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Pennsylvania Representative Ryan Mackenzie, from right, his mother, Representative Milou Mackenzie, and Milou’s mother in 1999.

Mother, Son Serve Together in Pennsylvania House

By Kevin Frazzini | May 5, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

When Pennsylvania freshman Representative Milou Mackenzie (R) took the oath of office in January to begin the 2021-22 session, there was a familiar face in the chamber.

Her son and six-term Representative Ryan Mackenzie (R) was being sworn in that day, too.

Ryan represents House District 134, which borders Milou’s, the 131st, just south of Allentown.

The two, who are thought to be the first mother-son pair elected to serve together in the Pennsylvania House, often share the hour-and-a-half drive to Harrisburg. “We usually just spend the time catching up on personal and work issues,” Ryan says.

Family members serve together in other state legislatures, though more commonly in separate chambers. In South Dakota, Lana Greenfield (R) serves in the House; her son Brock Greenfield (R) is in the Senate. Ohio Representative Gayle Manning (R) serves with her son Senator Nathan Manning (R). And Montana Senator Keith Regier (R) has two children, Matt and Amy, serving in House.

For Mother’s Day, we connected with the Mackenzies to ask what it’s like working together and what they have in store for this year’s holiday.

Ryan, what was your reaction when you found out your mom was running? Did you expect her to win?

I was somewhat surprised. She had always been interested in politics and had been politically active, but she had never really expressed an interest in running for office herself. I let her know, if she decided to run, I would of course be fully supportive of that decision.

You never know what the outcome will be when you start a campaign, but my mom is a hard worker. I knew she would give it her all and commit the time and effort necessary by knocking on doors and raising money.

Milou, how did Ryan’s work in the legislature influence your decision to run? How did he help you with your campaign?

I have always admired Ryan’s dedication to his job as a representative. Since we share a lot of the same values, I felt I could step up and try to represent the people in my district just like he had done in his district for years. Even though Ryan was elected before I was—I jokingly say, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”—I am sure his upbringing, which I was a big part of, helped shape who he is as a representative.

Ryan clearly laid out the steps to run a successful campaign. The outline he presented was very helpful because I was a first-time candidate.

What do other family members think?

Milou: I think they think it is a little amusing. They thought that the two of us were actually the least likely in our family to want to be in the public spotlight.

What’s it like working alongside each other in the legislature? Are there any challenges?

Ryan: We have a lot of fun working together. We are close friends, and we used to talk about politics and my job often before she was elected. Now that we serve together in Harrisburg, I don’t have to give her the background on the issues we are facing because she is fully up to speed. We enjoy carpooling together to Harrisburg and sitting together on the House floor as we debate the issues.

Milou: It has been an absolute delight working with Ryan. As a new member, it has been very helpful to have someone explain all the procedural things that happen on the floor, and to have someone to answer my questions at any time of the day.

You represent neighboring districts. Do you always agree on the issues?

Milou: Generally speaking, yes. Our constituents face many of the same concerns. However, we know that we are elected to represent our respective districts. Ryan also hasn’t lived with me for 20 years, so I don’t tell him what to do—and he doesn’t try to tell me what to do, either.

Ryan: Since my mom did raise me, we have many of the same values and agree on many issues. We have discussed a lot of other issues that haven’t yet come before the legislature, though, and we know we do have some differences of opinion on public policy issues.

What’s your best Mother’s Day memory?

Milou: While the children were growing up, my two sons would join me and my mother for a day of activities. It would usually start with church and a lunch together. I always appreciated the time we spent together and a simple gift of flowers and a card.

Ryan: One year, we booked a spur-of-the-moment trip to California for Mother’s Day since my brother had to be in Los Angeles on a work trip. We took my mom to the interior design center (that was her profession before the Legislature), we went to Disneyland and a number of well-known restaurants where we even bumped into TV personality Anthony Bourdain.

What are your plans for Mother’s Day this year?

Milou: It will be a somewhat low-key Mother’s Day this year, but we will likely continue our tradition of spending the day together. And I look forward to adding another card to my collection—I keep them all!

What else should people know about your districts?

Milou: This area is composed of very many good people who care about issues and each other.

Ryan: Having grown up in the area, it is a delight to represent the district that has given so much to me over the years. I am a ninth-generation Pennsylvanian (my mom is eighth generation). It is a tremendous honor for both of us to represent the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and doing so together makes it even more enjoyable.  

Kevin Frazzini is an editor in NCSL’s Communications Division. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photos courtesy of Representative Ryan Mackenzie.

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