Penn graduates and faculty members have launched campaigns and exploratory committees for the United States Senate in Pennsylvania, entering one of the most competitive races in the nation for the seat.
The announcement of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)'s retirement in early October has prompted a flood of candidates to enter the race. The election will help determine which political party controls the Senate chamber after midterm elections, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, and may affect President Joe Biden's ability to pass legislation, appoint judges, or fill possible vacancies in the Supreme Court.
Out of the candidates, Penn affiliates running for a seat include Kevin Baumlin, chair of Emergency Medicine and professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, Pennsylvania State Senator and 1999 Penn Law graduate Sen. Sharif Street, and Valerie Arkoosh, a former professor of Clinical Anesthesiology and Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical School, have each announced their bid for U.S. Senate.
Two other University affiliates — Wharton Legal Studies and Business Ethics professor Eric Orts and Kenneth Braithwaite, a graduate of Penn’s Fels Institute of Government — are also reported to have considered filling Toomey’s vacancy.
Baumlin, who has been an emergency physician and doctor for 30 years, officially announced his campaign on April 8, saying that he has been on the front lines of the pandemic, caring for those affected by COVID-19 and is running for the Senate for the nearly 600,000 Americans and the 25,000 Pennsylvanians who died from the virus — specifically those that are disproportionately affected, such as older adults and the Black, Hispanic, and Asian communities.
“I know that there are solutions, that if leaders think about the people that I care for — and not the power — and make decisions based on science and facts — and not lies and disinformation — we really can do better," Baumlin told The Daily Pennsylvanian. "I’m ready to bring my white coat and my scrubs to Washington and get down to work and have a better, healthier Pennsylvania."
Baumlin said he is running on a platform that emphasizes the necessity of science in making health care decisions, as well as focusing on education, gun violence, immigration, hunger, and the opioid crisis. He has over 25 years of experience educating students and now teaches bedside at Penn Medicine, seeing patients clinically on Wednesdays, with students rotating to work with him.
Baumlin also founded a nonprofit organization called Oak Street, which focuses on education and prioritizing the preferences of teachers.
“Teachers want to teach, but they want to do it in small class sizes of one to 12, where they can make sure that every kid has an independent learning plan and isn’t left behind,” Baumlin said.
Another one of his priorities, he added, is to make sure that Pennsylvania schools have proper ventilation and basic needs, such as playgrounds and equipment for recess, which he said he saw were lacking when he was distributing vaccines in the Philadelphia area.
Street, the Pennsylvania state senator from the Third District, launched an exploratory committee on April 9 because he wants his platform to come directly from the people of Pennsylvania. As a University alumnus, Street said Penn opened doors for him, including providing him with the time he spent as a legislative intern under Sen. Shirley Kitchen during a Penn Law externship program — which led him to ultimately become Kitchen's successor.
Street said he is passionate about funding education and wants to increase the operational dollars to fund education at the federal level. He also wants to improve the school buildings in Philadelphia, citing issues in infrastructure, such as the lead and asbestos problems, as well as its insufficient internet access and lack of wall outlets.
He is additionally running on a platform focused on resolving environmental issues, adding that he has drafted legislation for alternative energy portfolio standards that expands the use of renewable resources and incorporates carbon capture technology.
“I think there’s a false narrative that has been put out there that you’re either for jobs or you’re for saving the planet," Street said. "Obviously, we have to save the planet, or we don’t have a place to live, but I think that as we do it, we can create jobs and create opportunities."
Criminal justice reform is also one of Street's major campaign focuses, and he particularly hopes to reform the cash bail system, he said. He cited the inequality of wealthier citizens' ability to pay bail for more severe crimes, stating that some citizens cannot even afford to pay $50 for a minor crime.
Street added that he would also support cannabis reform, an issue that has garnered increasing support from the American public in recent years.
“I’m a proud sponsor of a bill to legalize cannabis — recreational adult use of cannabis — in the Commonwealth," Street said. "We know that while Black, white, and Latin[x] usage of cannabis is all the same, Black and brown folks are nationally four to five times more likely to encounter law enforcement for using cannabis."
College sophomore Gianni Hill, who began working in Street’s government office as an intern in September 2019, said that Street has been adamant about engaging local citizens and speaking about political issues that "affect real people" in all of Pennsylvania's communities.
Another Penn affiliate, Arkoosh, who was elected as chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners in 2016, also recently entered the race.
Arkoosh, who ran for Congress after leaving Penn, said she is dedicated to lowering the cost of prescription drugs, growing the economy, getting out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and rebuilding infrastructure in a manner that is sustainable in order to combat the climate crisis.
“As a doctor, my job was to diagnose the problem, and then work with a patient to solve it. Over time, I came to realize that many of the problems that my patients were facing were things that were occurring outside of the exam room," Arkoosh wrote in an emailed statement to the DP. "That’s why I decided to become a public health advocate and worked to pass the Affordable Care Act. And as good as that was, I knew there was still more work to do."