Undaunted: Martina White

The Philly GOP leader talks politics, failed city leadership, and how her party will prevail despite setbacks

Martina White
Philly GOP Chairwoman Martina White views politics as a game, and, as a whole, she’s not playing it. | Image: Courtesy of Martina White

As a new day dawned across America with the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at its head, the body is still feeling its way through state and city legislatures, Left and Right, economic hardships – COVID and beyond – and coming to conclusions regarding its former president, Donald Trump. 

For Philadelphia’s GOP, and its chairwoman and state representative from the Northeast, Martina White, this is just another day at the races. Not because White takes policy or politics lightly. Rather, because – at age 32 – dealing with matters of state, and pleasing her constituents, has been her whole life’s work. Now in her third term, White – in office since 2015 in a special election to fill an open seat in the 170th District – became the first new Republican elected in Philadelphia in 25 years, a feat considering that working class area’s deep blue roots. For the most part, her rise then, before Trump got near the president’s office, stemmed from a centrist/populist sensibility of understanding the city’s working class’ travails (so labor loved her), of favoring the FOP (so cops loved her), and hating on Mayor Jim Kenney’s beverage tax (so everyone else loved her, save for progressive politicians and activists who weren’t fond of her dedication to Philly’s police or for opposing the city’s sanctuary city policies). 

As a financial advisor with a BS in Business Administration from Elizabethtown College, White has forever been keen on providing families and small business owners with the ways and means to accomplish their financial goals. During the small business struggles of the COVID quarantine/lockdown, hers has been the loudest voice in attempting to aid Philly restaurant owners across the city and other local entrepreneurs get their stories told and mounting bills covered. 

As a law-and-order candidate, White often locks horns with Philly DA Larry Krasner, and what she sees as his laziness in convictions of all manner of gun-related crimes.

One sizable chink in White’s armor came in her recent signing, along with dozens of additional Pennsylvania House Republicans, of a letter sent to Pennsylvania’s U.S. congressional delegation, claiming that the adjudication of issues of election fraud, dumbly and wrongly put forth by Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was insufficient. 

To quote President Biden: “C’mon, maaan.”

GOP Chairwoman Martina White comes from a long line of job creators and believes that entrepreneurial spirit is missing in the city. | Image: Courtesy of Martina White

I spoke to White the day after Trump’s second impeachment, and one week after the horrors of the attack on the Capitol.

A.D. Amorosi: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the activity on the Hill. What is your take on the House’s second impeachment of Trump based on charges of insurrection and incitement in regard to the Capitol’s siege?

Martina White: Anyone who commits a crime should be brought to justice. I’m confident in our authorities that they are assembling whatever evidence that is fact-based and available to them to make sure that process plays out.

Amorosi: Yes, but, are you comfortable in the notion that Trump did commit a crime?

White: I think that everyone is entitled to due process, and I don’t know that they allowed that process to take place. With any assertion that someone has committed a crime, they deserve the opportunity to defend themselves. That’s the American way. 

Image: Courtesy of Martina White

Amorosi: Taking Trump out of the equation for just one moment, what is your opinion of the transgression of the Capitol?

White: I’m a legislator, so I understand that people want to have their voices heard, and when they don’t feel as if their voices are heard, they tend to take action. We saw that across the whole of the last year, and we saw that in D.C. The whole purpose of democracy and our republic is that we are able to have these conversations, and diverse opinions, without resorting to violence. That’s where there has been a disconnect. People are sadly becoming more entrenched in their belief structures. We’ve seen that, in part, on social media, forcing people into these silos where they have information reiterated to them over-and-over tied to their core beliefs. That’s creating a further divide amongst our populace. People are unwilling to sit down and have the conversations that are needed. 

That is one of the things I pride myself on as a legislator. I’ll sit down and have that conversation. Maybe we disagree. But in the end, we know that we can get along…Are the results of this last election going to change? Absolutely not. President-elect Biden is going to be sworn in and everyone is going to recognize that. As Americans, I think that we are going to grow from all that happened with the election, and going forward that we have what everyone can know to be true: That we have free and fair elections. 

Amorosi: Focus on you and Philadelphia. You grew up in the neighborhoods you represent, Bustleton, Millbrook, Parkwood and Somerton, the 170th District.

White: DeMarco Drive over near Chalfont Playground.

Image: Courtesy of Martina White

Amorosi: When did policy become an interest, and political office a goal?

White: Politics is of minimal interest to me, even though I’m in this. Politics is a game, and as a whole, I’m not playing that game. Law and history have always been of great interest to me. I was on mock trial teams in high school and college – I even thought about going into law; instead I went into drafting laws. Public policy and helping people is, and always has been, a priority. I enjoy being able to listen to people’s stories – where they’re from, what they’re going through – and find ways in which to be a resource to them. That’s what my office does every single day. Help our community get better through legislation. It’s pretty neat.

Amorosi: Was a Republican, or conservative outlook, always what you were striving for?

White: I grew up with a Catholic upbringing, went to Catholic school, and my family comes from a long line of job creators. I’m very aware of what that role and that set of responsibilities is, as it pertains to the ability to provide people with career paths. In the City of Philadelphia, I think that has been missing for far too long, that entrepreneurial spirit. It’s here, but I believe that it has been stifled by the public policies of the Democrats. And that’s a shame, because a lot of opportunities that could help Philadelphia and Pennsylvania grow are out of reach. 

For instance, if the city would only recognize that the lengthy procedures that they have in place in regard to licensing, and the regulations that they have on small businesses, are very restrictive. Even the taxes are extreme. There is a reason that the city of Philadelphia is high in crime and rife with poverty. The Democrat policies just don’t work. If people would just consider what the Republicans have to offer, and not just go by what they have been told about the Republican party in the past – give us a chance to show what difference we could make – I think that they’d find themselves in a far better position than they are now. 

Amorosi: Are there particular restrictions that you and your fellow Republicans would like to most immediately see reversed, and, would you say that the mayor and the governor’s reaction throughout 2020, to COVID, has, in any way, exacerbated the problems you’re talking about?

White: Second question first, I believe that it has – the pandemic has exacerbated the worst of these situations. The shutdown that has taken place in Philadelphia has definitely crushed the low-income working class’ jobs, as well as that of restaurant workers, contractors. That’s been demolished by the overbearing and unnecessary reaction to COVID that the city has conducted over this past year. It’s sad to see.

Restaurant owners are on the defensive, trying to open their businesses safely – which everyone should do, and everyone should expect – while watching other businesses with far less restrictions, often at far greater capacities. Democrat leadership has been hypocritical throughout the pandemic, doing the very things that they tell others not to do. That overall has been frustrating for the public. It should be embarrassing for those public officials, but it seems to be their daily routine, I guess. 

So reduction of the city wage tax is something that we have attempted to get addressed at City Hall, to no avail. Going to L&I and going through their stringent regulations – some of which are helpful and necessary – how long some of them take to get approved, and the back-and-forth of repeated visits when problems can be addressed and taken care of immediately for the business: These are just a few of the issues. It’s just this constant battle that everyday people have with this administration, just to make a living, if you’re a small business. It should not be this way. The city should work with the public, with the small business owners, to make Philadelphia a better place to live, work and be safe. If you don’t help protect them, and provide a better environment for small businesses to flourish, workers won’t actually have a place to work. 

Image: Courtesy of Martina White

Amorosi: You moved through the system, quickly, to get where you are at the age of, what, 32? How do you believe that you got to where you are in a district that is so traditionally blue, it’s cobalt?

White: Hard work. And the fact that I genuinely care about the community that I serve, and I believe that they get that. I’m willing to do what it takes to help improve that community. And keep improving it. And working with whomever I have to in order to get those improvements accomplished, policies changed, or problems solved. 

Right now, things are so divisive and politicians more concerned about driving a wedge through people and ideas, that is hard work. That’s not healthy for our commonwealth or our country. We’re stuck in the middle of the Left and the Right, and just want to have a better future for everyone – fighting back and forth won’t get us there.

Amorosi: Talk law and order. Where do you stand on police defunding?

White: I’m not for it.  I don’t agree with defunding the police, and, if anything, need more resources so they can improve the jobs they’re doing on the streets. If they don’t have proper gear on their uniform or on their person, how are they supposed to do their jobs well?

Amorosi: How would you describe your relationship with, and to, Larry Krasner? I know you helped see laws passed to give the state’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, and his office equal jurisdiction in prosecuting certain gun-related crimes.

White: I think that the district attorney’s office is in jeopardy right now. There’s a person who doesn’t prosecute, or does so in a way that isn’t under the sentencing guidelines in Philadelphia. He says he is promoting justice, but allows people in his office to make comments that are racist and stay on his team. I find a lot of what he does appalling.

Yet, he was elected, though I don’t think that will last for much longer. I think that this year is going to hopefully be the end of his reign, given the present circumstances around gun violence in our city. The reason that I promoted a legislation to address gun violence in Philadelphia is because it is unfortunately thriving, more-and-more each day. We have mothers losing their innocent children who happen to just be bystanders. This man has the opportunity to do something about that, but refuses. Unfortunately, those criminals are not prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law under his gaze. There’s a lot of concern about that. I know that the previous police commissioner [Richard Ross Jr., who served from 2016–2019] wanted more to be done, in that regard, and had more tools to do something about it. I had hoped that, along with the proper legislation, we could address that more stringently. I feel very strongly about the issue of illegal guns on our streets, and people not getting prosecuted for those crimes when charged. Whatever we can do as a legislative body to fix that, we should. 

Amorosi: Is it fair to say that you and your office have become a repository for Larry Krasner’s blunders?

White: I can tell you that constituents and victims of crimes contact my office seeking recourse. They want to know what they can do to help victims of violent crimes – friends, family, themselves. They want to be notified as to how the decisions in the DA’s office are being made, especially when they, and we, believe it can be prevented. They want justice. This city’s homicide rate is something that we have to work to decrease. I want to see a DA that fights for victims of crime. We already have defense attorneys to fight for the rights of criminals. There has to be balance. If not…you get what you see on the streets right now.

Amorosi: Last week, it was announced that the concept of introducing safe injection sites into the city would not go through. You were adamantly against those sites from the start. Discuss.

White: That is a huge win for not only Republicans across the city that fought that issue, but for communities who fought against having them in their backyard. It’s a huge win for law and order. We draft laws because people want those laws to be there. No matter what your intentions are, good or bad, the laws must be abided by. Just because you think an injection site is good, doesn’t mean it is a rationale for breaking the law. You have to fight back. This is the institution of democracy at its best. I know that a lot of people in this city are relieved that this isn’t happening. 

Amorosi: The future of Philly’s GOP: We know Al Schmidt is leaving, but who are the old cats you’d like to see stick around, and who are the new faces you want to see forwarded?

White: We’re happy about the candidates that we pushed forward, especially for the state House seats. Obviously, we wanted to win back one of those seats, but we believe we’re making inroads. Lisa Goldman-Riley [ran for Pennsylvania House of Representatives to represent District 194 and lost in November], John Nungesser [lost his bid for Pennsylvania House of Representatives to represent District 177 in November]: These are candidates who sparked a light in their respective districts. They are bringing awareness of the issues to their constituents, and the realities that many of those in elected office on the Democrat ticket have not done their jobs well enough, some of them having been in office for so long, at that. We want to make it so that we attract the best candidates and win. 

Amorosi: How do you plan to win? How does the GOP in Philly become relevant again?

White: First off, I would say that we are relevant. Just the backlash that we’re hearing from when the riots took place in the city this summer. When we speak out, people take note. When riots and looting occurred in the city, the mayor just stood by and watched. Why was he allowing that to happen? We stood up and condemned it. We asked why the National Guard was not called out. We took steps to defend and protect this city. Those are key and critical moments in the public arena where we step up to the plate and help the community come together, to have their messages be heard. Like with the safe injection sites. The way that we are going to win is by building our local party, grassroots, from the ground up – having the tough conversations.

Amorosi: You mentioned the protests and the protestors of summer. That community and its supporters had, and have, genuine concerns and genuine frustrations about how they have been treated, in the past and the present. Theirs wasn’t a violent action. It was a necessary action – the only way to be heard. How do you and the Republican party answer that?

White: Violence is never the answer. Period. Burning police cars. Breaking into buildings. Punching people. That is inappropriate, and if we can’t agree on that…I find that a very basic premise of being able to have a functioning democracy. Resorting to violence or other activities that break the law – that’s a very difficult premise to not agree upon.

Amorosi: What do you see as your agenda for 2021 through 2022? What’s at the top? What’s at the bottom?

White: My legislative agenda? A few things. A focus on ensuring that our health department is helping to oversee that vaccination distribution is happening properly, and that people can access it. To get better-paying jobs for our commonwealth and our region and my district, specifically. To do that, however, we have to invest in better infrastructure at a national and statewide level – that will create jobs and help our economy. Small businesses, including restaurants, can use a real hand getting through the pandemic and its after-effects. 

Finally, education. The focus there has been lax. Last year was all about the pandemic. This year, we have to make sure that our children can get back to school, in-person, and safely, and without political agendas. We can’t have organizations coming into our schools, indoctrinating our children with their political beliefs. It isn’t fair to parents and their children. Schools should be indifferent to politics – unfortunately not the case, when you consider that kids are being pulled out of classrooms so that they can protest in the streets of Philadelphia. It’s happened in the past, it’s inappropriate, and we have to make certain that government isn’t pushing public school children into any particular political agenda.   

@ADAMOROSI

  • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

    A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.