Progressives from around the country should closely follow Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional primary because local democrats have the opportunity to send an amazing progressive candidate to Congress for a really long time. Like a decade or two. There are four candidates in the race and the field breaks down between two progressive candidates, an establishment democrat who will be with you a majority of the time, and a candidate that is out of touch with reality.
The three candidates who attended today’s debate was House Rep. Brendan Boyle, State Senator Daylin Leach and Dr. Valerie Arkoosh. The only candidate not to show was Marjorie Margolies. Early in the campaign, Marjorie Margolies seems to be out of touch with the race. Last fall, the former House Representative proposed that everything was on the table when it came to fixing social security and missed today’s debate for a Sunday afternoon interview on MSNBC. According to event organizers, Margolies was asked five times if she wanted to attend the event.
House Rep Brendan Boyle is the clear establishment candidate coming from the Philadelphia Democratic machine. Boyle has picked up numerous amounts of union endorsements from building trades and other unions, and should be considered as a possible candidate. In the debate, the state rep showed that he’ll vote on the right side of most issues, but throughout the debate I got the notion that Boyle won’t be on the forefront advocating for progressive issues. Boyle was on the right side of raising the minimum wage, supporting a public option, strengthening social security and other issues. The only issue that Boyle found himself on the opposite side of Dr. Arkoosh and Senator Leach was public education and his support for vouchers in Senate Bill 1. One of the issues that stood out to me was Boyle’s unwillingness to talk bold stances on issues when granted the opportunity.
An example of this “unwillingness” occurred at the end of the debate when moderator Will Bunch asked the candidates what would be one be one legislative accomplishment that you would work on while in Congress. Dr. Arkoosh and Senator Leach used the opportunity to make bold positions on issues they’ve been advocating for, which included getting everyone access to affordable health care or reforming gerrymandering laws, which is seen as a threat to our democracy. Representative Boyle used the opportunity to talk about electing a democratic Speaker of the House – which probably won’t be happening for a couple of election cycles because of gerrymandering – and to work on raising the standard of living. A second example of Boyle cowtailing to the audience or not offering a solution to the question brought to hand was when the moderator asked the candidates about supporting a fracking moratorium and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. During this part of the debate, Arkoosh and Leach took the opportunity to address the Keystone XL, both were opposed, and supported a moratorium on fracking. Arkoosh talked about methane’s climate impacts – released via fracking – has on the atmosphere and called for “our generation’s moonshot” when it comes to building renewable and green energy. Daylin used the time to talk about his environmental record in the Senate and how he’s been fighting against fracking for the past 4 years – his fight against Act 13. Boyle used this time to talk about global warming and being a part of a national caucus of green legislators. During his time, Boyle did not address if he supported a fracking moratorium and had to have the moderator ask the candidates if they were against the Keystone XL pipeline because Boyle forgot to address it during his time. When asked on the issue, Boyle said he was against the Keystone XL.
That willingness to make bold policy statements is what separated Dr. Valerie Arkoosh and State Senator Daylin Leach from State Rep Brian Boyle. Dr. Arkoosh obviously doesn’t have the legislative history as Daylin Leach, but she used her experience working as a doctor and helping patients – which were mainly single mother parents – to stake out positions on income inequality, single payer healthcare, the environment and public education issues. An example was early in the debate when the candidates were talking about raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and Arkoosh pointed out that $10.10 an hour is a living wage for a single adult living in the 13th district; not a single parent raising a child or family, which would be around $19.00 an hour. When talking about education policy and issues, Dr. Arkoosh took policy stands against the Common Core testing and school vouchers, and she was the only candidate to effectively argue for universal pre-k schooling.
Out of the three candidates, Daylin Leach was often the most vocal and boisterous on issues, and laid out a method to his madness. If you want a candidate who will be on the forefront of a lot of progressive issues, Daylin Leach is that candidate. He supports implementing a single payer healthcare system because as he said explained, the Affordable Care Act is a weigh station towards single payer health care. Another prominent issue that Leach jumped ahead on that the other candidates were hesitant was the outright legalization of marijuana. Knowing that he would be running for the House, Leach introduced the legislation to legalize marijuana a couple of weeks before he announced his candidacy, as Leach explained, that is part of his madness. This also shows how Leach is willing to take a stand on an unpopular issues for years before it is talked about.
If there is one thing about the next House Representative coming from PA’s 13th, it is the fact that they will be further to the left of Allyson Schwartz. Now it’s a question of how far to the left we want to go. Democrats in the 13th can play it safe and run with the establishment candidate who’ll cast the right votes most of the time. Or Democrats in the 13th can elect someone who’ll have the opportunity to be a Patty Murray, an Alan Grayson, or a Keith Ellison who are all out on the forefront of progressive issues and ideals.