Pennsylvania’s 85th House district, which includes Lewisburg, has been represented by Republicans for nearly 30 years. Incumbent Fred Keller has held the seat since winning the election to the state house in 2010, with little formidable challenges in a predominantly red district. Running against Keller this year, Dr. Jenn Rager-Kay has taken a non-partisan approach to flip the seat blue in November.
According to Rager-Kay, she first decided to run for office in the hope of providing her young son and the rest of the district the less politically-polarized way of life that she experienced growing up in rural Pennsylvania. “I was kind of disheartened that [my son] was not going to have the same experience I did as far as neighbors taking care of neighbors, not really caring about political affiliation,” Rager-Kay said. “Our state and our country is pretty divided right now, so I figured that if I was going to try to make a difference, then this was the way to do it.”
A doctor by trade, Rager-Kay said she sees many similarities between the medical profession and the prospect of working in state government. Having taken care of many 85th district constituents while practicing medicine in Sunbury, Rager-Kay feels that representing the district in Harrisburg would simply be an extension of her work in “tak[ing] care of people.” Rager-Kay also thinks her healthcare background would lead to more opportunities to sit on different committees and subcommittees than Keller currently does, giving the district a voice in new areas of the state legislature.
Rather than commenting on national politics on the campaign trail, Rager-Kay has focused her approach on fixing the 85th district’s issues. “I certainly won’t mind talking to people about national politics, but I don’t think that it’s really a focus, primarily because I’m more concerned with our district and our state on a lower level,” Rager-Kay said.
Rager-Kay referenced how the state stepped in to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in December 2017 when it was cut by the federal government as an example of the state providing solutions for problems in Washington. “I think an asset that the states have is that regardless of what’s going on on a national level, we have the opportunity to make changes on the state level,” Rager-Kay said.
In a district in which Republicans outnumber Democrats by roughly a two-to-one margin, Rager-Kay acknowledges that she cannot win without reaching across party lines for votes. To do so, she has visited every municipality in the district and attended council meetings in each one. “Two of the township meetings that I’ve been to have been in such rural areas that we met at the kitchen table, basically, of the secretary’s home. There was not a township building or a borough building,” Rager-Kay said. “Being able to be inside someone’s house is kind of an intimate experience … Even though at both of those I was the only Democrat in the room, I never once felt ostracized by that.”
Rager-Kay said her favorite part of the campaign has been having conversations with people, “as a person and not as a Democrat.”
“I love being able to have an open-minded, respectful conversation with somebody who thinks differently than me,” she said.
Despite the challenges to winning a long-held Republican seat, Rager-Kay hopes to rise above partisan politics to win the election. “I’m just sick of partisan politics … We’re forced to pick a label, and then that separates us from people even farther,” Rager-Kay said. “If this district could be flipped, I think this is the year or the time to have it done.”
Rager-Kay will face Keller in the general election on Nov. 6.