UPDATE Oct. 16 9:50 a.m.: The Rally for Ferrence will be held on Murray Lawn, not the gator quad as previously indicated.
English Department Chair and Associate Professor Matthew Ferrence is running for the 6th District seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on a platform of economic justice and equality for Crawford County.
“This is a region of the country and a region of the state that has been left out,” Ferrence said. “Industry left a while ago, and ever since, people have been struggling to get by. Right now, Crawford County ranks near the bottom of the barrel in Pennsylvania for per-capita income. In the city of Meadville, one in four residents live in poverty … (I am also) focusing on healthcare, public education and on environmental conservation, all link to that in that all three of these are way(s) in which we could have legislative action that would help alleviate some of the inequities and actually spur sustainable development that is both ecologically sustainable and humanely sustainable.”
Though running as a Democrat, Ferrence does not say so on his website. Instead, he uses the space to discuss issues he believes impact the citizens of Crawford County.
“I think that’s a refreshing change, because if you go out to somebody (and say), ‘I’m a Democrat’ or ‘I’m a Republican,’ that belies what you truly believe,” said David Lawson, ’23, president of the College Socialists. “There’s a big spectrum out there of moderate Democrats, progressive Democrats, moderate Republicans, reactionary Republicans, and for him to not mention whether he’s a Democrat or a Republican is refreshingly honest.”
Quinn Broussard, ’22, vice president for internal affairs of the College Democrats, agreed with the sentiment.
“I don’t necessarily have any concerns about the label of who’s a Democrat and who’s a Republican, especially because there are things that I fervently disagree on with the Democratic Party, just as there are things that I firmly disagree on with the Republican Party. He’s running on policy, which I think every political candidate should be running on.”
Ferrence wants to take a step back from federal politics and focus on local issues. Despite running as a Democrat, he doesn’t see the national party as a source for solutions for the 6th District.
“The reality is that big parties — and I actually include the Democrats here — have left rural PA behind,” Ferrence said. “I don’t think the Republican Party is offering them anything, and I think the Democratic Party has focused on issues elsewhere and hoped that rural people will vote for them. I want people to look at what I’m offering and vote for that, and then we can have a conversation about parties later if we want to.”
Broussard encouraged voters to think deeply about their candidates and not choose them merely by their party affiliation.
“Consider what issues are affecting you in your day-to-day life,” Broussard said. “I know for me, as a student in my junior year coming out of college soon, access to healthcare is something that actively concerns me consistently, and that’s a concern I hear universally regardless of political ideology. Think about how you can be supported by these candidates. The people who are running, what are they saying? What are their values?”
Ferrence pointed to his childhood in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, as the inspiration for his environmentally-minded agenda, and he hopes to find common ground with voters through their experience of the local landscape.
“The reality of conservative voters in this area is that they love being outside,” Ferrence said. “They love hunting. They love fishing. They love clean water. They love farm fields. They actually care about a lot of the issues I care about. Most of my family, to be honest, are Republicans as well, but they’re that kind of Republican that understands what Teddy Roosevelt did — our natural spaces matter deeply.”
The 6th District of the Pennsylvania House has seen only one Democrat since it was created in 1969: Connie Main, who served in the seat for three years in the late 1980s. The current incumbent, Bradley Roae, has served in the seat since 2007, running unopposed for re-election in 2018. Ferrence thinks that Roae has not done enough to take care of the 6th district.
“His own campaign materials, his consistent platform for his entire legislative career, is to run on no taxes, 100% NRA rating and 100% pro-life rating,” Ferrence said. “The latter two are not the job of a state legislator. We don’t even really need to discuss those issues because those are federal issues that will be decided in the federal legislature and more in the federal courts, so he’s pandering to a social base by having those issues. And the tax issue: when you’re broke, you need help, and help comes from sharing resources through taxation, that’s just the way it is. He’s actually actively campaigning his entire career on hurting the region that he represents.”
Ferrence is hosting a rally today from 5-7 p.m. on Murray Lawn.
Representative Roae’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. The College Republicans declined to comment for this story.
Representative Roae declined to participate in the Center for Political Participation’s local candidate forum on Oct. 19, though he will be attending the Meadville Tribune’s live question-and-answer forum with Ferrence on Oct. 27.
Check out the interview with Ferrence on The Campus OutLoud, available on Instagram TV and YouTube.