Keystone Progressive Victories In Pennsylvania

Isaiah J. Poole

Two incumbent blue-dog Democrats were defeated in House primary races Tuesday night, in a sign that progressives are finding ways to successfully counter the corporate corruption in both political parties.

In Pennsylvania’s 17th District, east of Harrisburg, incumbent Tim Holden was defeated by progressive lawyer and activist Matt Cartwright. In the 12th District, in the state’s southwestern corner, blue dog Jason Altmire was defeated by Rep. Mark Critz. The two were forced into a contest against each other through redistricting.

The Booman Tribune summarized who these defeated incumbents were. “Altmire, who represents parts of Pittsburgh and its suburbs, got his start working for the loathsome Pete Peterson before becoming a lobbyist for the hospital industry. Unsurprisingly, he voted against the Affordable Care Act. Tim Holden, who represents Schuylkill County and surrounding areas, … voted to invade Iraq, for Bush’s bankruptcy bill, against the Affordable Care Act, and sponsored the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).”

Matt Cartwright, who defeated Holden, is an unabashed progressive who represents the kind of “99% Elect” candidates progressives are hoping to field throughout the country in the fall. In an interview with the Citizens’ Voice newspaper earlier this month, he refused to dilute his message, even though it contained implicit criticism of President Obama.

The self-proclaimed Roosevelt Democrat, who once said he was from the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party,” had never before been asked if his hard-lined party stance would prevent Congress from reaching compromises.

“You don’t compromise with people like that because they won’t give you anything,” he said Monday during an hour-long visit to The Citizens’ Voice. “So how else do you deal with it? I think the answer is to raise the noise level.”

Cartwright believes Democrats have already compromised too much with Republicans: President Barack Obama’s health care plan does not go far enough, he said, and George W. Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthy should not be extended.

“You don’t extend the Bush tax cuts,” he said. “You fight about it.”

Cartwright ran a campaign in which he supported a public option for health care, infrastructure investment to produce jobs, higher taxes for the top 1 percent, and legislation that would allow judges to modify mortgages of families facing foreclosure due to no fault of their own. Holden voted against that bill.

Some news reports claimed that it was redistricting that helped do in Holden. Daniel Mintz of MoveOn.org, one of the organizations that supported Cartwright, disputed that line. “The problem for Holden wasn’t that he was redistricted into new territory,” he said in an e-mail message to OurFuture.org. “It was that he repeatedly voted for special interests—for the Halliburton loophole, to extend the Bush tax cut for the rich, for the Bush energy plan, against Obamacare, against the Obama energy plan—and that’s hugely unpopular. Cartwright’s whole campaign was about how he’s been a fighter for the little guy against special interests. He ran on a platform of ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, adding a public option to health care reform, giving judges the ability to reduce the principal on unreasonable mortgages, and investing in infrastructure and R&D.”

Republic Report, “a blog dedicated to rooting out the corruption” of money in politics that features the work of Matt Stoller and influence-peddler-turned-crusader Jack Abramoff, wrote that while Holden had the support of much of the Democratic establishment, what turned the tide was that “voters were presented with Holden’s record of taking corporate cash while voting on behalf of K Street’s interests.”

Cartwright’s victory in particular should encourage other progressive candidates that with political ground is fertile for a candidacy based on the same principles that Cartwright stood on: Fighting to rebuild the middle class and resisting the right-wing ideology that prioritizes enriching the already-rich at the expense of the 99 percent.

Comments