By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
In exactly one week from this writing, Pennsylvanians will “go to the polls” to vote in one of the strangest elections that I, at least, ever remember.
I put, go to the polls, in quotation marks, because as our own Atiya Irvin-Mitchell tells us in today’s issue, going to the polls is going to be extremely hard if not impossible for a lot of folks. Of course, more than 225,000 folks in Allegheny County have decided to let the polls come to them and requested mail-in ballots. But so far, only about 18 percent (42,000 as of mid-May) have been returned.
This high-level disenfranchisement will cause many people not to vote on June 2. For a lot of folks, not voting is a huge deal. Which means they are exactly the exact type of person you want going to the polls. So, I urge everyone to do everything in your power to vote (you can still get a mail-in ballot sent by the end of the day). But, do not take unnecessary risks and do any thing to jeopardize your health. It is true that those who decided to limit your right to ballot access will win if you can’t vote. But let them have this small victory. It’s better to be alive for the next 20 election cycles so you can stick it to them and win the war.
Once you get to the polls, however, I want you to throw caution out the window. If you are able to vote in this primary it means you’ve made an effort to do so. Be sure to take full advantage of it.
This year, there is a strong slate of progressive candidates who the Democratic Party establishment in this county want you to gloss right over. They are progressive candidates based on every standard that the designation has come to stand for. Many are challenging incumbent officials who have long had the support of the party and, many of whom claim to now embrace progressive ideals. It’s important to know the real deal from those who have changed stances on a few key issues to try and gain progressive street cred.
Here are four races with strong progressive candidates who deserve your consideration on election day.
Jessica Benham, House District 36. This is probably one of the easiest races to start with. Benham is so progressive that every old-school, stuck-in-the-past party hack in the city’s southern neighborhoods teamed up to stop. These spirits of ward-politics past are so afraid of Benham taking office that there are three candidates standing in her way. Benham has been in this race the longest. She actually got to go out and talk to voters because she started running long before COVID-19 in an effort to take out closet-Republican and incumbent Harry Readshaw. Readshaw decided not to seek re-election this year and make no mistake about it, he did so to avoid running against and potentially lose to Benham. Readshaw then endorsed Heather Kass, a person whose social media rants about drug addicts, those on public assistance and support of Trump would make Stephen Miller’s Facebook page look like it was funded by the DSA. Benham is the logical choice by any measure. It’s a shame that a week before the election we’re still wondering why some people haven’t been able to recognize that.
Summer Lee, District 34. The campaign being run against Summer Lee is disgusting. Lee is one of the most active and outspoken state Reps from Western Pennsylvania and probably the entire state. She fights hard for marginalized people and communities. Yet, when it comes time for her reelection, the party turns their back on her. Well, not really, because they have never given her the proper respect and attention afforded to so many others. But this year, as an incumbent, the party, led by Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich FItzgerald spit in her face. Why? Because Summer Lee dares to challenge Fitzgerald’s mighty power and even mightier ego, especially when it comes to fracking and environmental matters. Let’s be honest, Rich Fitzgerald would probably let the gas companies frack under a highrise full of orphans, puppies and kittens if he decided it was a good deal. So, Fitzgerald gathered some unions, who have been convinced that Summer Lee is bad for business despite her tireless support for workers, and found a candidate, Chris Roland, willing to set up as many straw men and blow as many dog whistles as he can to try and oust Lee. Roland immediately went to the muck with a series of mailers that, let’s be clear here, LIE about her voting record in Harrisburg. He’s treating the voters like idiots by thinking that they’ll fall for his negative campaigning. Chris Roland only cares about getting elected and Rich FItzgerald only cares about flexing his political muscles to show how in control he is. But the last several election cycles have shown he’s not half as strong as he thinks he is and voting for Summer Lee makes that point loud and clear.
Emily Kinkead, District 20. The most baffling thing about this race is the level at which her incumbent opponent Adam Ravenstahl has pulled a Keyser Sose and convinced a lot of people that his past votes and positions don’t exist. This one doesn’t require a lot of examples, just one in fact. From the moment Ravenstahl took office, he has made no apologies about the fact that he was pro-life. He voted that way religiously up until the past year or so, when a lot of entrenched Democrats, thanks to some high-profile victories by progressive neophytes, began to realize their constituents are a bit more socially liberal than they liked to believe. The icing on the cake, however, came earlier this year when Ravenstahl actually WON the endorsement from Planned Parenthood’s political arm over Kincaid, a woman who has actually been on the frontlines lighting for reproductive rights. The endorsement caused a shitstorm of epic proportions and Planned Parenthood decided to endorse both candidates. It was a political compromise that never should have been made. That endorsement belonged to Kinkead and I know for a fact, many people affiliated with Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania weren’t happy about it and that’s why the compromise was reached. Kinkead is a progressice candidate who believes in the values she talks about. Ravenstahl is an entrenched Democrat who is “progressive” only when he’s told to be by party leadership.
Jerry Dickinson, United States Congress, District 18. First, I have to admit that I like Mike Doyle. I always have. I think he’s a good congressional representative and has always been willing to talk to me about issues facing the district and the country. Furthermore, he’s even a little further left than a lot of other Dems who’ve served for years in the same seat. But, Jerry Dickinson, the constitutional law professor from the University of Pittsburgh, is made a little differently and brings a unique, solidly progressive view to this election. He grew up in the foster care system and has lived in a world where social and financial inequities were a true fact of life. He is extremely liberal on every issue and he believes that the poorer parts of the district, notably black neighborhoods, need more attention from a representative. In addition to that, given the times that we live in, Dickinson would be an invaluable member of Congress because of his legal background, especially given that we have a president who violates the constitution on what seems like an hourly basis. In this race, I don’t believe it’s a slight to Doyle’s record and service to say that Dickinson deserves honest consideration in this race; that would be the case regardless of who the opponent is.