Abortion rights. Weapons control. Closely contested races for Congress and Pennsylvania governor.
None of that is reason to do anything different at Musikfest, the 10-day festival of tunes, food and drink that kicked off with a preview night Thursday and continues through Aug. 14 in Bethlehem.
“We run the festival every year,” said Kassie Hilgert, president and CEO of Musikfest’s nonprofit parent, ArtsQuest. “We experienced this in 2016, ’18, you name it. There’s always a political situation going on.”
As the Lehigh Valley continues to cement its role as a population center for candidates to appeal to, according to one expert, Musikfest is a place the campaigns won’t seek out, according to Hilgert.
“We don’t have political campaigns or candidates on the festival grounds,” she told lehighvalleylive.com. “We have a long-standing policy for this. It doesn’t really add to the atmosphere of the festival.”
“People have been quite respectful over the last several years,” she added.
The ban on campaigning only applies to festival sites, she said. There are areas near the festival, such as along Main Street, that ArtsQuest does not control during Musikfest, where property owners can allow policy, she noted.
ArtsQuest distinguishes between campaigns for office and rallies or protests for causes that matter to people. It is described in the “Festival Rules” on musikfest.org:
“ArtsQuest and Musikfest fully respect the right of individuals to peacefully assemble to share their views and opinions,” the rules state, going on to say “to accommodate groups wishing to assemble peacefully, designated areas for assembly are been established” at:
ArtsQuest asks that anyone congregating does not disturb festival goers or vehicular or pedestrian traffic.
“But no, we absolutely believe in freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and we’ve made room for that,” Hilgert said.
Political science professor Chris Borick, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said there is no shortage of interest in both issues and Lehigh Valley voters in this midterm election cycle.
“The Lehigh Valley’s impact on state races continues to grow as the population grows for the area,” he said. “Its nature as a competitive swing area makes it attractive for both parties to come and work for votes.”
During the primary season, candidates for the contested Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in particular made a point of visiting the region. David McCormick kicked off his campaign with conservative star U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays, while Dr. Mehmet Oz, who would go on to win, also swung through to meet voters.
Borick said he expects the attention to continue as Oz, a household name through his television show, faces Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. The Lehigh Valley also features a race Republicans hope to win in their effort to wrest control of Congress, with incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Susan Wild seeking re-election for a second term against GOP challenger Lisa Scheller in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, which now covering Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and parts of Monroe counties.
“Book it: They’re going to be here,” Borick said of candidates or high-profile surrogates visiting, pointing to Monday’s stop by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to tout infrastructure funding on behalf of President Joe Biden.
“He can go a lot of places,” Borick said. “He’s coming to the Lehigh Valley. It’s with an eye to the importance of the region.”
The governor’s race in Pennsylvania appears to crystallize one of the most divisive issues in America: abortion rights. Republican Sen. Doug Mastriano is facing Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro to take control of the power to sign or veto bills from the Republican-controlled Legislature, Borick said.
“In Pennsylvania, the governor’s race, I can’t think of another race in the entire country where this issue will be more central because we know that the next governor will have an incredibly important role in deciding what direction Pennsylvania takes into account reproductive rights,” he said.
For voters who want to see abortion rights restricted, a Mastriano administration would likely work with the GOP-held Legislature to make that happen, while if Shapiro is elected, “the veto pen will be broken out quickly and often,” Borick said.
“Their differences are there and it really matters because they will be able to influence what happens,” he said. “It’s not just a lot of rhetoric; it is true.”
The role of states in deciding reproductive rights was highlighted in June when the US Supreme Court overturned the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, sending the decision on whether to allow abortions to statehouses across the nation. Just last week, in the first test of voter sentiment following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, Kansas voters on Tuesday sent a resounding message about their desire to protect abortion rights by rejecting a ballot measure that would have allowed the republican. -controlled legislature to tighten restrictions or ban the procedure outright.
The court’s abortion ruling came just a day after the justices, in a major expansion of gun rights following a series of mass shootings, said Americans have the right to carry firearms in public for self-defense, a ruling likely to lead to more people being legally armed. .
Bethlehem, traditionally a Democratic stronghold, was the scene of rallies in June both to end gun violence and preserve access to abortions.
“There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed,” Borick said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Kurt Bresswein can be reached at email@example.com.
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