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Sultana gives Freeman rare battle in 136th House District primary election

Taiba Sultana and Bob Freeman
Brian Myszkowski
Easton Councilwoman Taiba Sultana, left, and state Rep. Bob Freeman square off earlier this year in a debate. They now face each other in the Democratic primary election for the 136th State House District

EASTON, Pa. — Longtime state Rep. Robert Freeman will face challenger Taiba Sultana in a Democratic primary this month that essentially will decide who takes the 136th District seat in the fall.

The 136th District, which includes Easton, Freemansburg, Glendon, Hellertown, West Easton, Wilson, Williams Township, the eastern part of Lower Saucon Township and southern part of Palmer Township, has been a near-guaranteed win for Freeman over the past few decades.

Sultana aspires to bring in a new wave of priorities and approaches to issues that have affected the area.

The question is, are the district's constituents willing to take a chance on a new candidate, or are they satisfied enough with Freeman’s performance to again extend his time in office?

The Pennsylvania primary election is Tuesday, April 23, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Political backgrounds

Freeman first was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1982, and served six two-year terms before leaving after an unsuccessful 1994 campaign for State Senate.

From 1995-97, Freeman was executive director of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and Democratic executive director of the Senate Local Government Committee 1997-98.

After returning to the House of Representatives in 1998, Freeman has consistently won re-election to his seat.

Sultana was elected to Easton City Council in 2021 and currently serves as the chairwoman of its Administration Committee.

In addition, Sultana serves on Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

Previously, she worked as the regional organizing director for the New PA Project and was appointed to the Pennsylvania Commission of Higher Education by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Freeman's top priorities

State Rep. Bob Freeman
Courtesy Bob Freeman
State Rep. Bob Freeman has announced he will seek re-election

Freeman has said he will continue to focus on “representing the district and working on behalf of working families and senior citizens.”

He said priorities for the coming term include securing additional grants to support local economic opportunities and address environmental concerns, and infrastructure issues including sewer and water lines and traffic-calming measures.

“[I will continue] representing the district and working on behalf of working families and senior citizens.”
State Rep. Robert Freeman

Freeman also said he is working on measures addressing “everything form calling for an increase in the minimum wage… to legislation to help in the way of promoting affordable housing."

Also, programs "that would make sure that a person's property tax would never exceed a certain set percentage of household income.”

A well-known supporter of housing initiatives, Freeman continues to promote a “lease-to-purchase program which would provide a path to homeownership for families that currently rent the home, and to do so in such a way that they'd be able to obtain that home and build up the equity and stability within their own neighborhood.”

Freeman also said he wants to pursue better public options for health care, which would let patients have increased access to health services regardless of their insurance provider.

Beyond that, Freeman said he wants to ensure “smart growth,” encouraging proper development of the area to reduce the negative impacts of things such as warehouse development.

Also, to enact environmental protections focusing on protecting farmland and address climate change through the practical use of renewable energy.

According to Freeman, he also is “reaching out to voters and making the connections to seek their support, and to talk about some major issues that will come down the path as we progress into the next session.”

Sultana's top priorities

Taiba Sultana
Courtesy of Taiba Sultana for Pa.
Easton City Councilwoman Taiba Sultana.

Sultana stated that her top priority is affordability, and “the crises faced by working families and seniors.”

"No one should have to live paycheck-to-paycheck nor choose between paying bills or putting food on the table," Sultana said in a statement.

"Likewise, no one should be denied health care simply because they cannot afford it.”

"No one should have to live paycheck-to-paycheck nor choose between paying bills or putting food on the table. Likewise, no one should be denied healthcare simply because they cannot afford it,”
Taiba Sultana

Alleviating the tax burden on seniors is an integral goal, Sultana said, and she said she intends to implement a property tax program that would permit people 65 and older with a credit equal to 50% of their tax bill, capped at $10,000.

Additionally, Sultana said she aims to provide 50% assistance in rental housing for seniors and disabled people.

Sultana also is pursuing a lease-to-purchase program to encourage sustainable housing, intending to make home ownership easier for those who now are limited to renting.

Furthermore, she plans to pursue a program to acquire and renovate housing through state initiatives to combat blight and increase housing.

Cutting fossil fuel subsidies, which Sultana claims could save $3 billion, would help fund education initiatives — particularly for public schools, she said.

Addressing the minimum wage, Sultana said the current goal to set it at $15 is inadequate.

“I am committed to fighting for a $21.95 minimum wage and will push for a referendum if Republicans maintain control of the Senate,” she said.

Regarding women’s rights, Sultana said she would prioritize removing the state's 23-week abortion ban, and advocate for bodily autonomy.

“I will prioritize funding for universal free contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies and promote a safer and more informed society,” Sultana said.

Following the forum

In early March, both candidates appeared in a community engagement event held by the South Side Civic Association at Greater Shiloh Church Chapel.

Freeman and Sultana each had an opportunity to speak on their focal points and plans before taking written questions from the crowd, ranging from basic elements of what the job of a state representative entails to stances on hot-button issues.

The candidates shared common ground on a few positions — housing and minimum wage among them.

“I thought that that event went well, I thought I was able to come across with a good, detailed understanding of a lot of the issues that were raised at that event."
State Rep. Bob Freeman, D-136th District

“I thought that that event went well, I thought I was able to come across with a good, detailed understanding of a lot of the issues that were raised at that event," Freeman said.

"And I think I successfully touched on all those concerns that were raised in the course of the dialogue that went through that forum."

Asked about how she felt in the wake of the event, Sultana said she advocates “for being a voice for all, not just a few.”

"This is why I have garnered support from both working people and senior citizens," she said. "Working individuals embrace social justice activism as it drives progress, empowerment and societal transformation.

"It benefits not only marginalized communities but the entire society by advocating for fairness, equality and justice for all.

“Social justice activism aims to tackle systemic inequalities, discrimination and injustices rooted in factors like race, gender, age, socioeconomic status and other marginalized identities.

"Its core principles align with the fundamental values of political philosophy, emphasizing equality, liberty and fairness.”