I had the pleasure to sit down with State Representative Stephen Kinsey of the PA 201 Legislative District. We talked about everything from how his district was gentrifying, his career running track for the legendary Philadelphia Pioneers and West Chester University, growing up in Germantown, and his legislation from the past year.
We started out discussing his legislation to combat video gambling and its impact on inner city.
neighborhoods, mainly its effects on the black community and how they profit off communities of color. And how and why he has championed legislation to address video gambling.
“It takes me back to the old days. I mean, again, as an athlete, I did not smoke, nor did I drink. But I grew up at a time where they were always promoting cigarettes like Newport, especially in our communities. Mainly black communities. And I think, for me, going from Germantown to an area like West Chester for college, it was a totally different environment. And what I have seen in my community, as I was coming up, I didn’t see in the suburban areas. They were not doing a push for malt liquor, like Colt 45. I did not see them do a push, trying to entice young students to come and smoke. It was a totally different thing. So, it starts making you question, what else are they pushing on our communities. Some of us look at it like it’s the cool thing to do. But no, it’s also the harmful thing to do. I look at individuals who have gambling habits. It can be addictive. We talk about addictions to cocaine and addictions to alcohol. But you know, there’s also this thing about addiction to gambling. We’re starting to see families fall apart, a spouse might take the life savings, because he’s got this addiction. I’ve heard too many stories where somebody made a mistake like that. And then it just tore apart the whole family structure. And again, it’s being pro-moted more in black communities, not in other communities. There was research that was done, I think it was Chicago. They did a comparison about how certain black sections of Chicago were inundated with all of these video game gam-bling machines, yet the white com-munities weren’t.”
Representative Kinsey is well aware of the political climate in PA, especially in the Republican-dominated legislature. In the past election the Democrats lost seats while the Republicans gained seats. This will make his job and other members of the Philadelphia Demo-crat caucus even harder when it comes to moving legislation for-ward. At the end of the day there is no way to pass legislation in the PA State House without any Republican support. However, despite the political climate, Rep. Kinsey has found a way to work across the aisle. By partnering with Republican Rep. Greg Rothman, they have formed the Bi-Partisan Legislative Caucus.
“Well, it all started with just a simple hello on the House floor. Welcome to the House. I knew he was a Republican. And he knew I was a Demo-crat. But I also know that at the end of the day, I have to work with those folks over there. But it all started by just speaking. And we just started having greater conversations on issues. But the great thing is that this was a guy that I could talk to on the other side and knowing that he had friends on the other side. And the word spread quickly over the course of time that Kinsey and Rothman are pretty tight. I mean, Greg’s been down here to my district for press events. I’ve been up to his district. And so, we just developed a sincere friendship, all by just having conversation. We sit on a few committees together- probations and transportation. Greg and I have some legislation that we both cosponsored. But what I found out is that we both experienced the same thing, sometimes we get stuck with partisan politics. Greg told me that he was in caucus and I had an amendment to a bill and he was supporting it. However, his colleagues were saying they weren’t supporting it. When he asked why, they said ‘because it’s a Democrat amendment.’ And he’s like, ‘but it’s Kinsey’s, he’s a good guy.’ Well, he got shot down anyway. And I experienced something similar in committee. Greg had an amendment, I thought it was a good amendment. But I was asked by the Chair of that committee, on the Democratic side, if I could stay in line. And you do that sometimes. But then some-times you sort of break out of that line and say, this is going to be beneficial to the people that I represent. My people want this. And that’s how it started. We just kept that con-versation going and everybody in the House saw the sincerity of our friendship. I can tell you that there was no blowback with the establishment of the Bi-Partisan Caucus. There’s now 25 Democrats that have signed on thus far, and 16 Re-publicans that have signed on thus far.”
Before serving as the Co-Chair of the Bi-Partisan Committee, Rep. Kinsey served as Chair of the Black Caucus, which he recently stepped down from and handed the reins to Rep. Donna Bullock.
“I can tell you that it was a great experience serving as the Chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative
Black Caucus. I could have served for another two years but I wanted to do something different. I’ve had some personal tragedies, some personal challenges. I lost my mother and lost a daughter. And when you experience those things, those types of losses, it really puts things in perspective. I have a 12-year-old that’s with me, being raised by myself and her mom. Her mom lives in Jersey, so she sees her mom on the weekends. She goes to school in Pennsylvania, so she’s with me throughout the week. When you lose a child, it makes you want to be closer to your kids. It was a point where I was going to Harrisburg and coming back because I wanted to tuck my daughter in every single night. But the Black Caucus was a great experience. I believe we made some headway in regard to forcing the previous Speaker of the House to really help us with some police reform legislation. The great thing is that we had a series of hearings in places like Reading, Allentown, and the Poconos. We wanted to make sure that our presence was known so we expanded it, partnering with other committees. So it was like the Black Caucus and the Health Committee focusing on COVID. It was the Black Caucus and the Education Committee talking about funding in the State School System. The Black Caucus was a platform that allowed me to bring other organizations, caucuses, and other committees together. So that they can hear what we were hearing. So that they can feel the experiences that were being shared with members of the Black Caucus. I wanted them to have a better and a greater understanding of what folks of color were going through, how they felt.”
With police reform becoming one of the hottest topics in local and national politics, Rep. Kinsey and his colleagues in the State Legislature joined forces with members of the City Council of Philadelphia to form the Police Working Group. Rep. Kinsey went into detail on why he joined the Police Working Group and his experience growing up in Germantown that caused him to join in to champion this cause.
“I grew up in an era where gang wars were pretty ram-pant. I grew up in the 70s. It was still the Dogtown, Haines Street, and Brickyard feuds. I could tell you how I got chased home by guys from Brickyard and so forth. So, for me dealing with the cops was a reality. The cops would drive up and down the street. Frank Rizzo was the commissioner at the time. As a little kid I would hear about the Commissioner and all that he was doing. Like when he stripped those guys down in North Philly.
We didn’t have that real relationship with the police. We feared the police to some ex-tent. They would mess with us because we were black kids. I’m still surrounded by guys, fraternity brothers, guys from the neighborhood and I hear their stories about their experiences with the police. You still hear these stories. But for me just taking in all this information, the experiences that not only I had, but also that my friends had growing up, my friends that lived in other parts of the city. Those experiences don’t go away. Those are memories that are there forever. And even as the Police Commissioner changes and the Mayor changes, the police force does not change. Our communities are still experiencing some of those things that were happening decades earlier.
Even though we see more officers that look like us, the reality of it is that they really weren’t running the show. You start recognizing that there’s a code and a mentality even amongst those men and women in blue. Regardless of skin color, there’s still a mentality that exists there.
The Police Reform Group, is a collaboration of what we each experienced, what we were told, and what we have been visualizing in our respective communities. This made us come together and say, we got to change this.”
By James Williams
Photo Courtesy of Stephen Kinsey/pahouse.gov