Kristy Gnibus, a candidate running for the 16th district representative against Mike Kelly, spoke to students and faculty in a conversation hosted by the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA).
Gnibus, a native from Erie county was raised single handedly by her mother on 100 acres of farm land, learning the value of hard work at a young age.
At 20 years of age, Gnibus was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and expecting her first child.
“At 20 years old, I didn’t realize how much government plays a role in my life,” Gnibus said.
After Gnibus gave birth to her daughter, she was abruptly kicked off her mother’s health insurance because she became a parent herself. She had to forgo certain treatments, because she could not afford them.
“It was an eye opening experience,” Gnibus said.
With a daughter almost 16 years old and Gnibus cancer free for 14 years, healthcare is a huge issue for Gnibus.
“[Healthcare] isn’t working,” Gnibus said. “It doesn’t matter the party. There is a huge issue here in America that we have with healthcare, it is burdening middle class people.”
Attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania to pursue a degree in teaching, Gnibus said that there are no equal educational opportunities for not only her children, but for everyone’s children.
“I think ‘opportunity’ when I think of America,” Gnibus said. “How can we truly add to the economy when we are being weighed down by our school loans? There are so many things that we can do to make sure kids can go to school and make sure the weight of school isn’t on their backs.”
Gnibus believes that Western PA has incredible amounts of opportunity for the economy, but that they are behind when it comes to technology and renewable energy.
“What is our representative doing to make sure we are still in the game and families can thrive here,” Gnibus said.
Healthcare, education, and economy are what Gnibus was very adamant about when she first joined the race, and still is.
“We are seeing all the social injustices that have really been there but are coming to life,” Gnibus said. “Things have changed.”
The keynote transitioned into a Q&A session with the participants, starting off with the question, “we all know politics often bring the worst out of people, how do you handle the criticism or insults?”
Gnibus said that it helps to laugh at the criticism or insults, and to try to keep things as light hearted as possible.
“[The negative] things really only hurt me if it comes from people I know,” Gnibus said. “All the mean things people say with the party I’m affiliated with, it doesn’t hurt me a bit.”
Gnibus was also asked, “what promoted you to being a concerned and active citizen to being someone in the running?”.
Gnibus said that she was working towards her PhD in leadership and became interested in women studies and the impact that women leaders have. She started to become involved with her county party in Erie and was considering the thought of running for an elected position.
At one point, Gnibus wrote down everything in her life that had been impacted by the government and eventually attended a group for women that encouraged them to run for office.
“I walked into the room and there were all these elected people already, and I thought that I didn’t belong there,” Gnibus said. “After I left the meeting I felt that I could change the world. I couldn’t let it go, seeing all these women doing amazing things. I jumped onto something I put 110% in and here we are.”
Another question discussed was about Gnibus’ debate she had with Kelly Monday night and how she balances gender expectations.
Gnibus said that it was tough with the debate Monday night being her first. She said that she was nervous with expectations and that everything is different as a women.
“All someone really wants is visibility and to know what you really think, and I said that I was going to give them that,” Gnibus said. “People are always going to perceive you one way or another.”
As a women running for an elected position, some questions revolved around women’s issues, such as healthcare reform and reproductive rights.
Gnibus said that it doesn’t feel strange having a seat at the table and being involved in these issues. She found out that she had ovarian cancer at a Planned Parenthood, and said that her story is very connected to that issue.
“It’s incredibly important we have a diverse group of people when writing legislation,” Gnibus said. “It’s really stepping into someone’s shoes and saying we need to bring more people to the table. When you have legislators that are all cut from the same cloth, that’s a problem. This is America, we are diverse so we should have diverse leadership.”
Gnibus said that she is excited to run and be part of these important issues for herself and for women.
Also surrounding the idea of being a women, Gnibus was asked how being a women affects her campaign if at all, and what brining a women perspective to the 16th district will do.
Gnibus said that generally women raise less money than men for their campaigns, and believes it could be because women tend to have a competitiveness between each other, and feel guilt when asking for money.
“We are trying to unlearn to be on the same playing field,” Gnibus said.
Receiving plenty of comments on Facebook about her clothes, hair and makeup, Gnibus said that she receives a lot of words that have nothing to do with her ability to be a legislator.
Being a mother of two teenage girls, Gnibus said that they have become more involved in the campaign as the day draws closer, but that she never wants them to do anything involving her campaign or in their life that they feel uncomfortable with.
“I did not do this without them being onboard,” Gnibus said. “I just want them to be them, we don’t want that cookie cutter thing, we want real.”
Gnibus said that if the campaign experience had taught her anything, it is that there is no door that cannot be opened.
“People need a representative who is truly going to show up for them,” Gnibus said. “I am fighting for PA 16. I am fighting for my family. I am fighting for my two girls and their future. We need positive changes and this is the election that we are going to do it.”