With all of the attention, and money, flowing into the Presidential primary, it can be easy to lose track of the many down ballot races progressives are fighting in. The outcome of these races have potentially massive consequences for the types of legislation that is able to get passed and the future of the Democratic party.
The Primaries for Progress team has chosen a slate of strong down ballot progressives in Pennsylvania who represent the future of the party. They are Green New Deal champions, Medicare for All advocates and criminal justice reformers. The path to a progressive future lies through people like them.
Nikil Saval (SD-01)
Nikil Saval moved to Philadelphia in 2011. He was a graduate student and volunteer union organizer at the time, and in the following years, he began a second career writing about urban planning and the history and future of work, which quickly led to authoring a book and co-editing the magazine n+1. He joined the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign, and after that primary, Saval helped transform the organizational efforts into the new grassroots group Reclaim Philadelphia. Reclaim scored two victories in 2018, when Saval successfully primaried longtime incumbent Ward 2 leader Ed Nesmith, and when Elizabeth Fiedler won the nomination for the 184th House District, beating machine-backed Jonathan Rowan, a staffer of state Senator Larry Farnese. This year, Saval is challenging Farnese for his seat.
Farnese currently holds SD-01, a South Philly senate district that has for decades been the epicenter of machine activity in the city, and, consequently, machine corruption. Farnese won the seat in 2008, while the previous senator was being convicted on a whopping 137 counts of fraud. Farnese has had his own close calls with the law. Only a couple years ago, he was acquitted on bribery charges because the prosecution couldn't prove a $6,000 gift to a local politician influenced that politician’s vote. Farnese is part of a system that holds power for power’s sake. But a lot has changed in the last decade, and Saval is running on a bold platform of a housing guarantee, a Green New Deal, and universal healthcare and childcare, which may be just what convinces SD-01 to finally leave the machine.
Bill Brittain (SD-43)
If you live outside Pittsburgh, chances are high you haven’t heard of the Costa family. If you do live in Pittsburgh, though, you’ve probably heard far too much of them. For years, five members of one white, conservative Democratic political family held important offices in an increasingly diverse and progressive Pittsburgh. Then, in 2017, Mik Pappas ran as a DSA-backed independent for a district judgeship and unseated Judge Ronald Costa. In 2018, state Representatives Paul and Dom Costa were roundly defeated in their primaries. And in 2019, Guy Costa retired from his powerful position in the mayor’s office. Jay is all that’s left now. He’s been a state Senator for twenty-four years, and is now the chamber’s Minority Leader. While not quite the conservative that his relatives were, Jay is nevertheless a pro-fracking, pro-machine politician.
Jay faces a primary challenge this year in Bill Brittain. Brittain runs a local business—a tree nursery in Shadyshide—while attending grad school and working with the Pennsylvania Farmers Union on legislation. He’s running on a platform of a living wage of $15/hour, banning new fracking wells, and fully publicly investing in Pittsburgh’s utilities, which is especially important in a city with a partially-privatized water system that has grown increasingly poisonous.
Emily Kinkead (HD-20)
Adam Ravenstahl is, first and foremost, a legacy politician, first elected in 2010, when his brother (himself the third in a line of elected Ravenstahls) was the mayor of Pittsburgh. Adam considered himself “pro-life” as recently as 2017, and while he may have since backed away from the label, his commitment to reproductive freedom is tenuous, as demonstrated by his repeated support for a statewide version of Stupak-Pitts, a twenty-week abortion ban, and regulating clinics out of existence. Ravenstahl also opposed gay marragaige until at least 2013, and is pro-fracking.
Challenging him is Emily Kinkead, a local attorney who’s running on a progressive platform that includes a $15/hour minimum wage, single-payer healthcare, aggressive environmental action, and support for reproductive rights. Her campaign has secured the backing of local progressive lawmakers (a category which is a recent addition to county government), as well as the Unite! PAC, a project of state Rep. Summer Lee. Unlike other incumbents on this list, Ravenstahl is no stranger to primary challenges. In the previous five cycles, he has survived four of them by margins of 4 to 20 percent. This might be the year when his luck—and his name—finally runs out.
Summer Lee (HD-34)
Summer Lee is the only incumbent on this slate. In 2018, she and Sara Innanmorato ran grassroots, DSA-endorsed campaigns against the conservative Costa cousins, and won by large margins, upending Pittsburgh politics. Lee’s victory made her the first black woman elected to Pennsylvania’s state legislature from the city. Her and Innanmorato’s bold, democratic socialist politics and their displacement of the Costas earned them enemies in the establishment, so, last year, both garnered primary challengers from their right. Innanmorato’s has since dropped out, but Lee’s—the pro-fracking Chris Roland, a town councilor from North Braddock—remains a threat. The Allegheny County Democratic Party has endorsed him as part of its efforts to rid the party of the left.
In the legislature, Lee has advocated for the downtrodden, fought powerful interests, and helped foster more politicians like her with her Unite! PAC. She has more than earned her reelection, especially considering who she’s up against.
Jessica Benham (HD-36)
Jessica Benham was barely out of college when she co-founded the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, and she currently serves as Director of Development. Shortly after founding PCAA, she began her graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, then joined in the ongoing grad student unionization efforts there. She would be the first openly LGBTQ woman in the Pennsylvania General Assembly as well as the first member of any state legislature in the country with Autism. When she first announced her campaign, she was challenging Harry Readshaw, one of the most conservative Democrats in the state house, known for his anti-gay, anti-choice, pro-gun, and anti-immigrant views.
And while Benham scared Readshaw into retirement, that’s not the end of it. Readshaw’s handpicked successor, Heather Kass, is worse, if anything, than he was. Kass’s social media history is littered with conservative and bigoted posts, supporting assault weapons and Donald Trump, attacking on the Affordable Care Act and on trans people, and wishing for the mass deaths of drug users. In most of America, that would be enough to end a Democratic candidacy, but the Allegheny County Democratic Party, now at total war with the progressive insurgency, has endorsed Kass anyway.
Kyle Boyer (SD-19)
For decades, Andrew Dinniman was one of the few Democrats with who was able to hold elected office in notoriously Republican Chester County, and in 2006 he became the first Democrat elected to the State Senate from the county since the 1920s. His method for success? Unrelenting, unflinching fiscal conservatism. At this point, he's the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, and it's not particularly close, but his district, like Chester County itself is safely blue, going for Clinton by over 15%.
Kyle Boyer, a teacher, West Chester NAACP leader, and elected member of the Tredyffrin/Easttown school board, launched a primary campaign on February 5, presenting himself as the progressive choice and focusing on education and criminal justice reform. Dinniman claimed to be confident of renomination at that point, and then dropped out of the race two days later. On his way out, Dinniman presented his hand-picked successor: his legislative staffer Don Vymazal. Dinniman secured Vymazal the endorsement of the Chester County Democratic Committee. Vymazal is running entirely on being the candidate of Dinniman and the Party - he doesn't even have any policy positions on his website.
The other candidate in the race is state representative and former West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta, who has the endorsement of governor Tom Wolf. While she isn't as frightening a prospect as someone running on the Dinniman legacy, her record speaks to the kind of quiet suburban authoritarianism that's all too common. As mayor she waged an anti-constitutional crackdown on street performance that extended to making it illegal for children to chalk sidewalks without a license, and as state representative, she's supported the ongoing criminalization of schoolchildren.
Kyle Boyer is the obvious choice in this race
Rick Krajewski (HD-188)
House District 188 sits in West Philadelphia, a predominantly black section of the city. It has a large youth population, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania, which lies in the district. Despite that, it has one of the longest serving representatives in the state, James Roebuck. While there are signs that Roebuck isn’t in tune with the youth of his district (he was one of the few votes to keep sexting a felony) and has gotten cozy with the Republican establishment of Harrisburg (he voted for their gerrymander), this primary election isn’t really about him. It’s about Rick Krajewski, his challenger.
Krajewski is an educator and artist who has spent years organizing for criminal justice reform in the city. He’s a leader in Reclaim Philadelphia, a grassroots, working class political organization that has helmed the city’s recent surge of progressives. In 2017, he led a team of hundreds to help elect Larry Kranser, the now-famous reform-oriented DA who helped catalyze a national movement to rethink the role of the criminal justice system. Krajewski is now running for the state house on a bold platform of reform, from criminal justice (against a death penalty supporter, no less), to the environment, to housing.
The adjective bipartisan can refer to any political act in which both of the two major political parties agree about all or many parts of a political choice. Bipartisanship involves trying to find common ground, but there is debate whether the issues needing common ground are peripheral or central ones.
Generally described as a progressive, Fetterman advocates for health care as a right, criminal justice reform, strengthening the U.S.–Israel relationship, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and legalizing marijuana.
|Chairperson||Jaime Harrison (SC)|
|Governing body||Democratic National Committee|
|U.S. President||Joe Biden (DE)|
|U.S. Vice President||Kamala Harris (CA)|
In modern political discourse, progressivism gets often associated with social liberalism. In the 21st century, a movement that identifies as progressive is "a social or political movement that aims to represent the interests of ordinary people through political change and the support of government actions".