Democratic Corruption Going Wild

The corruption among elected Democratic officials in the Commonwealth keeps growing.  Yesterday Reading City Council President Francis Acosta pled guilty to conspiracy to accept a bribe.  Today Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is expected to face charges.

Two of Kane’s biggest personal faults are coming back to haunt her:  her vindictiveness and her inability to tell the truth.  She will be accused of leaking grand jury testimony in order to damage the reputation of someone she disliked and then lying about it under oath.  Kane lies about everything and her penchant to get back at those she dislikes has turned her office into a disaster area.

In Reading an FBI a few weeks ago led to the first domino falling in Acosta.  A man who seemingly came out of nowhere to get a seat on City Council then get elected as Council President, he agreed to try and repeal an ethics law designed to restrict corruption.  The campaign finance caps prohibited anyone receiving no bid city contracts from contributing more than a set amount to a campaign.  Mayor Vaughn Spencer (obviously “elected official #1 in the indictment) faced a tough re-election campaign due to a failed first term and needed to have the ethics law repealed.  According to Acosta’s plea agreement he agreed to contribute $1800 to “elected official # 2” if Francis would repeal the ethics law.  He introduced a resolution to do just that but Council members with integrity successfully fought the action.

It appears that Mayor Vaughn Spencer will soon join Acosta in federal prison.  He accepted $84,000 from four persons who were limited by that law in what they could contribute to his campaign.  The Mayor routinely violated laws and ordinances during his term leading to constant battles with Council.  The legal fees from those fights amounted to more than $1 million for a cash strapped city unable to provide basic services.  He and Acosta are both cronies of State Representative Thomas Caltagirone who has run the Berks County Democratic Committee from behind the curtain for years.  One of his staffers ran Acosta’s unsuccessful campaign for Mayor four years ago.  He and Spencer go way back.

The common denominator in the corruption in Reading and Allentown goes to consultant Mike Fleck.  This seems to have begun with the investigation of former Treasurer Rob McCord who pled guilty earlier in the year.  Fleck was his consultant in his failed campaign for Governor following Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s withdrawal from the race.  The Allentown City Hall offices were raided recently by the FBI and it has been reported that Fleck wore a wire against both Mayors before disappearing.  

I’ve known Fleck since he appeared on the scene running various Democratic campaigns.  No campaign he ran was legal and above board.  I even warned people running against his candidates to expect shenanigans.  There always were.  It’s no wonder that someone who had no regard for election laws would also violate other laws.  In the cases of McCord, Pawlowski and Spencer, this just goes to prove the old adage that when you sleep with stray dogs you get fleas.

When we combine these corruption scandals with the recent indictment of Congressman Chaka Fattah Pennsylvania Democrats have much work to do to clean up their act.  The Pennsylvania Democratic Party even hired Fleck’s consulting business for a time before severing the relationship.

Consultants are big business in politics.  They are paid well to manage and strategize campaigns for candidates.  A bad consultant, and they are legion, can do irreparable harm as Fleck has.  Shortly after the FBI raids in Allentown he dissolved his business and fled.  Acosta’s fall is simply the second domino to fall (after McCord) in what appears to be a succession of Democratic Mayors heading to prison.

Tom Wolf Versus Tom Corbett in November

Tom Wolf cruised to an easy victory today in the Democratic primary for Governor.  With incumbent Tom Corbett seeing the lowest approval ratings of any Governor in the nation this appears that Mr. Wolf of York will be the Commonwealth’s next Chief Executive.  He began a run for Governor four years ago then withdrew in order to save the family firm as the recession hit it hard.  He bought The Wolf Organization back and expanded it into kitchen cabinets.  He found skilled Amish craftsmen in Indiana to manufacture them and coupled them with the established line of high end stoves and ranges which made Wold famous.

Pouring $10 million of his own and borrowed funds he went on TV early and often and quickly buried his team of rivals.  Getting well over %0% in a four way race is impressive.

State Sen. Mike Stack has a wide lead in the race to share the ticket with Wolf.  Rep. Brendan Boyle has been declared the winner of the 13th CD race.  I’m deeply disappointed that Sen. Daylin Leach ran poorly in this election but the fact he lives outside the District (even if it’s only across the street) probably hurt his chances.  53% of the 13th lies in Northeast Philly, Boyle’s home turf.

Wolf Woos Them In Allentown

With a week left in the 2014 Gubernatorial primary races it appears the fall campaign will pit incumbent, embattled Gov. Tom Corbett versus Tom Wolf.  Polls have shown the York businessman with a commanding lead for months.  I chatted briefly with him Friday night at an event in Allentown and he said their internal polling has him over 40%.  I asked how he thought the undecideds would break out and he said their polling also shows that most of these people aren’t off year primary voters so he doesn’t feel they’ll affect the race.

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That’s interesting because he means he’s likely to go over 50% in a four way race, three if you discount Katie McGinty who is polling just 2%.  Allyson Schwartz ran a pitiful race in which she barely left southeastern Pennsylvania and was last to be on television.  By the time she woke up and started serious campaigning the race was over.  Rob McCord’s ads are backfiring tremendously and are actually hurting him more than they’re hurting Wolf.  The Wolf campaign has deftly and effectively countered all of the attacks against them.  McCord appears to be a desperate candidate making desperate claims in an attempt to win at the close of the race.   It isn’t working.

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On the GOP side Corbett, recognized as the most vulnerable Governor in the country, will soundly defeat challenger Bob Guzzardi.  His ads are extremely fact challenged and I expect the Wolf team to dissect them once Labor Day rolls around.  Corbett cannot escape some simple facts:  $2.5 billion has been siphoned or cut from K12 public education and the state ranks near the bottom in job creation under his leadership.  He claims to have created 150,000 private sector jobs but neglects to mention the 20,000 teachers he threw out of work and the fact those job numbers lag behind almost every other state.  His inability to work even with members of his own Party in the House and Senate, his infamous “just close your eyes” statement on mandatory ultrasounds and other famous quotes will all come back to haunt him in the fall.  He is Dead Governor Walking.

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The Summit Debate

Six Democratic candidates for Governor debated last evening at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit here in Harrisburg.  Jack Wagner jumped into the race too late to participate.  Jo Ellen Litz’s comments about growing up in a hunting family and eating wild game resulted in many squirrel jokes in the lobby afterwards.  And here I thought she only ate chocolate!  There was no mention from the other candidates about her anti-choice positions.  No one went after Katie McGinty for her close ties to fracking either.  All in all it was a rather collegial discussion more than a debate.  Most of these candidates obviously like one another.

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Jo Ellen Litz

Following a question on fracking (they don’t support the official Democratic Party position for a complete moratorium) a large group stood up in the center of the ballroom holding signs saying “Ban Fracking Now.”

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Rob McCord

John Hanger was clearly the most liberal candidate repeatedly saying he’d legalize marijuana to raise revenues and save costs.  McGinty turned the common sense gun safety issue (I loved everyone using a term I coined) into a discussion of her renewable energy record as DEP Secretary.   She appeared to be a one trick pony.

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Katie McGinty

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John Hanger

Wolf was also clearly progressive and McCord raised some eyebrows when he mentioned pragmatism instead of progressivism at one point.

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Tom Wolf

I spent the day at a campaign field training seminar put on by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (more on that later) so by the time the debate began both my video camera and iPhone batteries were low.  I did manage to capture a considerable amount of video.  I expect to see a lot of Allyson Schwartz’s comments about running a women’s health clinic this fall if she is the nominee.

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Allyson Schwartz

Update:  John Hanger won the straw poll at 31.5% and the others as follows:  McCord 24%, Wolf 22.8%, McGinty 10.9%, Schwartz 9.4%, Litz 0.4% and Jack Wagner 0.1%.  None of the above received 0.7%.  Allyson Schwartz hasn’t attended either of these Summits since she announced except for appearing at this debate.  Only Hanger and McCord attended the Keystone Progress fund raiser following the debate and that was noticed by many of those in attendance.

The room was packed and, all in all, the debate was a two hour live show on PCN showcasing progressive issues and values.  In that regard I thought it a huge success.

Gov Race Heating Up

One man in, one man out.  For six months I’ve been surmising that Pittsburgh’s Jack Wagner would jump into the Governor’s race.  This he did by beginning to circulate nominating petitions.  Since the state is extremely parochial when voting in Democratic primaries the fact there was no candidate from the west left that door wide open for a Wagner to jump into.  Meanwhile Max Myers, the radical Pentecostal preacher, left the race because he cannot raise any money.

New polls show Tom Wolf running away with the vote.  The election remains almost three months away and anything can happen but his blitz of media ads has established himself as the man to beat.  The Wolf TV ads are tremendously well done and are defining him positively in the minds of voters.  One poll has him at 40% and the other at 36%.  Those are enough to win in a large field.

I spoke with John Hanger at the recent Democratic State Committee meeting and he said he was remaining in the race despite low poll numbers and lagging fund raising because he felt he could get 15% of the vote and win with that.  These polls show him to be a non-factor.  Heck, they should Rob McCord and Allyson Schwartz to be non-factors.

Yesterday Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC endorsed Congresswoman Schwartz.  McCord has many major labor endorsements.  Regardless Wolf is running away with this race.  We’ll see how firm those numbers are when the other two major players get on TV.  Wolf has the money to outspend his rivals however.  Schwartz is burning through money paying staff.

Tom Wolf has been my number one choice since he announced (I also like Rob McCord).  At the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit a year ago I was one of only two participants who voted for him in the straw poll.  I suspect he’ll have a lot more support there tomorrow evening when the candidates debate.  I’ll be there.

McCord Leads Dems But No Endorsement

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party held its endorsement meeting yesterday amidst some fireworks between two of its prominent members but decided not to endorse in either the Gubernatorial or Lt. Governor races.  The large fields of candidates made it unlikely that any could gather the two thirds necessary to earn the coveted, but doomed, recognition.

An endorsement would mean that no State Committee member could openly support another candidate.  Though this seems to be significant recent endorsements have been the kiss of death for candidates in primaries.

Rob McCord came out of the vote as the leading candidate.  Take away Allyson Schwartz’s 49 votes from the Bob Brady controlled Philadelphia delegation and she had almost no other support.  This is a direct result of her ignoring the body at all three meetings last year, even one in her own backyard.  State Committee people like to see major candidates at their functions, be wined, dined and schmoozed and able to meet them and test their mettle.  They also remember who ignored them at endorsement time.

I asked John Hanger, trailing the field behind everyone but Katie McGinty, if he has a chance to win.  He seems to think so even though the three front runners will be on television heavily.  Jo Ellen Litz couldn’t even gather any of the three votes from her home county and got zero votes in balloting.  Max Myers, a Pentecostal minister pretending to be a progressive couldn’t even find anyone to nominate him.  McGinty’s poor showing also reflected her absence from meetings.  If these Committee people can’t get to see you and chat with you at some point they won’t vote for you.

Democrats also unanimously passed a resolution supporting labor unions.  The Koch Brothers have come to the Commonwealth trying to change the law so that union dues cannot automatically be deducted from paychecks.  This is a blatant attempt to weaken unions.  These deductions are actually negotiated in union contracts and are voluntarily allowed by each member who must sign a card allowing the deduction.  They cannot be used for political purposes under law.

This meeting was held at the opulent Hotel Hershey instead of the Hershey Lodge.  The NRA is ensconced at the Lodge while running its huge outdoors and gun show at the Farm Show Arena.  The two groups would not have mixed well.  As a result the meeting room for this meeting was rather small and very crowded.  Some observers had to watch from the hallway.  A lot of time was uselessly wasted at the beginning of the long meeting as each regional caucus chair stroked the Chairman’s ego with blessings and gifts.  I was waiting for one of them to kneel down and kiss his ring.

McCord did hold an impromptu press session during the counting of votes after the first ballot:

He and Jonathon Saidel, a candidate for Lt. Governor four years ago, got into it at a caucus meeting when a McCord staffer was denied entrance to the meeting.  They had to be separated before fists landed.  Again, this was ridiculous because, according to the DNC Charter ALL Party meetings are mandated to be open.  Since PA Democrats keep excluding people they keep having problems.  When will they ever learn?

Photos are beneath the fold:

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Gasbag Kicks Off Gubernatorial Race

Gov. Gasbag kicked off his re-election campaign and is trying to message it as “Promises Kept.”  Yes, to the corporations and energy companies who bankroll his campaigns perhaps but not to the people.  He has kicked hundreds of thousands off health care, cut education by a billion bucks, channeled another $1.5 billion from public schools to charters, cut business taxes while cutting your services and illustrated a complete inability to work with the legislature.  Add to all that his affinity for putting his foot in his mouth every time it opens.

Remember “they just have to close their eyes?”  My advice for the Corbett campaign is this:  just close your eyes when the election returns begin rolling in next November.

A hundred protesters greeted the Guv in Philadelphia yesterday.  Eight Democrats have already greeted him in the race.  Corbett is dead Governor walking, an incumbent with zero chance of re-election.  Polish up that resume Tom and begin greasing up for the screwing the voters are about to give you.

Meanwhile Mayor Ed Pawlowski of Allentown showed a marked weakness Tuesday.  With just nominal independent opposition he failed to garner as many votes as he did in 2009.  His vaunted campaign team told the Express Times they had 220 volunteers knock on 120,000 doors Tuesday and 78,000 over the weekend.  Did anyone bother to do the math before publishing these ludicrous claims?  That means each canvasser hit 545 doors or 45/hour for twelve hours without a break.  Give me a break.

Schwartz Officially Enters Gubernatorial Race

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz officially launched her campaign for Governor yesterday.  Tom Corbett is rated the most vulnerable incumbent Governor in the country and prominent Democrats are lining up to evict him from Front Street in Harrisburg.  Schwartz joins former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf, former DEP Secretary John Hanger and evangelical fundamentalist preacher Max Myers in the field.  State Treasurer Rob McCord will enter the race soon and rumors continue to circulate around Admiral Joe Sestak.

Gov. Gasbag’s painfully low approval numbers (26%) and high disapproval (49%) have led to a strong field of challengers.  Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor has launched a website in preparation of a GOP challenge and another Montco Commish Josh Shapiro is also considering a run.

The fact Corbett slashed education funding while giving those funds to corporations as tax breaks has driven his poll numbers to the basement.  

Schwartz is progressive on social issues but not economic social ones.  Her record is something of a corporate Democrat and would normally allow the Pennsylvania progressive community to get behind such a candidacy.  In this race however both Wolf and McCord easily outpace her in progressive credentials.  With another strong turnout of women voters however she could win the primary.  There is substantial doubt about her ability to win statewide due to her past ties to a Philadelphia abortion clinic.  Though that should not actually hurt her (abortion is a constitutionally protected right) it will in western Pennsylvania where even the Democrats are conservative.

It’s going to be a heck of a race.

Pennsylvania Progressive Summit 2013

Six hundred people from 42 counties and 17 states converged on the Harrisburg Hilton Friday and Saturday for the fourth Pennsylvania Progressive Summit (not affiliated with this blog).  It kicked off with a session Friday afternoon with David Cobb of Move to Amend.  He leads the effort to overturn Citizens United and repeal corporate personhood.  He also gave a rousing speech Saturday at lunch telling the crowd that righteous anger is not only justified but necessary.

Scott Paul:

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Jim Dean:

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The morning session on Friday had a welcome speech from Eileen Connelly Chair of Keystone Progress.  Mike Morrill, the Executive Director, also spoke.

Keynote speaker David Cobb:

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AJ Marin of Lancaster introduced four of the Hershey guest workers whom Keystone Progress aided last year.  These foreign students came to Hershey as part of a J1 visa cultural program and then were subjected to enormous exploitation by Hershey Foods.  They were housed in a basement room with no more than curtains separating each person and males and females weren’t given separate accomodations.  They worked double and triple shifts at a packaging plant for low wages when they had supposedly been brought for a cultural program.  The only culture provided by Hershey was the opportunity to see how American grassroots advocacy comes to the aid of the oppressed.

Jim Dean of Democracy For America and Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing also spoke.  Kate Michelman received the Anna Burger Award for lifetime achievement.  She led NARAL Pro Choice America for years and worked for the Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates.

Kate Michelman:

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The lunchtime event was scheduled to have the three Democratic Row Officers Attorney General Kathleen Kane, Treasurer Rob McCord and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.  Eugene had a family event get in the way and had to cancel and Kane simply didn’t show up leaving McCord with the audience all to himself along with moderator Sen. Daylin Leach.  Both men are known for their senses of humor and they provided a spirited exchange including questions of whether either one had a big formal announcement to make.  McCord is rumored to be running for Governor and Leach will be running for Congress when Allyson Schwartz declares her campaign for Governor.  With Daylin supporting Allyson sharing the podium with McCord could have been awkward but these are two very nice men who don’t have it in their bones for that nonsense.

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The first workshop I attended was a legislative update with reporter and columnist Will Bunch moderating.  Rep. Jesse White was very good reviewing the state of the legislature along with the Chiefs of Staff for both Sen. Leach and Sen. Jim Ferlo.My second workshop was called “The Fourth Estate:  Cracking the Code on the Role of Journalsim in Government and Politics.  This is what I do so the session was very interesting.  It was moderated by reporter John Micek and included Bunch, Eric Boehm of PA Independent, Chris Comisak of CapitolWire and Tara Leo Auchey of Roxbury News.

The legislative panel:

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The media panel:

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Since I work with the White House Office of Public Engagement I wanted to attend their session but it was canceled.  Maybe sequestration hit their travel budget.  Instead I went to the AFL-CIO’s panel on Right to Work For Less.  Frank Snyder, Secretary-Treasurer gave a great, humorous Powerpoint.  On the issue of lottery privatization (also called crony capitalism)  he showed this slide of the House chamber turned into a giant keno casino.  

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The day wrapped up with Beth Becker’s Social Media 101.  Beth worked for Lois Herr’s Congressional campaigns in Lancaster County and now resides in DC where she does consulting on using social media.  She represents the Congressional Progressive Caucus among other clients.  I always learn new secrets about using social media at her workshops.  The only downside to the Summit is only being able to attend five workshops.  Each session has four or five you’d want to attend.  I try and hit the ones where I can learn the most.

Saturday ended with a film about ALEC and then a salsa dance party.  In future years the Summit is going to remain in Harrisburg where it is best attended due to its central proximity.  Last year it was in Philadelphia where few people came from western Pennsylvania and the year before that we were in Pittsburgh where most attendees were from the western part of the Commonwealth.

Handicapping the Governor’s Race

With just a Superior Court contest on the ballot this year political action around the Commonwealth is focused on next year’s race for Governor.  Tom Corbett’s inability to govern has created a wide open race and may even have him facing a formidable primary challenger.  Latest numbers on Gov. gasbag have him at a 26% approval rating and prompted Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz to jump into the race.  Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce castor launched a website recently around his probable challenge.  The conundrum for the GOP is how to keep control of the Governor’s Mansion after the Corbett debacle and against a strong field of Democratic contenders.  They also include Treasurer Rob McCord, businessman Tom Wolf, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and possible Admiral Joe Sestak.  John Hanger is a hanger-on and Max Myers’ candidacy is clouded by his involvement in a fringe religious organization (more about that in the future).

Bruce Castor is someone I’ve known for some years dating back to his time as Assistant District Attorney.  He oversaw the prosecution when a nephew’s wife was murdered.  Every year we see each other at a candlelight vigil in MontCo for families of homicide victims.  That was strained for a few years following an infamous series of emails he sent me while running for re-election as Commissioner.  His ticket mate Jim Matthews was accepting large campaign contributions from convicted felon Bob Asher and Castor had condemned Corbett for taking that dirty money when he ran against him for Attorney General (Castor and Corbett have a long history).  I asked where Bruce’s outrage was about Matthews taking Asher’s money and he responded with an email trashing Matthews.  That story wound up on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer.  Still, I greatly respect Castor and his response to my question illustrated he still had his strong ethics and morals.  He would be a vast improvement over Corbett.

Still, Bruce Castor is a Republican with conservative ideology.  I respect the man but would support a real progressive with ethics and high morals.  For me there are three men I wouldn’t hesitate endorsing for Governor:  Sestak, Wolf and McCord.  I don’t know if Joe is prepared to enter the race but he sure sounded like a candidate while stumping for other candidates last year.  With this strong field he’s better off keeping his powder dry and waiting to challenge Sen. Toomey in a few years.

Tom Wolf is someone I met at the recent Democratic State Committee meeting.  He served as Revenue Secretary for Gov. Rendell and runs the family business in York.  Wolf ranges and stoves are the class of their field but the company hit hard times when the Bush Recession hit in 2008.  He briefly sparred with running to succeed Rendell then pulled out to save the company which he did.  He is known as a real progressive.  I hope to sit down with him in the near future and review issues and hear his vision for Pennsylvania.

I’d love to do the same with Treasurer McCord.  We had brief conversations in both Hershey and Harrisburg and his progressive credentials are well known.  He is the only Democratic candidate to have run statewide and won (twice).  He is popular and, like Wolf, able to raise the large sums needed to win a race for Governor.  He was a venture capitalist on Wall Street and has access to deep pockets.  His distinct advantage over Allyson Schwartz is he has attended both State Committee and the Progressive Summit while the Congresswoman chose to stay home.  The Party endorsement vote next January will be important and he has wined, dined and spoken with those delegates while Schwartz chose to ignore them.  I’ve covered many of their meetings and those state committee persons have long memories about who solicited their support and who did not.  He had the entire lunchtime podium and an audience of 600 progressives from 42 counties at his feet yesterday.  He was able to give his argument for being the nominee to them while all Schwartz had were some surrogates who left “Draft Allyson” flyers on the tables.  These were huge mistakes for the Congresswoman.

I’ve covered Allyson Schwartz for some years.  She last ran statewide in 2000 in the primary to run against Sen. Rick Santorum.  She came in second in a large field which was split east/west.  Ron Klink, the only western Pennsylvania candidate, swept to that nomination and proceeded to fail miserable in the general election running as an anti-choice Democrat.  Allyson Schwartz is known as a strong pro-choice, women’s rights candidate and as a champion of SCHIP.  Many progressives criticize her Wall Street money ties and consider her a corporate Democrat.  She is against single payer health care for example.

Jack Wagner may be a dark horse who enters the race if he sees an opportunity to exploit the east/west divide.  A former Auditor General, he could defeat a field composed of eastern candidates because western Pennsylvanians have been known to be extremely provincial.  They hate Philadelphians with a passion and have voted for bad candidates in the past just because they’re from the west (Dan Onorato for example).  This mentality has really hurt Democrats in the past and another anti-choice Democrat (Wagner) running statewide would mean a second Corbett term.

All in all this will be an extremely interesting race.  There is much at stake and progressives need to determine who is really a progressive and get behind that person fully to defeat Gov. Gasbag.