Mckayla Wilkes announced Thursday that she will run again for the Democratic nomination to represent the 5th Congressional District.
Veteran lawmaker U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5th), who turned 84 on Wednesday, has overseen the district that includes all three Southern Maryland counties of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s and a sliver of Prince George’s for almost 42 years.
“I think it’s time for change. The demographics in our district are changing,” Wilkes, who turns 33 on July 4, said in an interview. “We need more representatives that not only look like us, but they can relate to the everyday life that all of us are going through.”
Trying to unseat Hoyer, if he decides to seek another term, won’t be easy.
In the first Democratic primary in June 2020, Hoyer received 64% of the vote compared to nearly 27% for Wilkes.
Last year, Hoyer garnered a higher number with 71% of the votes versus 19% for Wilkes.
Hoyer hasn’t officially announced his decision to seek another Democratic nomination, but he offered a hint June 1 when he said he endorsed Angela Alsobrooks’ bid for U.S. Senate and said he looked forward to “being her colleague.”
Wilkes seeks to become the first Black woman and first queer person to represent the 5th Congressional District.
A major difference, Wilkes said, between her and Hoyer comes from her work as a community organizer.
For instance, she said Hoyer’s voice and presence could be instrumental to stop a proposal by some education officials and parents in Calvert County to ban some textbooks in schools.
“If I were a representative right now, I would be in Calvert County organizing and at every single school board [meeting] as the people have been doing,” Wilkes said. “Somebody like Hoyer would be very influential…in advocating [against book bans] and against the white supremacist tactics that are happening on the school board.”
Wilkes co-founded a nonprofit organization in 2020, Schools Not Jails, to eliminate the school to prison pipeline.
The group serves as a personal reminder about her incarceration as a teenager in juvenile detention.
As an adult, Wilkes was briefly jailed “for being unable to pay tickets and court fees,” she said. According to court records, she was charged in 2014 with driving on a suspended license, which prompted a probation violation in an earlier driving under the influence case. Wilkes had other charges for driving with a suspended license in 2011, 2012, and 2017.
“A lot of people in our community are criminalized for living in poverty, instead of giving them the resources that they need that can help them to not be introduced to the criminal justice system,” she said.
Besides criminal justice reform, Wilkes said housing remains an issue, with rent increasing while wages remain stagnant.
The district, she says, also needs an ally in the LGBTQ community.
“Being a queer person and also being Black — I call it double marginalized. I know firsthand what it is like to fight for your existence,” she said. “You have to do more than just sitting in the halls of Congress and voting and doing press conferences. You should be on the ground with the people in your community organizing and advocating every single way that you can to ensure that everybody in our community is safe.”
This article was originally published on MarylandMatters.org and is republished with permission.