What to consider for Pennsylvania’s primaries
State politicsHere's what you should know before the primaries May 15

What to consider for Pennsylvania’s primaries

This year's primary elections focus on races for Congressional seats and lieutenant governor. Polls open May 15.

The Pennsylvania primaries are on May 15. (Photo from public domain)
The Pennsylvania primaries are on May 15. (Photo from public domain)

Pennsylvania’s primaries take place May 15, and while Governor Tom Wolf (D) is unopposed by Democratic challengers, several Republicans are vying to unseat him in the Nov. 6 general election.

Laura Ellsworth, a prominent Pittsburgh attorney, Paul Mango, a former paratrooper and consultant, and state Sen. Scott Wagner (R-District 28) have provided a heated matchup.

Regarding the minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25 per hour, both Mango and Wagner do not support raising the benchmark; however, Wagner sponsored Senate Bill 865, which calls for a gradual rise in hourly wage to $8.75 by July 1, 2020.

In terms of property taxes, both Mango and Wagner are proponents of school choice and support the elimination of school property taxes. Ellsworth has called for freezing property taxes on people who have paid them in Pennsylvania for at least 35 years. Her campaign has claimed that the move will protect seniors living on a fixed income.

Where this contest, like others before, has generated great interest is from viewers. In a bid playing to his role as a political outsider, as well as the owner and operator of Penn Waste, a trash business, Wagner used a commercial to say, “I’ve taken out trash before, career politicians are going to be real easy.”

Mango made headlines by calling Wagner, in a televised spot, such terms as “toxic,” “slumlord,” sleazy bail bondsman,” “greedy,” “deadbeat dad” and “violent.”

“For entertainment, readers might want to google the ads to see how low politicians can go in terms of throat slashing,” said Pittsburgh attorney Cliff Levine, a former member of President Barack Obama’s national campaign finance committee.

Also interesting is the race for lieutenant governor, added Levine.

Of local note is John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock who in 2016 lost to Katie McGinty in the Democratic primary election for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat.

Fetterman told Ballotpedia that his goals are ensuring Wolf has “the strongest running mate to help him get re-elected in November” and serving as a “champion for our forgotten communities all across Pennsylvania by: fighting for a livable wage ($15 an hour), fighting for common sense gun control, advocating for full legalization of marijuana, combating the opioid epidemic, protecting a woman’s right to choose, fighting for Medicare-for-all, among many other progressive issues.” He also promotes criminal justice reform and combating mass incarceration.

In the 38th senatorial district, an area including northern suburbs such as Fox Chapel and Ross Township, as well portions of the city like East Liberty and Highland Park, Stephanie Walsh and Lindsey Williams are seeking to win the Democratic bid.

On the minimum wage, Walsh would immediately raise the sum to $12 per hour and gradually increase it to $15 per hour. Williams backs immediately increasing the amount to $15 per hour for large companies “and an adjusted minimum-wage raise for small businesses,” the Pittsburgh City Paper reported.

“You’re seeing a little race to see who can carry on progressive credentials and pro-union credentials,” said Levine, noting that the Republican contest features candidates who are both “trying to run to the right.”

In that race, incumbent Randy Vulakovich is being challenged by Jeremy Shaffer, president of the Ross Township Board of Commissioners.

Perhaps the most recognizable of names in the upcoming primary will be ones which generated national attention a few months earlier.

Republican Rick Saccone, who narrowly lost to Democrat Conor Lamb in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, will be facing off against state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-District 37) to represent the newly redrawn 14th congressional district.

“It’s an interesting race because a lot of people are blaming Saccone for losing to Lamb, as opposed to Lamb winning, and that’s becoming a carryover to this election,” said Levine.

As for Lamb, because all his Democratic primary challengers withdrew, he will be focused on November’s contest against Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-District 12) in the newly redrawn 17th congressional district.

“Keith Rothfus is a much more tenacious candidate than Rick Saccone,” said Jon Tucker, a member of the leadership council of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “There is a tremendous amount of dissonance in the suburban Allegheny County and especially southern parts of the Allegheny County because [Lamb] is pulling a lot of Republicans who are socially moderate to liberal, and maybe fiscally conservative.”

Whereas Lamb’s current district overwhelmingly voted for President Donald Trump, the redrawn district he’s running in now only gave Trump a margin of 3 percentage points.

“I think it will be another close race,” said Tucker. “You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I think Keith Rothfus has done a superior job representing the district.”

Heading into the polling station, even though Trump’s name is not on the ballot, he is going to loom large for voters, said Levine. “Every voter who votes in November of 2018 will have an opinion of Donald Trump, and that opinion will influence how they vote.”

While November is still several months away, the real winners in the primary will be Gov. Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said Levine. “The primaries tend to gravitate away from the middle — right for the Republican side and progressive on the Democrat side.
Because Wolf and Casey don’t have primaries they can appeal to a broader range in the center.”

For those living in areas without compelling primary contests, canvassing, phone banking and volunteering for a candidate or campaign are also ways to impact the election, said Jamie Forrest, a member of the steering committee of Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh.

“One key thing to keep in mind is that we as a Jewish community can engage in the election process even if we don’t live in a district with a tightly contested or otherwise interesting race,” said Forrest. “Another benefit of getting involved in other districts is that it lets us build bridges with other communities we might not otherwise know about.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

read more: