Pennsylvania Senate candidate has known homelessness, sorrow of opioid crisis
James Craig didn’t take a traditional path to politics.
The 29-year-old Washington County Democrat running for state Senate was homeless for two years before graduating high school, earning a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from Pitt and starting his own real estate law firm.
He is the only Democrat campaigning for the District 46 Senate seat, held by first-term Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll. The district, southwest of Pittsburgh in Washington, Greene and Beaver counties, borders West Virginia to the west and south and the Monongahela River to the east.
Craig of North Strabane said the help he received from public programs — including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and a state school education — helped solidify his identity as a Democrat in an area where party lines are not as neatly drawn as in other parts of the state and the country.
“I feel more closely aligned with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party; I think that government can be a tool to help people achieve the goals that they want to achieve, so long as they put in hard work and show determination,” he said.
Craig wants to boost school funding by creating a pool of money that the state distributes according to schools’ needs, moving away from the current system in which schools depend on local property taxes.
He believes many decisions about pregnancies should be left to women and their doctors.
He supports unions.
But when it comes to addressing some of the region’s pressing issues, he sounds a lot like a conservative.
He wants to cut red tape for the natural gas industry, which he credits with restoring hope to the area after the coal and steel industries faded.
He wants to improve technology to burn coal in a cleaner way.
He wants to reduce taxes, specifically through education reform, and to eliminate property taxes for people over 65.
To address the opioid crisis, he supports putting drug dealers — and doctors who break the law — in prison bolstering local treatment and recovery organizations.
He said he supports responsible gun ownership and doesn’t believe more regulation is needed.
He said his views are typical of Southwestern Pennsylvania democrats.
“We’re a lot more moderate than statewide Democrats and we’re definitely a lot more moderate than national Democrats,” he said.
He said he plans to harness the political energy circulating among working-class people who are dissatisfied with their options in elections.
“If we get the working-class individuals to vote, then the Democratic and the Republican parties are going to have to pay attention, and they’re going to have to give them a seat at the table,” he said.
His father was an ironworker who Craig said became addicted to prescription opioids after a back injury. The family became homeless after the job loss, staying with family and friends, he said. He said his mother overdosed on prescription opioids in 2014 after learning his father had terminal cancer. He said his brother died from an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl.
“We’ve got to rein this in or the effect is going to be felt for generations,” he said of the opioid crisis.
He is hosting a campaign kickoff event Monday night at Washington Brewery.