Jon McCabe, 22
Jon McCabe for Pennsylvania State Legislature
As a student organizer, Jon McCabe created ways to connect students to their representatives. Now he wants to be one. Learn how this 22 year old candidate hopes to represent his district’s needs.
What's the best advice you received before you ran for office?
When I decided to run for office, I spoke to a professor who ran in 2016 against Mike Turzai, the Speaker of the House in Pennsylvania. My professor told me, “Just do it.” You don't have much to lose. This is a great opportunity because my district is currently an open seat. The incumbents resigned in July. So this opportunity to see a change in our government was right there. There were already people who jumped into the primary but I was just very passionate about seeing change from all levels of government.
I just saw this opportunity and I went for it. And honestly, I couldn't have imagined this whole experience and how it's played out because it's been beyond extraordinary. I've been getting so much support, and people are fascinated when I tell them I'm 22 years old and I started this campaign when I'm 21.
In your own words, what position are you running for? And what does the job entail?
As a state representative, I get a portion of the state that I represent. My job is to do is to listen to my constituents and find out what they want to see done on a state level. I consider states to be like laboratories for democracy because we are able to craft certain laws that can be different than the states around us. We vote on laws and pass laws and propose laws that can be implemented on the state level and these laws should reflect the will of my constituents or the common good.
My district encompasses seven different municipalities and a couple of school districts. So my job is to go out to all those areas and talk with those constituents and do my best job to represent their best interest.
What do you think are some of the issues specifically affecting your district that you think have been neglected?
When I go door to door, there are a few issues that almost every voter has something to say about it. In Pennsylvania, and frankly, this is an issue across the United States right now, the opioid epidemic is one of the biggest issues on everybody's mind. It's been ripping through our working class communities, our upper-class communities, and frankly, all of our communities. And it's something that we really haven't seen a lot of representatives propose legislation for.
I graduated with a psychology degree in May. So I really hope to use that degree to craft policy and legislation that actually captures the heart of addiction and will treat those affected by this disease as people rather than criminals.
Another is infrastructure in Pennsylvania. Right now, we're seeing tremendous amounts of flooding throughout Pennsylvania. We’ve been getting massive rains and flooding that have been happening more frequently. So our infrastructure has been taking a beating and this is something that we seriously need to invest in.
Our state house representatives have been passing a budget for infrastructure that's only been able to just sustain what's going on and not expand our infrastructure. There are old roads and bridges that need to be updated and renovated. If we act now, we're going to be saving ourselves a lot of money later on when businesses decide to come in and jobs are made from this infrastructure investment.
Regarding the opioid epidemic, how do we prevent epidemics like this from happening again? What are can the government implement to help people affected now?
First off, we need to ensure that our states mental health services are fully funded and accessible to all of Pennsylvania. Any investment in mental health and making sure that our inpatient and outpatient care centers are well staffed and have beds available for people is a big step for us. I also support placing tighter restrictions on when and what purposes doctors can prescribe opioid treatment. So just having more oversight of this process is a very big step. Because a lot of opioid addictions begin with just a regular prescription, even a 10-day opioid prescription can lead someone into being addicted to opioids.
So stemming from that, I also support looking into alternative treatments. These are things like CBD oil, which we actually have recently adopted here in PA, but even extending into medicinal and recreational marijuana, because states that have done that already have seen lower opioid prescriptions and death.
When did you the call? When was that moment you realized you needed to run for office?
I didn't really enter politics in the traditional way. I attended a Penn State satellite campus, and the first class I ever took was “Debating the Purpose of Government.” This class seriously opened up my eyes to how we always think of government as something separate from us, but in the United States, we really are the government. The first three words of the Constitution are “we the people”. It's just that we've had representatives for so long that don't act in the best interest of their constituents and don't act, for the common good.
We see representatives who are acting for themselves or for the people that are paying for their campaigns. But what I wanted to see was an effective government that works for the people. So as a sophomore, I co-founded a student organization called “My Vote Matters”, a nonpartisan student organization on campus. Our goal was to register students to vote and get students interacting with the people who are supposed to be representing them. We did massive voter registration drives on campus every week, we'd have a table outside the cafeteria, and we just sat there with our laptops, and asked every person who walked by, “Are you registered to vote?”
By just having a table out every single week, we were able to register you're over 40% of students on campus over the course of two years. So, it was definitely a long process, but just having the perseverance to stay out there and telling them, “Your voice is going to be heard in that voting booth.”
So we did the voter registration, then we also brought mayors, judges, state house representatives, and even state senators to our campus to talk with their constituents and what we found through those conversations was even more interesting. When students were asking questions to these representatives and legislators, students generally weren't very happy with the answers that they were receiving, and that discomfort meeting the person who is supposed to represent your best interest and not feeling represented after that conversation, showed me that a lot of younger people need to be more engaged in this process.
My Vote Matters was a nonpartisan student organization, so we registered Democrats, Republicans, Independents because we wanted students to come together and talk with one another. There is too much polarization and our politics nowadays. So by having these conversations, we were able to break down these barriers and have really good in-depth discussions among students.
What are some of the biggest doubt you think people have about you as a 22-year-old? What do you say to people who think you're too young to run?
I usually never get people that see my age is a bad thing, maybe only a couple times has that happened. But when that does happen, I usually say, “The people that have been in office clearly have not implemented the positive change that we need to see in our communities. We’re seeing a shrinking middle class, we're seeing families struggling to put food on the table, and families that are scared of getting sick, because they're going to fall into debt and economic collapse.” Seeing how much economic stress is going on, a lot of people are excited to see this baton handed off to a new generation of leaders.
Our founding fathers didn't want politicians that were just serving themselves. They wanted people with virtue, they wanted people that will put aside their narrow self-interest and serve the common good. They want to statesmen and it’s never too young to be a statesman. It's never too young to represent your community.
Being someone that's lived inside my district for my whole entire life, I know the struggles of my district, I've been around and I've seen it. Just because I'm 22 years old doesn't mean that I can't fight for change. I have a voice and my voice deserves to be heard, and the constituents of my district deserve to be heard.
And what I've seen is their voices haven't been heard. So I'm here to help amplify their voices. I'm here to help them get that good government that they deserve. So when I go door to door I see people who are ready to see that change. They get excited, they say the I give them hope. I'm here to serve you because, at the end of this all, the state representative is a public service. I'm supposed to be working for them.
What advice would you give to another young person considering running for office?
I would say that if you want to run for office, just do it and get out there. Don't spend time inside your house, on Facebook just complaining about what's going on. Get involved in your community. There are tons of ways to get involved as well. It doesn't have to be a partisan organization, it could be a nonpartisan organization, it can be an activism group that is doing something about an issue that you're passionate about.
At the end of the day, it comes down to meeting people, hearing their stories, and working together to change our democracy. I'm a big fan of supporting unions and what unions teach us is: if we want to see change, we need to strengthen numbers. And that's exactly how democracy works as well. If you want to see change, you need to get people together, you need to have a unified message, and you need to bring that unity to the voting booth and to your communities.
That’s where change starts, by getting outside your house. You might have to get outside your comfort zone. And that's okay. What I found was people were just so excited that I was running during primary and they are so many people out there that want to see that change too.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.