Joseline Peña-Melnyk On Putting Working Families Front and Center in Maryland
Background: State Delegate for Maryland's 21st District since 2007, former federal prosecutor and public defender, Co-Chair, Latino Leadership Council in the Maryland Democratic Party
The Race: Joseline Peña-Melnyk is running in the Democratic primary race in Maryland's 4th Congressional District to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Donna Edwards. She is facing off against former lieutenant governor Anthony G. Brown and former Prince George’s state’s attorney Glenn Ivey—both well-known and respected liberal names in a heavily left-leaning district.
Peña-Melnyk looks to her past to distinguish herself from her competition. She immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic with her mother and sister when she was eight years old. Her mother worked in a garment factory, and Peña-Melnyk became the first in her family to earn a college degree. This, she says, along with her nine-year history of advocating on behalf of women and families in the Maryland House of Delegates, makes her "the toughest progressive in the race," and uniquely qualified to advocate for working families in Congress.
Key Endorsements: Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the Washington Post, EMILY's List, National Nurses United
Latest Polling: -4 Primary: April 26
Why are you running for Congress this year?
Joseline Peña-Melnyk: I’m a fighter for working families. It isn’t just a campaign slogan; I’ve experienced poverty and I’m committed to lifting people up and stopping the erosion of our middle class. I believe in strong unions, living wages, and educating and training our children so they can succeed, compete in our new economy and earn enough to raise a family as part of America’s middle class.
What are the three most important issues facing America today that should be addressed in the Democratic Party platform, and how are you proposing to address those issues?
First, schools and education. Our children deserve quality education. As a member of Maryland’s General Assembly, I’ve fought to control tuition increases at the University of Maryland, and in Congress I’ll work to make higher education more affordable. I also want to expand programs for career and technical education that offer training for skilled, well-paying jobs, because a high school degree is not enough for many of today’s jobs and a college education may not always meet everyone's needs.
Second, jobs and the economy. We need a growing middle class. I will work to expand opportunities for minority businesses and promote training programs that lead to jobs in growing fields in the private and public sectors. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. We should be repairing and rebuilding the deteriorating roads, schools, and water and sewer systems here in our district and across America.
Third, health. Families in our community want the peace of mind of affordable health care. I support and will protect President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In Maryland’s General Assembly, I fought to control health insurance premiums, to increase access to Medicare, and for greater Medicaid funding for Marylanders. I’ll do the same in Congress.
Your two chief opponents in this race, Anthony G. Brown and Glenn Ivey, are also accomplished elected officials with relatively liberal politics. Can you talk about what issues or experiences most distinguish you from these candidates?
My mother raised me. She worked in factories and as a housekeeper. I was first in my family to graduate college, and I benefited from equal opportunity programs created by leaders of a prior generation who fought for inclusion and justice.
I have represented part of Anne Arundel County for nine years; before politics, I was a criminal prosecutor, a defense attorney and an advocate for neglected and abused children.
I am the toughest progressive in this race. I have fought the NRA to pass historic gun control legislation, increased the minimum wage and protected families from home foreclosure, and I’ve fought for better healthcare for women and families. I’ll protect our rights from extremist attacks.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign has galvanized young progressive voters across the country and attracted a lot of independent support. What are the lessons here for the Democrats and for your campaign in particular? What is your campaign doing to bring more people into the political process?
The lesson is that we cannot lose touch with the concerns of normal, working Americans. People want opportunities and they want fairness. And frankly, they haven’t seen much of it. America’s middle class is shrinking and income inequality is growing dramatically.
We are running a grassroots campaign fueled by many volunteers and small donors. Many of our volunteers are people that I have met and worked with during my years in service. They are the strength of our political system, because they care and they get involved.
How have social movements like Black Lives Matter, Occupy and climate change activism influenced your campaign?
These movements give me hope for the future of our democracy. They show that the spirit that gave rise to the civil rights movement is still alive as people take up causes that matter and challenge the status quo. I have fought for more equal representation of minority communities and passed bills that make the justice system fairer. And I’ll continue to fight.
You have experience as a federal prosecutor. How has that professional experience shaped your view of the Black Lives Matter movement and its goals regarding ending mass incarceration and improving police accountability?
That experience informs my work. For example, I learned that an invisible bias often infects the police criminal suspect lineup process, and it can result in wrongful convictions due to eyewitness misidentification. To correct this problem, I led the effort to adopt a law that improved police practices for lineups. I have also insisted on police accountability, including ending race-based traffic stops and I have promoted legislation for an independent state prosecutor to investigate deaths related to law enforcement.
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