Interview: Kristy Gnibus — Candidate for 16th Congressional District

Category:  News
Friday, October 30th, 2020 at 11:06 AM
Interview: Kristy Gnibus — Candidate for 16th Congressional District by Emma McNeeley
Photo: Gnibus speaks to Spectator staffers over Zoom.

With the 2020 general election around the corner, voters are faced with figuring out who represents them best. Many have made that decision by voting early with mail-in ballots: according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, more than 2.6 million Pennsylvania mail-in ballots were requested as of Oct. 13. Now, the attention turns to Election Day. 

Democrat Kristy Gnibus is running against incumbent and Republican Mike Kelly for the 16th Congressional District (Kelly was first elected in 2010). Gnibus’s official bio describes her as three things: “mother, teacher and leader in our community.” She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer during her sophomore year of college; she graduated “from Mercyhurst University with a degree in education and later earned her principal certification from Edinboro University”; and is now working on a doctorate in leadership from Gannon University.

Through her website, she stated, “I’ve got a lifetime of experience as a working-class Pennsylvanian and that’s why I’m running for Congress – so that real people and families who work for a living have someone who represents them, who understands them, and who is them.”

When speaking with The Spectator, we focused on topics that impact college students and other young people. 

We first asked Gnibus what she would do on her hypothetical first day of office, and what the first and biggest decision would be. Gnibus said it would be a stimulus package.

“I think the biggest thing that needs addressed currently, because of the atmosphere we’re in with COVID, is going to be a stimulus package,” she said. “We are in what I consider damage control, and the longer that we wait for a stimulus package to help these small businesses, the mom and pop businesses, the worst off we are going to be and the more in debt we will be in the long run.” 

Gnibus also stated that the stimulus package should include families with children 18 and above, regardless of whether they are in college or not. The previous stimulus package did not give families the $500 for a child who was 18 and over.

Next, we asked Gnibus about the ongoing PASSHE discussions and how to convince students to enroll or stay enrolled in a public state school. Several PASSHE universities — including the combination of Edinboro, California and Clarion — have been considering, or already announced, planned integrations. The integration review has also been causing students concern regarding their degree programs at their schools, along with worries about faculty retrenchment.

“With everything going on with COVID, we are seeing our state schools bearing the weight of that funding that they generally rely on. And it’s been getting worse every year,” she said. "I think another thing that needs to be addressed fairly immediately, after some type of COVID relief stimulus, is how to increase funding for these PASSHE schools ... I don’t agree with the mergers that are being proposed. I think that colleges, universities are communities. People are incredibly proud of them.”

She added: “So, included in a (stimulus) package, I think, needs to be funding to the states that is passed down to these educational systems to make sure that they can stand up on their own. And encouraging folks to enroll in them because they are going to thrive. We’re going to make sure of it. I really truly believe, after this next election, that we’re going to have folks at a local, state and federal level that are going to fight for these colleges and universities to continue to thrive and to reverse the trends that have been in place over the last decade.”

Gnibus believes presidential candidate Joe Biden’s plan to tax those who make $400,000 a year or more could be a positive for education funding, though.

“If we actually tax the wealthiest and the wealthier population fairly, there’s a lot we could do with that money. I think, certainly, education should be a priority,” she said. “It’s going to take taxing folks that are making significantly more than the working class population and of the wealthiest corporations.” 

According to Inside Higher Ed, the rate of college students without health insurance dropped from 19.2% in 2010 to 8.7% in 2016. This impact was possible, per 2018’s “After the ACA, Fewer Uninsured Students,” because of the passing of the Affordable Care Act, which allowed for the expansion of Medicaid and for young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until 26. 

Gnibus believes in access to health care. She feels as though young adults 26 and under should be included on their parents’ insurance. In addition, “If you’re not able to do that and you don’t have healthcare, I think anybody that is not making an income or has a very low income should be able to apply for a healthcare plan that is at no cost or very, very low."

Gnibus noted that being eligible for Medicaid while going through a bout with ovarian cancer saved her and her daughter’s lives.  

Next, we discussed Gnibus’s stance on passing a $15 federal minimum wage, which she feels would also be a good motivation for all states to increase their own minimum wage. She explained that those who work 40 hours a week should not be facing poverty, as many do now, and raising minimum wage is important as many can’t afford to live with the current amount. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage currently stands at $7.25 an hour, which matches the federal minimum wage.

Gnibus also supports Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to legalize marijuana recreationally. “And that means decriminalization of marijuana, specifically because it’s been aimed disproportionately at the BIPOC community and low income community,” she added. 

She also hopes to help protect LGBTQ rights, especially with members of the community voicing concerns with the recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. “Sadly as a member of congress, in the house I don’t have a vote on this.”

“The thing that is good about the separation of states [and] having their own rules and regulations is we can protect some of these rights by having some state legislation that does so," she said.

Part of Gnibus’s platform — as stated on her website — is a need for “erasing and eradicating racism.” In conjunction with recent protests and rallies in support of racial justice, the U.S. has seen an increase in changing the names of federal buildings, bridges and even professional teams that have been deemed by some as insensitive or racist. We asked Gnibus about Native American themed mascots and imagery that exists at over 60 schools in Pennsylvania, according to the PA Youth Congress. Gnibus is willing to defend those voicing this issue.

“For whatever reason, we are so tied to these things that you know we certainly should not be. A mascot or a name of a building or something like that. We’re bigger and better than that,” said Gnibus. “I support making sure that we are mindful of those things and we change them, and if that takes legislation to do that, then, by all means I would support that.”

We ended the interview discussing voting, as the election is a few days away and examples of voter suppression have been occurring in certain areas (many have had to wait hours to vote).  

“It’s being deliberately done in areas where we have a higher BIPOC community and [in] lower income areas,” said Gnibus. 

According to the candidate, we should be protecting and expanding the mail-in voting that Pennsylvania has moved forward with this year. She noted that continuing to fight for mail-in voting and early voting is a way to help combat long waits or dealing with attempts of voter suppression. "Continuing to fight to keep polling locations open in neighborhoods across the U.S. is another way to combat this suppression," she added.  

“It is so important (voting). It’s what our democracy is all about, having those choices,” explained Gnibus. “I just encourage every single person to vote, and especially those young folks to vote, because this is about you. This is your future. This is my children’s future.”

Voting in person starts Nov. 3 at 7 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day and received by your county’s election office by 5 p.m., Nov. 6. It’s being highly recommended at this point you drop off your mail-in ballot, in person, at an election office. For Erie County, eriecountypa.gov states: "If you haven’t mailed your ballot, consider using the 24/7 drop box in front of the Erie County Courthouse. It is located on 140 West 6th Street in Erie, PA." 

Find your polling place, here.

Note: The Spectator reached out to Rep. Mike Kelly for an interview. His campaign has not responded as of press deadline.

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