Mckayla Wilkes, who is challenging House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in a primary, said Monday that her personal experiences within the criminal justice system inspired her primary bid to unseat the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House.
Wilkes argued during an appearance on Hill.TV that the current criminal justice system continues to work against minorities like herself.
“This system is not broken — it’s fixed because it’s working exactly the way it’s supposed to work, which is to keep people like me in the position that they’re in,” Wilkes said.
Wilkes revealed that she had been incarcerated as a teenager for skipping school and later while driving on a suspended license. She argued that both experiences have given her the ability to not only resonate with voters but take certain policy issues — like criminal justice reform — to heart.
“Just having that experience — knowing how our system hurts us,” she said. “For me, it was just time for us to lead from the inside out and to just have a regular person in Congress who has been through these things.”
Criminal justice reform has been a key policy issue under the Trump administration. Last year, Trump signed a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill into law after it overwhelmingly passed both the House and Senate.
The bill was aimed at reducing mandatory minimum sentences in certain instances and expands on “good time credits” for well-behaved prisoners looking for shorter sentences.
Wilkes is one of two progressive candidates challenging long-time incumbent Hoyer in the Democratic primary for the U.S. House. Briana Urbina previously announced her primary bid in November.
“People want the change and this is the campaign to do it,” Wilkes, said in response to why she is the stronger of the two progressive candidates to take on Hoyer.
Wilkes argued that her campaign has already has a winning coalition, boasting more than $100,000 in donations and a number of endorsements from a mix of local leaders and national figures like former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska).
However, the House candidate has yet a key endorsement from key progressive groups like Justice Democrats, who has yet to weigh in one way or another in the race.
Justice Democrats was brought to the national forefront after helping Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) beat incumbent House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley in the 2018 midterm elections.