By Vincent Montoya-Armanios
In a wide-ranging two-hour interview, U.S. senatorial candidate Alexandria Khalil offered Bucks County Rising a first look at her beliefs and ideas. Alexandria Khalil is a Muslim, Palestinian-American Jenkintown Borough council member and Temple Law School graduate. Born in Hackensack, NJ, Khalil grew up in Queens, NY, and Glassboro, NJ. In 2016, she was elected as a Bernie Sanders delegate for Montgomery County. She formerly owned a 7-11 and now works at her own law firm where she specializes in small business representation. In her own words, she’s running to end the “needless suffering and hardships” facing Pennsylvanians and Americans.
It’s difficult to neatly fit Khalil into any ideological box. On energy, agriculture, housing, and other important issues, Khalil is unapologetically progressive. Yet on issues like criminal justice reform, she’s largely in line with the orthodoxy of the Democratic party, supporting more funding for police and opposing drug legalization except for marijuana. Still, her cautious views on the burgeoning recreational drug industry, for example, are fueled more by anti-corporatist concerns than social conservatism.
Khalil joins the growing ranks of Democrats who have promised to reject corporate contributions to her campaign. This includes fellow competitor Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who has also promised not to receive donations from corporate Political Action Committees.
Khalil supports providing paid vacations to all workers and a federal jobs program to rebuild American infrastructure, mitigate the economic impacts of automation, and train workers to transition to new careers.
Regarding the current state of labor policy in the U.S., Khalil argues that “we’re too focused on jobs” rather than helping people develop sustainable careers. She supports a $15/hour minimum wage and opposes the outsourcing of American jobs. When asked how the federal government can strengthen unions, Khalil called for the federal government to “stop the [ongoing] attack [on] unions and uphold their duty as the National Labor Relations Board to go after corporations that attack unions and union organizing,” adding that OSHA is not doing enough to improve working conditions. She also opposes “Right to Work” laws which prevent individual workers from being compelled to pay dues as a condition of employment. Right to Work statutes damage unions by allowing employees to enjoy the benefits of union membership without contributing to union funds. Research shows that weakened union power contributes to lower wages for both union and nonunion workers in Right to Work states.
Khalil supports the proposed Medicare for All legislation, stating that the creation of a public option would lead people to organically switch from their private insurance plans while also allowing employers to incentivize workers with coverage beyond what a public plan would offer, if they so choose. She believes that single-payer medical insurance should include coverage for dental care, eye care, and other services.
A passionate supporter of President Obama, Khalil criticizes voters for staying home in part due to Obama’s failure to make good on his public option promise. “You can’t get angry,” she said, “you’ve gotta go to the polls.” She explained that the Affordable Care Act and its expansion of coverage for young adults under their parents’ plans saved her family from financial ruin by providing coverage for her son right before a medical emergency.
Khalil supports the Green New Deal largely on principles of equity: “it’s about the mistakes we’ve made in the past toward economic injustice, environmental injustice, displacement of Native American land, workers’ rights and workers’ safety.” She laments Pennsylvania’s low rankings in water and air quality, infrastructure, and funding for education. “The battles that we won in the past—unions’ rights, workers’ rights, worker safety, environmental stewardship cannot be lost… That, to me, is what the Green New Deal is about.”
Concerned about the placement of incinerators in low-income communities with no countervailing benefits to the people living there, Khalil wants to accelerate efforts to clean them, naming Delaware Valley Resource Recovery Facility incinerator in Chester County as an example. The incinerator in Chester, one of Pennsylvania’s most economically struggling communities, emits more particulate matter than any other waste-to-energy facility in the U.S.
“To upgrade the Chester County waste to energy facility will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. So what? We already throw away hundreds of millions of dollars on war. We have a military complex that is beyond any reasonable expectation.” 91 superfund sites (highly polluted regions as designated by the Environmental Protection Agency) are located in Pennsylvania.
At the current pace, Khalil says, it will take 105 years to reclaim abandoned mining facilities. Khalil sees potential in these mining facilities and looks to Europe on ways they can be repurposed: “In Europe, Germany, the Netherlands, they’re doing different things with their abandoned mines and coal power plants. The Germans are using them as huge battery storage systems for wind. Folks in the Netherlands, they’re using the water in the mines as geothermal energy. So that abandoned mine is being used.”
Pipelines, Khalil says, aren’t going away. She highlights the growth of hydrogen fuel as an energy alternative that is cleaner but still requires a pipeline for transportation. She wants to ensure that such “necessary” pipelines do not pose a threat to local communities and are not constructed in environmentally sensitive regions: “I don’t care what the source of the pipeline is, it does not belong by a school, it doesn’t belong by fresh water… it doesn’t belong in people’s backyards, like in Chester.”
Councilmember Khalil’s position on policies affecting Native Americans are still developing. Throughout the interview, she emphasized that her decision-making more broadly would be led by the people who will be most affected by policy outcomes. When asked about her ideas to improve indigenous life in the U.S., she explained that she reached out to the Lenape tribe in Pennsylvania for their perspective and will continue reaching out to the Native community. She wants to work with Deb Haaland, who, if confirmed, would be the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, and other indigenous leaders.
Khalil opposes the Dakota Access Pipeline. Khalil argued that “they had no business bringing [the pipeline] on their land without [the native peoples’] consent.” Regarding police violence, Khalil criticized the treatment of Native American people. “It borders on genocide… the [police’s] first response is to shoot them.”
Pointing to the pandemic’s revelations that anyone can become homeless, Khalil supports a federal housing guarantee. She argues that more is spent on mitigating homelessness than we would spend if we provided sustainable housing for all.
Khalil also wants to upgrade existing housing and increase funding for foster programs for children who age out. Recalling a bankruptcy case she worked on in law school where a woman paid hundreds of dollars a month on heating since her rental unit was so poorly insulated, she asks, “why didn’t we spend money upgrading the home?”
While she supports legalizing marijuana, Khalil is highly skeptical of the marijuana industry and sees marijuana as a potential health concern moving forward. She told Bucks County Rising a story about a minister who told her that people seeking addiction counseling often say that their first entry into drugs is marijuana.
“To me,” she says, “what I hope marijuana is, is like aspirin. People use it for medicinal purposes, kids shouldn’t be using. I hope young people realize that this is nothing more than a way of corporate interests trying to get them addicted like they did with cigarettes.” Khalil appears to accept the “gateway drug” theory that marijuana consumption increases an individual’s propensity to consume more dangerous drugs.
Khalil wants to see gross marijuana revenue directed towards supporting economic development in communities harmed by the war on drugs, but she predicts that the supposed economic benefits of marijuana legalization are overblown. Pointing out that John Boehner, the former Republican Speaker of the House, is a large investor in the marijuana industry and is unconcerned with communities that have been harmed by the war on drugs, she cites Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower: “the corporation and the politician get [the money], the people get the circus.”
Marijuana, at this point, is the only currently illicit drug that Khalil supports legalizing. When asked if the U.S. should follow the lead of countries like Portugal, which has seen declining rates of HIV and overdose after decriminalizing drug possession, she said, “I’m not a drug expert… [W]hat I will do is bring in experts. I’ll do what Bernie Sanders does, he brings [experts] to the table. I would bring in police, community leaders… I would bring in former addicts, hell, I would bring in addicts.” With regards to drug dealing, Khalil said, “I have no room or mercy for drug dealers. I saw them kill people who I loved. I saw what drug dealers did to people who are addicted. I saw [people addicted to substances] lose their businesses, their lives, their dignity.”
Regarding safe injection sites, Khalil would theoretically support their creation, but only if such implementation is universal: “Pennsylvania is not going to be the injection site capital of the world. Addicts come from Connecticut, New York, because they hear they can get drugs freely in Pennsylvania. That’s a big burden to put on Pennsylvania. This is a disease that affects every community in the state and in the country.” If safe injection sites were developed, Khalil wants them to be used as “a gateway to get help,” not just a place to take drugs.
Khalil admits that she hasn’t thought very seriously about policies affecting sex workers. She is concerned about illegal sex trafficking and is angered “about making [sex work] legal, because most of the women or men are essentially slaves. I’m really about going after pimps and better questioning so-called ‘massage parlors.’”
Related to her concerns about the corporatization of the marijuana industry, Khalil is committing to ending the classification of plants as the “intellectual property” of agricultural companies. This practice prevents small farmers from saving and replanting seeds yielded from “patented” plants, forcing them to rebuy products from large corporations such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta. In the same vein, she wants to introduce legislation to subsidize small family farms and ecologically sustainable agriculture.
Like most other Democratic politicians, Khalil takes a firm stance against “defunding the police.” She wants the federal government to invest much more into police departments for de-escalation and other training; she believes that police officers are underpaid and undertrained, and they deserve more funding so that they don’t have to work a second job.
Her perspective on police misconduct is that police officers need to work on eliminating “thuggery within their own ranks” and calls for the police union to do more to make police officers feel safe within their departments, free from racial discrimination and sexual abuse.
Referencing Bucks County Rising’s article on the campaign to end sewer privatization in Norristown, Khalil expressed her vehement opposition to the privatization of public utilities. She said that, as a council member, she’s done what she can to make the community aware of private companies’ efforts to take over public sewer systems. However, she recognizes that some people may choose privatization if they want to fund a library or pay off their debt, and that the decision should be a local and democratic one, aided by information from experts.
As a Palestinian-American, Khalil strongly opposes the unconscionable treatment of the Palestinian people. Amidst other cruelties experienced, she brought to light the story of her 14-year-old cousin, who was killed by Israeli soldiers while standing under his own olive tree.
In reference to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement, Khalil argued that the people have a right to boycott anything they want, whether it be Sabra or Hobby Lobby, but people should “do it because they violate human rights, not because of their religion,” apparently referencing accusations that the BDS movement is fueled by antisemitism. She argues that U.S. tax dollars should not go toward “subsidizing settlement expansion, home demolitions, the detention of Palestinian children, or supporting the Israeli annexation of the West Bank.”
Khalil supports the multilateral disarmament of nuclear weapons and the absolute end of U.S. arms dealing, commenting that “whether we’re selling to Israel, the Saudis, the UAE, we need to get out of that.”
We also discussed the right wing Bolivian coup that took place in 2019. Regarding Evo Morales, the coup, and the events that transpired afterward, Khalil said the following:
“It was a coup. I like Morales, 60 million people he got out of poverty, God bless him, there’s a special place in heaven for someone who does something like that. But he shouldn’t have run a fourth term… But he went in and he won. Then the right went off and did a coup, a U.S. and European-backed coup. Then the weirdest thing happened, [the left] didn’t just win, they won big. They won like 60% because I think [the right] thought what was going to happen is what happened in Brazil… I want to give credit for the right [wing] in Bolivia, which accepted the results.”
Khalil believes that Bolivia’s 2020 election sets a positive example for the rest of the world, criticizing Cuba and Syria for fomenting political oppression and becoming “nothing but a dictatorship.” Still, she supports normalizing relations with Cuba, arguing that if we have done so with Russia, we should do the same with Cuba. When asked if the U.S. has an obligation to support countries devastated by U.S. imperialism, Khalil said that we should take care of our own first, and that the best thing we can do is not get involved in any more right-wing coups.
Regarding sanctions on other countries, Khalil cites Jimmy Carter’s argument that sanctions don’t help anyone but the dictators, commenting that “the mullahs of Iran are doing quite well.” While expressing concerns about sanctions’ impacts on ordinary people, she concludes, “I think sanctions have a role to play. First and foremost, we can lead best by treating our people best.”