10 Things I Saw, Heard and Learned at the PA Progressive Summit

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This weekend marked the annual Pennsylvania Progressive Summit in Harrisburg, hosted by the liberal nonprofit Keystone Progress. The conference is a reliably attended get-together of liberals and leftists in Pennsylvania to discuss the state of state politics and how to change things. Here are 10 things I saw, heard and learned.

1. Liberals hold U.S. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz in very high regard.

It was hard to go five feet this weekend without running into a young, wonky-looking hipster wearing a Allyson Schwartz sticker on his/her chest. As we — and everybody else — have previously noted, Schwartz is looking like a contender to run against Tom Corbett in 2014 for the governor’s seat. That fact was high on the minds of most people, and a constant piece of casual conversation. Another part of that convo: She’s not necessarily the liberal liberals think she is. Or want her to be.

2. Schwartz won the weekend’s straw poll.

By a lot. It went like this: Schwartz: 36.6 percent; State Treasurer Rob McCord: 16.9 percent; former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak: 11.6 percent; State Sen. Daylin Leach: 5.8 percent; Attorney General Kathleen Kane: 4.7 percent.

3. State Sen. Daylin Leach could soon join the Philadelphia delegation in Washington.

The Montgomery and Delaware County state Sen. held a well-attended party at the Fire House restaurant and bar on Second Street in Harrisburg Friday night and hinted several times he’d likely be running for Schwartz’s U.S. House seat, should she jump into the governor’s race. (Schwartz represents parts of Montgomery County, North and Northeast Philly.) If the Fire House party was a sign of things to come, the marijuana advocate Leach’s campaign could be filled with lots of “legalize it” jokes.

4. Harrisburg is quite the drunk city.

During my first walk around the streets on Friday afternoon, it was hard not to notice that basically every other downtown business is a bar. I utilized that aspect of the city Friday night and was not disappointed — until I heard the 1:30am karaoke. And if you’re ever around: late night pizza at Anthony’s Micro-Pub? Recommended.

5. The conference itself is nothing like its right-wing equivalent.

Some of you may recall I attended the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference last year, which is sort of the Republican counterpart to this event, except with a lot more funding. The differences were noticeable: The second day’s workshops/meetings at that conference began at 7:30 a.m. and were well-attended by the mostly 50-and-over crowd. The first workshop at the Progressive Summit began at 11 a.m. — and many of us were a tad hung over. The PA Progressive Summit featured fewer insider jokes about issues, too. (I recall members of an audience at the Leadership Conference yelling “Voter ID!” to laughs regarding picking up name tags on the first day (hardy har!)); that didn’t happen so much here. Nor do Pennsylvania liberals seem to have a folk band equivalent to Angry Mob, the Tea Party musicians who played the Republican summit’s dinner.

6. Democratic State Sen. Mike Stack is also planning on running for governor. Maybe.

Yep: Mike Stack of Northeast Philly representation. During lunch on Saturday — which was awesome, by the way; free soft-baked cookie! — he made the rounds to every table, introducing himself, giving out cards and telling everyone he was considering a run for governor. In his favor: He referred to me as “my man.”

7. Support for a gay marriage ban seems to be on the ropes…

During a workshop on LGBT issues with state Rep. Brian Sims, Equality PA Executive Director Ted Martin and union organizer AJ Marin, Sims noted that he’s in the process of meeting everyone who previously supported state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s anti-gay marriage bill. Given that there are now two LGBT members of the state Legislature, an LGBT caucus (with 58 members from both parties), several municipalities throughout the state with anti-discrimination laws, and gay marriage is quickly becoming legal throughout the country, it’s hard to believe that such a bill could pass. So Metcalfe’s bill, the panel suggested, is more a trollish roll call of anti-gay zealots than actual, you know, legislation.

8. …but we’re still far, far behind on LGBT issues.

Pennsylvania is the least progressive state in the northeast on LGBT issues. How bad are we? Equality PA’s Martin noted that West Virginia, home of the Whites, will likely be passing an anti-discrimination bill within the next 90 days. West Virginia!

9. Eugene DePasquale got game.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale was supposed to participate in a lunch roundtable with Attorney General Kathleen Kane and State Treasurer Rob McCord, hosted by state Sen. Daylin Leach. Kane couldn’t make it. And, as we soon heard, neither could DePasquale — although his reason was nothing short of awesome. His son was in a basketball tournament, they were in the playoffs and the Auditor General is the freakin’ coach.

10. There’s a war on voting in Pennsylvania.

That you know. But luckily, there’s also a series of bills being brought up that aim to fight back. Those include modernization legislation that would allow for same-day voter registration, online registration, language assistance and early voting, as well as bills that would regulate how the legislature can redraw districts. Problem is, given the Republicans’ numerical superiority in the capitol, their push to stop all these things and to change (for the redder) the way electoral votes are divided in Pennsylvania is more likely than the progressive agenda to actually bear fruit this year.

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