, she gives it a strong recommendation.

“There's a space for all of us to get involved," Powell said, which she saw demonstrated by the many college-age volunteers on her campaign. “I’m really excited to see more young people in the space and hope to run across you as we start to govern.”