The race for Lt. Governor heats up
Six declared Democratic candidates are aiming to unseat embattled Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.
Donald Trump is President of the United States. A Democratic senator is serving Alabama. The Eagles won the Super Bowl.
Strange times call for strange political priorities.
In the past, campaigns for the office of lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania haven’t aroused much interest. Thus far the position, which comes with an annual salary of about $162,000 per year and access to a staffed residence located just outside of Harrisburg, has largely been ceremonial. The official responsibilities of the lieutenant governor include serving as president of the state senate, as well as chairing of the Board of Pardons and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council. In the event that the governor dies or leaves office, the lieutenant governor is next in command.
This election cycle has proven to be different. Last year, controversy began to surround current Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, leaving him politically vulnerable. Emerging leaders across the commonwealth have taken notice and now Stack faces six declared Democratic challengers, most of whom have said they want to expand the function of the position.
In Pennsylvania, each political party holds separate primary elections for governor and lieutenant governor, which will both take place on May 15. The winners run as one ticket in the November general election.
Stack, a Northeast Philadelphia native and member of a longtime political family, came under fire in the spring of 2017 when Gov. Tom Wolf initiated an investigation into the lieutenant governor’s actions.
Reports surfaced that Stack and his wife, Tonya Stack, had verbally abused state employees, including house staff at the official lieutenant governor’s residence and the state police officers that provided the Stack family protection. In response, Lt. Gov. Stack issued a public apology for his alleged behavior. Later, it was reported that Stack's wife was seeking treatment for an unidentified mental health problem.
After the allegations, Wolf reduced the number of staff at the Stacks’ residence and removed entirely their state police detail, though the governor has withheld from releasing the results of the investigation.
Wolf, who is seeking reelection, has not endorsed a candidate in the 2018 election to be his second-in-command.
Despite the difficulties mounting against Stack, the lieutenant governor hopes clinch the nomination in May, and controversy isn’t the only thing Stack has become known for during his current term.
Since entering office in 2015, Stack has worked to address the needs of Pennsylvania’s military veterans and their families. He also created the “Pathway to Pardons” program, which aims to help former criminal offenders learn how to clear their records to find higher quality employment and volunteer opportunities.
The most recognizable candidate for lieutenant governor is John Fetterman. As the mayor of Braddock, an economically depleted community just east of Pittsburgh, Fetterman’s efforts to revitalize the once-thriving steel town over the past 12 years have garnered national attention.
The Harvard-educated, tattooed mayor ran for U.S. Senate in 2016, and although he lost in the Democratic primary, Fetterman’s campaign earned him nearly 20 percent of the vote as a relatively unknown candidate in a four-way race.
If elected lieutenant governor, Fetterman has said he wants to use the office as a platform for the progressive policies that he has championed in Braddock, including addressing income inequality, expanding health care, legalizing marijuana, and managing the opioid crisis.
Fetterman wants to be a voice in Harrisburg for communities like his own that have suffered the consequences of deindustrialization.
“As a small-town mayor, I can only help so many people. I want to be able to do more, not only for my community, but for my commonwealth,” Fetterman said on his campaign website. “I’m running for Lieutenant Governor to be a champion for every community and person in this state, especially those that have been left out or left behind.”
In November 2017, Ahmad resigned from her position as Mayor Jim Kenney’s deputy mayor for public engagement to run for U.S. Congress, vying to represent Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District. A statement released on Feb. 26 by the Ahmad campaign said that the redrawing of the state’s congressional map led Ahmad to end her bid for Congress, though she still supports the effort to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.
“I was running for Congress because I’ve been fighting injustice and discrimination in Pennsylvania for twenty-five years, and I believe we need more truly progressive voices in government,” Ahmad said in her statement.
Similarly, in light of the new congressional map, State Representative from Montgomery County Madeleine Dean announced her decision to drop out of the race for lieutenant governor days prior to Ahmad’s announcement, choosing instead to make a run for U.S. Congress.
Ahmad grew up in Bangladesh, immigrating to the U.S. when she was 21. She earned her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania and went on to work as a molecular biologist.
If elected, Ahmad promises to be a champion for women’s rights, saying she will partner with Governor Tom Wolf "to help stamp out sexism and sexual harassment that holds us back.”
“Harrisburg has been male-dominated for too long,” Ahmad said in her statement. “Its culture won’t change without new voices.”
Other top priorities for the candidate include improving the public education system, creating jobs, and enacting stricter gun laws, an issue that resonates with Ahmad as she spent her childhood in a war-torn country.
"I have personally witnessed the horrific destruction caused by deadly assault weapons, and I will fight for tough new gun laws to make our schools more secure and our families safer,” Ahmad said in her statement.
Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone launched her campaign for lieutenant governor by promising to partner with Gov. Wolf to work in a bipartisan fashion to get results in Harrisburg.
Cozzone has served as a Chester County commissioner since 2008, winning re-election in 2011 and 2015. In her first campaign, she ran on a platform of strategic planning in government. After being elected, the county implemented her recommendations, which are “still serving taxpayer and service clients ten years on,” according to Cozzone’s campaign website.
As a commissioner, Cozzone has worked to develop programs and policies to assist the unemployed and underemployed. She also served on a task force to reduce the number of mentally ill inmates in county prisons, “not only improving the lives of non-violent offenders and their families, but also saving taxpayers money.”
Cozzone’s campaign website identifies her as an advocate for natural gas pipeline “transparency and safety.” She was appointed by Gov. Wolf to chair the County Government Workgroup on the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, and she hopes to enact recommendations issued by this group in Harrisburg as lieutenant governor.
Aryanna Berringer, an Iraq War veteran and IT project manager who resides in Westmoreland County, calls the office of lieutenant governor “the most underutilized elected position in Pennsylvania.” She has focused her campaign on promoting initiatives to improve nutrition in schools, developing strategies to reduce crime as chair of the Board of Pardons, and finding ways to enhance the functionality of government in the commonwealth.
Craig Lehman has served as a Lancaster County commissioner for a decade. His campaign for lieutenant governor has prioritized finding bipartisan solutions to manage Pennsylvania’s state budget.
Ray Sosa, a banker and insurance broker from Montgomery County, is a self-described “political outsider.” If elected, Sosa’s priorities include supporting small business owners and entrepreneurs, reducing prison recidivism, and improving the education system without squeezing taxpayers.
A poll conducted by Independence Communications & Campaigns in early February found that 55 percent of likely Democratic primary voters remain undecided in the primary election for lieutenant governor. The poll, which did not include Sosa and was conducted prior to Ahmad’s candidacy, identified Fetterman as the front-runner (20 percent), followed by Cozzone (10 percent) and Stack (8 percent).