Over the last two years, parents across America have been disturbed by COVID-19 policies and government overreach. Some parents have stood by and wondered what to do, while others have found ways to be heard. Wendy Fink is a York County mom who began to attend school meetings a year ago to protest the mandatory masking of schoolchildren, but her interest in political change has expanded far beyond that. She is now a Republican candidate for the 94th District of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, running against a 29-year incumbent.
The Lancaster Patriot recently had the opportunity to speak with Fink about her unexpected journey from mask meetings to the campaign trail.
Fink and her husband Jason live in a modest house near Red Lion, next to her parents and her childhood home. Home is a special place to her, since it is where she has spent most of her life. Two decades ago, she worked to put herself through Millersville University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education. When marriage and children followed college, she postponed a teaching career. For the last twenty years, she has worked as a full-time mom and has not regretted her choice.
However, her love of home and family has now taken her out of the house and into the world of politics. For a long time, she has been discouraged by changes in society and the tightening of government controls. But even two years ago, if someone had suggested that she might run for office, she would have said they were crazy. Yet things have changed, and the final straw was how she and others felt ignored by her representative, Stan Saylor (R-94, serving part of York County).
Over the past year, Fink was increasingly frustrated by Saylor’s detachment. She knew several people who were concerned about the expansion of Modern Landfill, a York-based waste disposal service, but whose messages to him were not returned. She had a similar experience when she asked him to attend the school meetings. “He didn’t need to speak for us,” she said. “We could do that ourselves. We just wanted him to stand with us.” But several emails and phone calls went unanswered. He eventually responded and promised to come, but a last-minute emergency prevented him.
Fink first thought about running for the state House while volunteering at the 2021 Republican primaries. She approached Saylor and asked him how the school situation was going. Fink said that although he gave her all the right answers, she could sense that he did not want to talk. She watched him pass through the crowd and give the same packaged answers to other parents. That’s when she joked to a friend, “I want his job.” People went to him for answers and help, she explained, but he walked away. “People want to be heard,” she said. “They want to know that they are cared about and that their opinion matters.”
Fink became captivated by politics that day. Helping at the polls had brought unexpected pleasure, and she began to find other ways to get involved. She and her husband began to attend monthly meetings of concerned citizens, where she met Jim Fitzgerald, who is now her campaign manager. When they had gotten to know each other, Fitzgerald suggested that they get seats on district committees or work as poll judges.
As time passed, she could not forget her comments on election day, and she told Fitzgerald she wanted to run in the 2022 primary. He thought that the timing was poor and that she would have better chances when Saylor retired. But she couldn’t shake the idea, and she began to pray about it with her family. Prayer and counsel convinced them that she should enter the race. In November, she failed to win a spot on the school board, but the experience fueled her desire to seek state office.
The Fink campaign is now in an uphill sprint. She has a growing group of volunteers who help out with things like visiting hundreds of homes each week and running her official website, wendyfink.com, while she concentrates on going door to door. In spite of generous donors, she knows she can’t outspend someone who is in his 15th term. She has signs and fliers, but no one knows who she is, and she doesn’t expect people to trust someone they haven’t met. “And they shouldn’t,” she said, “because that’s how we got ourselves into this situation.”
Her headquarters is in Red Lion’s historic post office building, where she has hosted events that explain the Constitution and teach people how to take action. At a GOP meeting in York, she gave the first public speech of her life. She felt that she did well, even though her words irritated some. She told the Patriot, “If you give me a microphone, I’m going to speak the truth.”
Although she is the underdog in this race, her concern for the average citizen keeps her going. The relationships that she has formed are a reward in themselves. She treasures the front-porch and sidewalk conversations. Many people have said that they have felt ignored, but that she listens. She is invigorated as strangers make donations and acquaintances become volunteers.
Reaching out to voters isn’t always hard work. One of Fink’s favorite stories is of a man who berated her when she came to his door. “What do you think you’re going to do?” he asked. “Can you lower the gas tax? Can you stop the border? You can’t do anything!” She was able to talk with him and defuse the situation, and she reminded him, “The alternative is to sit on the couch and do nothing.” Ten minutes later as she prepared to leave, the man offered her his hand. This man stands out in her memory because he was so passionate. “That’s what we need,” she said. “We need people on fire!”
If she makes it to Harrisburg, her primary desire is to stop career politicians. She is disgusted by the pay, the perks, and the costly pensions of lawmakers. “If you’re going to be a public servant,” she said, “then be a public servant. You should be making what the people make, not double, triple what they make!” To set things straight, she has several goals: creating term limits, getting rid of perks and eliminating expensive pensions. She said that no one should retire from public service on $130,000 a year. Fink has pledged to serve no more than four terms, to decline a pension and to vote against government pay raises.
She also believes that the school system needs to be “completely revamped.” Since her days in college, education has been important to her. At various times, she has taught in public, private and home-school settings, and she has seen how education is affected by each of these environments. She believes that in many cases, public schools and agencies are doing worse than no good — they are harming children while emptying the pockets of taxpayers.
Fink, who does not have a law degree or years of business experience, has at times been asked what qualifies her to be a representative. She is quick to say that she is not qualified — at least by the usual standards. But since a representative’s duty is to represent the people, she believes that she is well-suited for the job. She explained, “I don’t have any connections, I don’t owe anybody anything. I just want to help people.” Her campaign manager agrees that she is qualified because she “speaks from the heart.”
The hardest part of her campaign is its effect on her family “I’ve always been a stay-at-home mom,” she said, “and now I’m a not-at-home mom.” The youngest Fink girls are in junior high, old enough to do many things on their own, yet young enough to feel her absence. Fink gives her time to them when she is home, and she keeps them involved with campaign events.
Although this has been a painful season for her as a mom, the rigors of the campaign have made a good marriage better. Her husband has enjoyed working alongside her as a volunteer, and he is also trying to be at home more and fill in for her there, since for years he worked to provide for the family while she stayed at home. “It’s hard,” she admitted, “but we believe this is what we are supposed to be doing. It has made us stronger as a couple.”
The Pennsylvania primary is May 17, and Fink has much to do before then to succeed — but she believes she has a chance, since people are looking for someone to represent them. To really represent the people, a politician should be one of the people. “Do your job, make what the people make, and live like a common person,” she said. “It seems like a no-brainer to me.”
Freelance writer Nathan Birx has written articles for The Lancaster Patriot since March 2022. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.