A Pennsylvania Democrat takes on the NRA and Amazon

Leading off: The special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district is less than a week away. Democrat Conor Lamb has a real shot at winning this thing — he led a recent poll! — but corporate GOP money is flooding in. Help him fight back.

Blue wave hitting Texas? Only if we all pitch in! The Texas primaries wrapped up yesterday, and Democrats showed up in far larger numbers than in 2010 and 2014. But there’s still a lot more work to do to turn the state blue. Beto O’Rourke, one of our candidates, won the senate primary, but has a lot of work to do in such a big state, so pitch in if you can.

Striking works: Victory for West Virginia teachers and all public employees! After showing extreme solidarity and bravery during a nine-day strike that shut down schools across the state, West Virginia lawmakers agreed to 5% raise for all teachers and public employees in the state, a big first step in giving fair wages to very underpaid heroes.

Congressional Candidate: Jess King fights for local values in PA-11

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Democrats nationwide celebrated when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the GOP had over-gerrymandered the state’s congressional districts, which had been manipulated beyond all geographic logic to maximize Republican power. On the whole, the late February decision — and the subsequent court-ordered redistricting — created a fairer map for voters, and gave Democrats several more competitive seats to target in November. But the results weren’t uniformly blue-friendly, as candidates scrambled to decide who was running in which new district, and a few new districts wound up being more Republican-leaning than their previous incarnations.

The new 11th district, which covers the Lancaster area, is one of those more conservative new districts. And while that creates an even steeper challenge for Jess King, a Democrat who was initially running in what was the 16th district, there was never any question of whether she’d look beyond the area for a friendlier district. She’s a Lancaster native, runs a community development non-profit in the area, and feels uniquely equipped to speak to local culture, concerns and values.

“We feel like the kind of campaign that we built, the message and platform and policies that we’re fighting for are as relevant in this district as they are in the old districts, and as relevant here as they are across the country,” King tells Progressives Everywhere. “So we really continue to fight for policies that work for working families, for people that have been disenfranchised. Really leading with our values, which is attractive to people who are really frustrated with the current state of politics in this country.”

King is still taking on Rep. Lloyd Smucker, who has complained about the redistricting despite it making the election more tilted in his favor. But he’s certainly feeling the heat: Smucker, who was one of the top recipients of NRA cash last cycle, outraised Smucker in the last quarter. And she’s now the only Democrat in the race, as former opponent Christina Hartman shifted to the 10th district.

King spoke to Progressives Everywhere about her local values, her unique campaign, and taking on both the NRA and big business.

You’re a local in what is a unique area. What do you think voters are looking for?

I grew up in the Mennonite community, and Lancaster County has more Mennonite and Amish folks than anywhere else in the country. What I learned from that tradition, which is a Christian tradition, is that other than loving God, you’re supposed to love your neighbor as yourself; that’s the most important thing that you do. And so I talk a lot about what it means to think about policies that reflect that kind of concern for our neighbors.
I grew up in a Mennonite church that wasn’t a raging progressive church. It was pretty conservative, and that church resettled refugee families when I was a kid in the ‘80s. I saw that living out in a conservative Lancaster County, and this community continues to resettle refugees. Today we’ve resettled 20 times more refugees than any other place in the country, and it’s a red district that went for Trump. I think that we have a real opportunity to win people over with the values of this place, talking about common sense policies and fighting for things that maybe they haven’t seen people really own up to in the Republican party.

How does Lloyd Smucker feel about refugees, if he’s a staunch Trump supporter?

He’s had a bit of an about-face from when he was in the State Senate. He actually sponsored Pennsylvania’s DREAM Act and since he has taken office in the House, he’s been pretty much one hundred percent in line with Donald Trump and has completely turned his back on Dreamers and even won’t even talk to folks about immigration anymore.

He’s also well-known for taking a lot of money from the NRA.

The majority of Americans believe in common sense gun reform. The majority of people believe we need to have a comprehensive background check approach to gun ownership that allows people access to guns. But the shooter in Florida should have been caught. There were enough warning signs. Are there enough people who raised those questions at that should be accounted for in our background check mechanism.

When you talk about that kind of stuff, people respond to it. We know that with women and domestic violence issues, if background checks were actually comprehensive, the majority of women who were killed by their domestic partners, those partners would not have access to guns because they have prior records, right?

There’s common sense things that the majority of Americans believe in, about banning weapons of war and making sure that assault weapons are not available on our streets, banning bump stocks and making sure that add-ons that turn non-automatic weapons into automatic weapons are not available.

You worked to call every Democratic voter in your district, though you now have more calls to make, thanks to redistricting.

With the redistricting in Pennsylvania, the timing of it was like, well we gotta make the most of this. We’re going to basically have an entirely new district a couple months before the primary and we have a ton of volunteers, people who really want to get involved, so let’s plan to call every registered Democrat in this district. We had hundreds of folks help us out, making phone calls last weekend and we made over 30,000 phone calls in one week. We definitely have still more to do. But like it was an unprecedented move in our district to call that many people at once. We got great responses from people. I think we’re going to do a ton of that with independents because there’s a lot of registered independents, too.

Your background is as a small business consultant, which is traditionally the realm of Republicans. But more and more it has become the party of big business.

I think a lot about some of the top competitors to small business. One is economic stagnation. Working families haven’t seen income grip in 40 years, meaning that the people who actually spend money in our economy don’t have money to spend and that’s a huge concern. And so getting more money into the hands of families, making sure that working families are doing better in their jobs, that they’re making more money, that they have fewer out of pocket expenses for things like healthcare and higher education. Working families then support business because folks have more money to spend in their local economies, in local businesses.

The other thing that really, really hurts small business is the growth of monopoly power and corporate power in this country. I look at that and think about the number of businesses that are trying to compete with Amazon, and they can’t. And so we have to be really thoughtful about this and we have laws on the books that our country wrote over a hundred years ago. Antitrust laws were about creating a competitive landscape for businesses. Because you know that once businesses get too big, there’s no way that a little guy can survive. And so what we’ve seen over the last 20, 30, 40 years, it’s just the increasing growth of big business, growth of mergers and acquisition, and that the laws on the books are not actually being enforced to hold that big corporate power in check. And it’s something that we really have to be talking about honestly.

We need pushing and making sure that we’re creating a landscape is going to work for small business because it’s not. It’s not. And when you look at the tax bill that Republicans passed, they did it under the guise of supporting small businesses, that trickle-down idea. But the majority of the benefit goes to big business, to very wealthy individuals and not to the small businesses in our community who are really the majority of the employers in our community.

Let’s say you get elected. What are going to be your priorities in office?

It depends on who else was elected. When does wave look like? Do we actually regain control of the House and the Senate? What kind of reaction do we get from the White House if that’s the case and how much of it is about building towards 2020 and making sure that we’re laying the groundwork for legislation.

But for me, it’s the stuff that I’m campaigning on. So I think it’s about addressing taking the steps that we need to take toward single-payer healthcare and recognizing that’s not going to happen overnight and we need a process that is going to phase us into that, but that we do need to get single payer healthcare in this country.
You know, debt-free public college is another huge priority that we need to invest in. Education and making sure people are going to get good jobs and not come out with tens of thousands of dollars of debt.

I mean there’s so many of these; campaign finance reform is another that we need. I think people that are not beholden to that broken system need to work on, whether it’s a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United or something else. That’s also a huge priority and something that voters really care about and feel like is a fundamentally broken part of the system.

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