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.

CLICK HERE to donate to Jess King using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

The GOP is playing dirty election tricks. Yet again. Because they suck.

Donald Trump has said he wants to arm teachers with guns. But we know that teachers are already heroes, willing to put their lives and livelihoods on the line for their students. It’s largely a thankless job — platitudes don’t pay bills — and it’s time that changed. In West Virginia, teachers are in the midst of a massive statewide strike due to the governor’s efforts to shortchange them on already skimpy salaries and benefits.

If you want to know just how much hubris the WV GOP has right now, and just how badly this strike is needed, look simply to this excerpt of an interview with a striking teacher, via the NY Times:

They told us that essentially if you weren’t a single person, if you had a family plan, your health insurance was going to rise substantially. As a West Virginia teacher — and I’ve been teaching 10 years — I only clear right under $1,300 every two weeks, and they’re wanting to take $300 more away for me. But they tell me it’s O.K., because we’re going to give you a 1 percent pay raise. That equals out to 88 cents every two days.

They implemented Go365, which is an app that I’m supposed to download on my phone, to track my steps, to earn points through this app. If I don’t earn enough points, and if I choose not to use the app, then I’m penalized $500 at the end of the year. People felt that was very invasive, to have to download that app and to be forced into turning over sensitive information.

The GOP majority should be heartened to know that the teachers will be getting those steps in on the picket line — and then some. The strike has lasted all week, and the stingy lawmakers are beginning to cave. And any win is huge not just for WV teachers, but for all works. The strike is a vital action at the exact moment that public unions face an existential threat at the Supreme Court.

So how can you help? Donate to organizations raising money for teachers, like the West Virginia Teachers Strike Fund and the IWW’s fund. You can put political pressure on Gov. Jim Justice via social media. And you can vote for politicians that support public sector unions instead of taking money from the corrupt, misleading National Right to Work organization.

You can support our candidates by using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page right here.

Help Dems win the next big special election!

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Democrats are using small donors and political sanity to gain momentum in a hotly contested election… and the GOP’s billionaire financiers are striking back by dumping unlimited money into the race, in order to skew it and steal it at the last minute.

The special election in PA-18 has been moved to a toss-up by the Cook Political Report, which is the good news here:

The Cook Political Report updated its rating for the special election in the 18th Congressional district from ‘lean Republican’ to ‘toss up.’

According to the report, despite the district being strongly Republican, Democrat Conor Lamb has gained a lot of ground in the race.

“What’s made the race so close, many Republicans admit, is that Lamb has simply proven to be a stronger candidate than Saccone,” the report says.

And now the not so good:

One week later, Democrats in Allegheny County began receiving an unusual piece of mail. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan that has spent millions of dollars on the race, had created an advertisement thanking Lamb “for supporting our Second Amendment rights.”

It’s not clear who else is getting the ad, but registered Democrats in Allegheny County are, generally, more liberal than their counterparts across the district.

To be fair, Lamb has come under fire (pardon the bad term here) for being a bit timid on new gun laws. But the ad skews what he’s said, as if he isn’t for more extensive background checks and other reforms.


Republicans are skewing his record in hopes of suppressing Democratic turnout, as part of a multi-million dollar effort to steal this election for their doofus Trumpite candidate. They’re also using racist dog-whistle ads on immigration as part of this last-ditch, desperate $10 million offensive.

Whether Lamb is the perfect Democrat is not the issue here — he will vote with the party, take us one seat closer to winning back Congress, and a victory in a red district like this will be more proof of Democrats’ momentum. And when people feel like their party is in a good place, they donate more money, volunteer more, and work harder to help win elections. I believe in sending the most progressive candidates to Washington as possible — and Lamb is helping lay the groundwork to make this part of PA blue and progressive again.

You can support Connor Lamb by using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page right here.

Supporting leaders who will stand up to the NRA

Something incredible is happening: a mass shooting took place nearly two weeks ago, stealing the lives of over a dozen children and brave teachers, casting yet another dark shadow over a nation that bounds from one senseless tragedy to the next… and we are still talking about it. In fact, not only are we still talking about it, actual progress is being made in the fight against gun violence.

Forward motion in the gun control movement had long seemed impossible, given the political and financial power of the NRA. The most formidable lobbying group in America, as cruel and ruthless as the weapons its members manufacture, had bought off our politicians and created a culture of paranoia and machismo — a toxic combination — by stoking fears and hatred. But the students from Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School have stood up and forced the world to listen, focusing their pain into an unprecedented response (check out and donate to their campaign, March for Our Lives). For years, lawmakers have ignored the resistance and social movements put up by young people and minority Americans, but that is changing.

The NRA has lost a lot of corporate partners over the last week, and you can join the campaign increase that number with the #BoycottNRA hashtag on Twitter. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio, who has received over $3 million from the gun lobby, melted under the spotlights and impassioned challenges of Parkland students on live TV. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, long an NRA champion, has proposed modest reforms. Even Donald Trump, when not making fart noises about arming teachers, has endorsed banning bump stocks and toughening background checks. These politicians know that things need to change, and they’re trying to get ahead of it with minor reforms, in hopes of staving off the huge wave that is coming for them.

We owe it to the students and teachers in Parkland, as well as the tens of thousands of Americans killed by guns each year, to not let them get away with that. We owe it to our children and ourselves to not let the reign of terror to continue, to create a safer and more just America in which the specter of a violent and senseless death does not hang over every single day. And to make that happen, we need to make sure we have the right lawmakers in place, people who will prioritize firm gun control that reflects the will of the people, not an extremist group of multinational weapons manufacturers.

Ryan Torrens, the 32-year-old candidate for Florida Attorney General, is one of those candidates. We’ve already endorsed him, and earlier this week, we spoke to him about what specific actions he would take to tighten gun regulations and enact reform if elected.

Progressives Everywhere: Gov. Scott has proposed raising the age for gun purchases, as well as a waiting period for purchases and enforcing the Baker Act, among other things. That leads me to wonder, what other gun control/regulations are on the books in Florida already, and how have they been enforced?

Torrens: Florida has a number of gun regulations on the books, which can be found in Chapter 790, Florida Statutes. For example, with limited exceptions, Florida does not allow open carry but does permit concealed carry with a proper license. Concealed carry is not permitted with long guns or machine guns. Florida also does not permit any form of a gun registry. Florida grants gun manufacturers immunity from civil suit (Fla. Stat. 790.331) but permits actions for design defects. In many ways, Florida’s immunity law resembles the federal gun manufacturer immunity law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce In Arms Act. Due to these laws, many suits against gun manufacturers have been dismissed.

In 2011, Florida passed a law (Fla. Stat. 790.33) which prohibits local governments from enacting any gun ordinances. Any violators can be fined up to $5,000 and removed from office. So now we have a situation where our legislature refuses to lead on our crisis of gun violence, but yet our local governments are restricted from passing sensible gun ordinances to protect our children and families.

As attorney general, I would not enforce this preemption law so that our local governments can pass these ordinances to protect our communities. Here is an article the Florida Politics blog ran the other day on our position. I thought you may also like this article on how much better the Democratic AGs are on gun reform than the Republican ones, particularly Pam Bondi, who has an awful record on gun reform.

Many of Florida’s gun laws have criminal penalties for violating them, and these crimes would typically be prosecuted by the state attorney’s office. If, however, an individual or a criminal enterprise are violating our gun laws in a way which impacts two or more judicial circuits, then I would have jurisdiction as attorney general through our Office of Statewide Prosecution.

Progressives Everywhere: What can the attorney general do to further enforce these laws?

Torrens: Florida desperately needs an attorney general who will lead on this issue and put our children and families first. There are a few key ways I would be able to help enforce our gun laws. First, I would have no tolerance for criminal enterprises illegally dealing firearms. Many of these cases do fall under the jurisdiction of the attorney general, and I would prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law to protect our families.

Second, our current attorney general, Pam Bondi, has a horrendous record on gun reform and has put special interest groups like the NRA first at every turn. In contrast, just like with any other corporation, if gun manufacturers or gun stores break our laws, they will be brought to court and held accountable. If a gun manufacturer produces a weapon with a design defect and it ends up in the hands of Floridians or if a gun manufacturer is pushing deceptive and illegal marketing into the Florida market, then they will be held accountable.

A good example is how Remington has been held accountable by state AGs for their malfunctioning safety in the M700 series of hunting rifles. The message will be very clear: gun manufacturers and gun stores will follow our laws like everyone else, or there will be serious consequences. Protecting Florida’s children and families must always come first.

Third, I could help by not enforcing the statute mentioned above, Fla. Stat. 790.33, so that our localities can pass sensible gun ordinances to protect our children and our families. Of course, I prefer uniform, statewide laws, but it is unconscionable for our legislature to fail to act yet at the same time restrict local governments from protecting their own communities. If the leaders of Broward County, for example, are ready to take action to protect their community, then I’m going to let them as our legislature still refuses to act.

Progressives Everywhere: You’ve proposed suing the pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis. Is there a similar approach possible for gun companies?

Torrens: I want to repeat something I have said over and over again the last 9 months on the campaign trail: I will put an end to the double-standard we have had for so long and enforce one set of rules. For too long, big corporations and the special interest groups have had special privileges, special access, and are rarely held accountable for their actions. Yet, if one of us goes to Circle K and steals a Snickers bar we are taken to jail. Whether it is a gun manufacturer, a big bank, a big pharmaceutical company, or a sex trafficker who is breaking our laws, our laws will be enforced swiftly, aggressively, and equally.

Progressives Everywhere: How can the AG deal with the NRA?

Torrens: While I will never accept a penny in contributions from the NRA, I do believe very strongly in the need for our leaders to listen to competing policy recommendations to come up with the most sensible solution. Otherwise, it is very easy to fall into “groupthink.” The way I would deal with the NRA is to make it very clear that my priority as attorney general will always be the protection of our children, families, and first responders.

The NRA would always be free to express their opinions but I don’t belong to anybody except the people of Florida. For far too long, many of our politicians like Pam Bondi have put special interest groups ahead of the interests of the people.

Progressives Everywhere: How can the FL AG’s office work with other AGs and national policymakers? 

Torrens: For too long, Florida has been on the wrong side of these important issues. It’s time for Florida’s attorney general to lead again, and I will be that leader. Democratic attorneys general from around the country have been coordinating litigation efforts on gun reform and coordinating lawsuits again gun manufacturers when they break our laws. I will always work closely with other attorneys general around the country to coordinate efforts, where possible, to protect our citizens.

Here is a memo released by the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) providing some examples of Democratic attorneys general working together in this area. The attorneys general are really the last line of defense between the Trump administration and its failed policies and our people. Florida, being home of the Pulse nightclub shooting and now Parkland, deserves an attorney general who will have the courage to stand up to the NRA and be a leader on our crisis of gun violence. I am prepared to be that leader.

Progressives Everywhere: We hear a lot about the gun show loophole; how can that be addressed?

Torrens: Typically, your gun show vendors, with tables and booths purchased at shows, are  reputable Federal Firearms Licensed dealers (FFLs) who attend shows to drive their business. They DO require a criminal background check and surrender the weapons to either a contracted local FFL or Law Enforcement Agency if the background check requires more scrutiny. This is very rare.

The problem, and where the “gun show loophole” comes into effect is with non-FFL vendors and private citizens who will set up shop, or walk around the show to sell their private weapons. No background check or documentation is required and someone could easily obtain a firearm, illegally.

The solution would be to require all transactions, including private transfers of firearms, to have an FBI background check. This is easily accomplished and not prohibitively expensive. Any sporting goods store in America can do it and the records could be maintained through them. Usually costs about $30 to run a background, average cost of a personal defense pistol is $300-1000, and it usually takes 1-5 hours.

At a gun show, you could purchase a ticket as someone intending to buy a firearm, as opposed accessories, optics, knives, or ammo, and your background could be run while you shop around.

CLICK HERE to donate to Ryan Torrens using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

How to help the students in Parkland with medical bills and political activism

The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL was heartbreaking. And given the GOP’s continued insistence that “now is not the time to talk about gun control,” it would be easy to despair and resign to mass murder as a standard fact of life, an assumed risk that hangs over our heads every time we leave the house. Fear seems like the new normal, every goodbye charged with the knowledge that it could be permanent.

But the students at Stoneman Douglas have refused to give in to that default feeling of defeat, and have instead have rallied through their mourning. They have purposely politicized this event, defying the calls by GOP officeholders like Marco Rubio who have cynically tried to take gun control off the table in the wake of a gun-driven tragedy. Through Twitter, remarkably poised TV interviewspublic speeches, and collective organization online, the students have demanded change, and we owe it to them to assist in any way we can.

This week, we are devoting Progressives Everywhere to raising money and support for their causes and the candidates that will act on their behalf. The Republican Party controls Florida, but as we saw last week, Democrats can turn the tide with concerted action and an emphasis on community. Even if you can’t vote in Florida, you can help fuel the movement pushing for change. They started March for Our Lives, a new national movement inspired by the shootings; you can support them by donating here. On March 24th, students across the country will descend on Washington to demand new gun laws, which should make for one of the most stirring protests of a Trump era filled with them. You can join and support their Facebook group, Never Again.

Financially, you can direct donations to help cover the considerable medical bills of Anthony Borges, a 15-year-old who was shot five times while holding a classroom door closed in order to protect his classmates. It is absurd that in America, anyone has to pay high hospital bills, and it’s especially offensive that a young hero like Anthony faces massive debt. Until we can fix the system, we can at least help him.

You can also follow many of the other heroic students on Twitter and amplify their message; here’s a good resource for those accounts.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is right now a bit of a longshot in the Democratic primary race to replace outgoing Florida Governor Rick Scott, but he’s by far the most progressive candidate. He’s also been standing up for gun control — his plan is very comprehensive — for a long time. He was sued by the gun lobby for refusing to repeal laws that banned shooting guns in public parks, and took that NRA-fueled juggernaut head-on. Tallahassee won that case, and Gillum promises similar outcomes should he win the governorship. He’s also been very vocal in the wake of the Parkland tragedy, highlighting the students speaking out and reiterating his calls for gun control.

There are also several special elections coming up in Florida, which can give Democrats a headstart in their efforts to turn the statehouse blue. First up is the race for the State Senate seat from the 81st district, which was vacated when the Democratic lawmaker admitted to having an affair with a lobbyist. It’s important for Dems to hold that seat in a lopsided Florida capitol, and luckily they have a great candidate in Lori Berman, who has been in the legislature for seven years. She has stopped taking contributions during the legislative session, but you can help in other ways via her website.

We also have to shout out a candidate we’ve already highlighted: Ryan Torrens, who is running for Florida attorney general. He has also come out for strong gun control reforms since the Parkland tragedy.

CLICK HERE to donate to Andrew Gillum and Ryan Torrens using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

We need to fight the NRA’s biggest lapdogs in every election, and push Democrats to do so too

The unspeakable tragedy in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday compels us to speak up, as loud as we can and for as long as possible. Yet another school shooting, yet another bloody rampage by a homegrown terrorist with a weapon that no one outside the military should ever need or be able to access. There were 17 needless deaths because America is the only country that makes it easier to buy semi-automatic rifles than a bottle of wine.

We find ourselves in this awful, soul-crushing situation because the gun lobby, led by the NRA, has bought the Republican Party and created an insidious culture around firearms. The NRA spent $30 million to get Donald Trump elected president, and millions upon millions more to boost many other GOP officials. Republicans are cowards who only offer milquetoast “thoughts and prayers” regardless of how bloody and tragic the massacre, so if they won’t take action, we have to take matters into our own hands.

Sign up for our newsletter here.

There are several Republican lawmakers who have taken an exorbitant amount of money from the NRA that now face credible, aggressive, progressive Democratic candidates. We are going to highlight some of those candidates over the coming weeks and months, while also raising money for gun control advocacy groups. This week, we’ll start with Everytown, the loudest of these groups, to help show the NRA and GOP politicians that we are active and ready to take them on in this fight.

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Jess King, a candidate for Congress

Many of the top Republican recipients of NRA cash face serious threats from the Democratic side, but many of those candidates have yet to make clear their positions on gun control. In some cases, it’s a matter of coming from rural districts, where it can be a tricky issue, but nonetheless, we can’t exactly throw our support behind them quite yet; we want vocal Democrats taking on the gun lobby. But several candidates stand out as bold leaders on the matter.

Our candidate for this week is Jess King, who is running against Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA-16), one of the biggest NRA lapdogs in Congress. In fact, Smucker received more money from the NRA than any other congressional candidate in 2016. The Pennsylvania map is about to be redrawn, but King will still be running for office. And you have to admire how vocal she’s been about gun control; unlike most candidates in her position, she has a detailed statement on her site about the need for new gun laws.

UPDATED: We also have to give credit to Jess for becoming the second candidate to have a unionized campaign staff:

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You can donate to Jess King via our ActBlue page.

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