Two candidates from the Democratic Socialists of America won Democratic primary races for the Pennsylvania state assembly Tuesday, putting them on track to become the first self-identified socialists in the legislature since the 1930s.
The candidates, Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato, defeated two longtime Democratic incumbents in the Pittsburgh area. They are both expected to win the general election, as no candidates ran in the Republican primaries for the seats, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Two other candidates backed by DSA — Elizabeth Fiedler and Kristin Seale — also won Democratic primaries for statehouse seats in the Philadelphia area Tuesday. Fiedler does not face a GOP opponent in the general election.
If they win, the candidates would be just four of the 203 members of Pennsylvania's House of Representatives in Harrisburg, so their election would not on its own usher in a wave of changes. But their victories could also signal a shift in Democratic voting preferences — Lee and Innamorato beat two longtime Democratic incumbents, and candidates backed by the left won primaries elsewhere in the state Tuesday, including Democratic primaries for lieutenant governor and the U.S. House of Representatives.
Not including Tuesday's Pennsylvania primaries, the DSA now has seven members in state legislatures across the country, five of whom were elected within the last year.
So what did the candidates promise Pennsylvania voters? Here's a rundown of Lee's and Innamorato's policy agendas, as outlined in interviews and in candidate questionnaires they submitted to the DSA.
Health care: Lee and Innamorato both campaigned on a single-payer health plan, in which a government insurer would guarantee health insurance for all state residents, eradicating private insurance in the state.
Lee told DSA in the questionnaire it was “nonnegotiable” that this single-payer plan include no deductibles, premiums or co-payments. (A single-payer bill has been introduced in the Pennsylvania assembly but has gotten little traction. No state has successfully created a single-payer system.) Lee's campaign did not have an estimated cost of the bill.
Taxes: Both Lee and Innamorato have pushed for a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to levy a new tax on millionaires, which they say would raise billions of dollars while reducing the state's reliance on property and sales taxes. Both also said the state should raise taxes on income from dividends, capital gains and estates.
Child care: Both candidates called for public investments that they said would make child care affordable for all parents in the state, with Innamorato proposing a $450 million investment in prekindergarten and child care and Lee promising that “high-quality, universal child care is within our reach.” The question of how to pay for it has not yet been addressed.
Education: Lee proposed free pre-K for all state residents. She also wants to dramatically increase K-12 education spending, in part by cutting funding on state prisons and by raising taxes on the wealthy. Innamorato backed similar ideas, and both candidates decried charter schools as a form of "privatization" that drained public resources.
Energy: Lee argued for a fracking moratorium in the state and vehemently opposes a natural gas well proposed for a steel mill that would be partly located in her district.
Lee also argued that it was both “absolutely necessary and completely attainable” for Pennsylvania to transition to fully renewable energy by 2025. Innamorato said it was “criminal” that oil and gas companies had not been hit with a severance tax on their production like similar taxes adopted by other states.
Criminal justice: Lee called for the elimination of cash bail payments by defendants and a moratorium on all new prison construction in the state. She opposes laws that set minimum prison sentences for criminal offenders. Her aim is to cut Pennsylvania's prison population by at least 50 percent by 2030, according to Daniel Moraff, her campaign manager.
Innamorato also said she wanted to reduce the state's prison population, and called for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.
Higher education: Both candidates called for dramatically higher spending on the state's public universities, saying they will eventually push for them to one day be free.
Amazon: Democrats in Pittsburgh have pushed aggressively for the online retail giant to build its second headquarters in the western Pennsylvania city. But Innamorato said the city's leaders had failed to adequately explain how Amazon's new headquarters would affect the city's public infrastructure and supply of available housing, particularly for its poorest residents. Lee said she thinks Amazon's arrival could exacerbate a housing crisis for people “who are already the most vulnerable, affected by the gentrification crisis.” (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)
Housing: Lee backed a measure that would force developers to pay moving costs and find new housing for renters forced out by higher rents. She has also supported “rent controls” — statutory limits on the amount that landlords can raise prices.
Minimum wage: Both candidates supported a $15-an-hour minimum wage that would rise with inflation, but they suggested that setting it at that level may be too low.