Rep. Summer Lee backed a bunch of primary winners. That’s a big deal. Here’s why | Tuesday Morning Coffee

June 4, 2019 7:24 am

Elizabeth Fiedler, Sara Innamorato, and Summer Lee (Elizabeth Fiedler / Facebook)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

There’s already been whole barrels of (digital) ink spilled on the ascendance of the state House’s power trio of Reps. Summer LeeSara Innamorato and Elizabeth Fiedler, freshmen lawmakers who were elected with the backing of the state’s Democratic Socialists, and who now have to find their way in a very mainstream Harrisburg.

An April Washington Post profile gave a national readership a realistic, and very close-up look, at the challenges and triumphs that Lee and Innamorato, both of Allegheny County, and Fiedler, of Philadelphia, have faced since arriving in Harrisburg back in January. We may be biased here, but we also think that our own Elizabeth Hardison’s take was far superior to the parachute reporting by The Post.

But a pair of recent developments suggests to us that, not only have FiedlerInnamorato and Lee managed to navigate the corridors of power just fine, they’re also leveraging it entirely to their advantage.

Let’s turn to Lee first.

Over the weekend, Pittsburgh City Paper’s Ryan Deto offered a pretty comprehensive take on how Lee’s political action committee, UNITE PAC, quite efficiently powered three women candidates through the May primary, putting them in position for likely wins in November.

From Deto:

“UNITE PAC endorsed and helped organize the 2019 campaigns of three Pittsburgh-area politicians: Allegheny County Council candidates Bethany Hallam (D-Ross) and Olivia Bennett (D-Northview Heights) and Pittsburgh School Director candidate Pam Harbin (D-Squirrel Hill).

And all three of these candidates won their primary races last week, all but ensuring they will be seated come next year.

Lee was exalted by the victories and said she felt very fortunate to be able to back such strong candidates. She credits UNITE and several other progressively minded organizations like the Sierra Club and One Pennsylvania for joining to help get the three women elected. Lee says these victories show that her upset victory was “not a fluke.”

“’With any election with progressive folks, they really just need a boost,” says Lee. “They just need help amplifying the messages that they already have.’”

Also leaping out at us Monday was a 5:30 p.m. reception that Innamorato was scheduled to hold at that bastion of Harrisburg respectability, Stock’s on Second, which has been around for so long now that it probably hosted Ye Olde fundraisers for John Harris Sr.

The event’s $2,500 maximum ask was among the day’s highest, landing above the $1,000 sponsorship ask for a House Republican Campaign Committee event in suburban Harrisburg at the same time on Monday night.

Taken together, the events pretty efficiently thwart any notion that the DSA-affiliated candidates are political naifs who wandered into Harrisburg with a clutch of Billy Bragg records under one arm, and a bunch of copies of Jacobin under the other.  They know how the system works and aren’t at all shy about using it to their advantage.

“Even if one’s political views are out of the mainstream, the campaign techniques they employ remain pretty traditional,” Muhlenberg College pollster and political analyst Christopher Borick said. “Raising cash for the next cycle isn’t surprising. These tools, along with the more grassroots techniques that the DSA folks have embraced, will be needed if they’re going to increase their ranks in Harrisburg.”

There’s no doubt that LeeInnamorato and Fiedler are as intent on disrupting the established order on their side of the building, as state Sen. Katie Muth, of Berks County, and the Democratic freshmen Gang of Six are on their side of the building.

A line from Lee in Deto’s story drives home a particularly salient point.

“I think more candidates will want to run,” Lee told Deto. “Every single time our movements gets a victory, it gets people more involved. What we think of as apathy in our communities is actually hopelessness.”

Passion begets candidates; candidates beget organization, and organizations are necessarily powered by donations from committed supporters. After all, you can only break down the system if you have a sufficient number of people carrying sledgehammers.

And that’s exactly what’s happening now.

Our Stuff.

Elizabeth Hardison has the latest on the drama in the troubled Harrisburg city schools. The Dept. of Education has asked Dauphin County court to appoint a receiver for the dysfunctional district.

Democrats in the state Senate are looking for authorization of a $10 million grant program, modeled on the state’s school safety grant program, that would allow houses of worship to harden themselves against potential threats.

In the first-ever hearing on cannabis legalization, a state House panel focused on its effect on gun owners, Stephen Caruso reports.

Caruso also explains why, even though he lost, Democrat Sam Doctor still did some good stuff in the special election for the 11th House District.

On our Commentary Page, Anwar Curtis has the story of a Harrisburg talent show that helps city kids reach their goals. And West Virginia Universitypolitical scientist Simon F. Haeder says the struggle for coal miners’ health and pension benefits is going to be with us for a while.

And, starting this morning, and running until the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing on Thursday, we’re going to be republishing a series of columns by the legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Our thanks to the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association for making these important documents available for republication. We begin this morning with Pyle’s retelling of the logistical miracle of the landing itself, and its harrowing cost.

The Inquirer explains how ‘Big Marijuana’ is ‘rolling up’ local growers and dispensaries to get around state law.
Would a state takeover of the troubled Harrisburg school district ‘silence voters?’  PennLive takes up the question.
The Post-Gazette reminds readers that better wages are a ‘must’ for the state’s direct care workforce.
There’s a new plan for Allentown State HospitalTear it down, then find a buyer, The Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day.

Racist social media posts could get city cops banned from criminal trialsPhilly DA Larry Krasner tells WHYY-FM.
The Federal Communications Commission is disputing a state report on the availability of broadband access in Pennsylvania, the PA Post reports. 
Legendary ’80s rockers, Asiaare rehearsing for their new tour in LititzLancasterOnline reports.
Food banks are winning – if you can call it that – as a result of the Trump trade reports.
The No. 3 Democrat in the U.S. House is walking back his statements that impeachment hearings are ‘inevitable,’ Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House gavels in at 11 a.m., which includes the swearing-in of newly elected Rep. Marci Mustello, R-Butler. The Senate comes in at 1 p.m.  The schedule is predictably full for a Tuesday on a session day. Throw in the usual tour groups and advocacy groups at budget time, and they’ll need an extra ring for usual circus.

10 a.m, Soldiers & Sailors Grove: Rep. Chris Sainato and others join disabled veterans who are getting new vans to transport them to medical appointments.
10 a.m., Main Rotunda: House and Senate Dems on election modernization measures that might actually encourage people to, y’know, vote.
11 a.m., Capitol Park: Blah, blah, blah — FREE FARM SHOW MILKSHAKES. Which is all you really need to know.
11:30 a.m., Main Rotunda: Housing Matter Day with the Pa. Housing Alliance
12 p.m., Main Rotunda: Budget rally of some sort or another
12 p.m., Location TBD: Rally against lead in water (like there’d be one in favor?)
1:30 p.m., Main Rotunda (which must have been fitted out with one of those rotating Motley Crue stages): A rally to save General Assistance funding
2:30 p.m., Main Rotunda: School boards talk about a budget survey (Result: We need more money. Watch)

Gov. Tom Wolf 
heads to Philly for a pair of events today. At 11 a.m., he’s at a groundbreaking ceremony at Central High School. At 2 p.m, he’s slated to address the 2019 BIO Convention on the state’s opioids prevention efforts at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Another typical Tuesday. Better hope your checkbook is limber today.
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Liz Hanbidge
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. George Dunbar
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Mindy Fee
8 a.m.: Reception for Sen. Tim Kearney
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Elder Vogel
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Matt Bradford
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Larry Farnese
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Patty Kim
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Frank Dermody
6 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Scott Martin
Ride the circuit, and give at the max today, and you’re out a truly nauseating $47,000 today. This may be a new record for single-day fundraising.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to our old Morning Call colleague, and longtime Friend O’the BlogColby Itkowitz, of The Washington Post, who celebrates today. Belated best wishes go out to our fellow birthday boy, James Robinson, of Pa. Senate Democrats, who celebrated on Monday. Congratulations all around.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a new favorite from WombatsIt’s ‘Techno Fan.’

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
St. Louis 
evened up the Stanley Cup final, beating Boston 4-2 in Game 4 on Monday night. The series returns to Boston.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.