If you stood me next to PA Senate candidate John Fetterman, we’d look like opposites. Short vs. tall. Male vs. female. Hair vs. no hair (sorry!). But ideologically, we are very similar, which is what prompted me to contact him. We both have a passion for Pennsylvania and its small towns. We both have a passion for helping people who need a voice, who need some assistance, the marginalized. We both make a small salary doing what we love. He earns just $150 a month from being Mayor of Braddock.
His page came across my Facebook feed, so I decided to email him and see if he was willing to talk with me for a blog post. He emailed me back and this morning we talked for almost an hour. I left the conversation feeling enthused about politics again.
Since the San Bernandino shootings occurred just the day before, I first wanted to ask a couple of questions about gun control. I was pleased with his response, which echoes what most Americans are saying:
“It’s beyond a farce at this point. Enough is enough. I need to show all kinds of proof and documentation to sell a car, but I can buy or sell a 44 Magnum in a parking lot from a guy, and it is all completely legal.”
He also pointed out a few decades ago, people said and thought that Big Tobacco was indestructible, and that certainly has not turned out to be true and mentioned using that same model with guns.
When you read articles about John Fetterman, most are quick to point out his imposing size (6’8″) and his many tattoos. Since ours was a phone interview, I wasn’t impressed by his height (which is actually only a couple of inches taller than my husband) or his appearance. What I was impressed by was his straightforward, refreshing honesty. He certainly doesn’t look like your average Harvard graduate, but he does hold a Masters Degree in Public Policy from there.
My kids and I have met dozens of politicians at all levels. You get a feel for who is just a paid mannequin and who is the real deal. This guy is the real deal. He has an enthusiasm that is palpable, but not all unicorns, rainbows and starry-eyed. He is realistic about the challenges. That he is not a polished, PR-ready politician is part of his appeal. I genuinely hope that enough Pennsylvanians can see through to that.
I spoke to him mostly about education and social issues such as helping those living in poverty and so on. He is often labeled as liberal and progressive, which are labels he doesn’t always quite understand.
“I know that my politics are called Progressive, but to me it’s just common sense. We know that if we pay people $8 an hour that they can’t support their families. We know that 100 out of 100 scientists agree that there is climate change that could be catastrophic. We know that mass incarceration doesn’t work. We know that universal Pre-K does work. You can call that progressive if you want, to me it’s just common sense to do what works. I’ve closed the gap for residents of Braddock using common sense programs that work.”
I asked him about the two other candidates vying for the Democratic nod in the primary, and what he feels he has to offer that they do not:
“I guess I would say, look at the past 10 years, and look at what each of us has been doing. My whole campaign is ‘this is what I have done in Braddock and want to do on a larger scale.’ What has each of us been doing for the past 10 years, and who can you get behind? I actually have raised more money than the other candidates in the same time frame–the difference is where we spent that money. I spent it on my town and on helping people, not on a campaign.”
The programs that John and his wife Gisele have started are numerous and impressive–early education and pre-K, food programs that utilize groceries that would otherwise be thrown out (but are still completely edible!), adult education and GED programs, adult work programs. They work to eliminate basic insecurities for residents of Braddock, such as food, clothing and shelter. He has been especially successful at forming private partnerships to fund these projects. I asked him how he felt he could make an impact or reciprocate these programs on a larger scale:
Look, we know what works. We also know that we are going to pay for it in some manner. If we don’t invest in people, then we pay over $6 billion for Walmart employees to receive assistance. Why not spend on what works, rather than be reactive?”
Of course, my passion is education and ESEA had just passed the day before our chat, so I asked several education questions.
“Again, we know what works. We know that if we pull money from education at the front end, we pay for it in multiples later. So why not do the right thing? For me, it’s not just an economic choice, it’s a moral one. We know universal pre-K works, we know prison outreach and adult education programs work. I don’t want some private hedge fund running education, they won’t have our kids’ best interests at hand. This isn’t radical politics, it’s just common sense to use facts and evidence.”
I was pleased to hear that he has the same view as what I hold on charter schools–the original idea and concept is a great one, but reforms are needed.
A champion of Pennsylvania’s small towns, he says:
“We need to invest in our small communities. We have so many small towns and small communities who feel that their best days are a generation or two ago. Just because they may not be a booming steel or coal town anymore doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to offer, with the right programs and investments.”
John Fetterman’s greatest assets are likely his greatest liabilities. He doesn’t bow to special interests. He doesn’t pay attention to polls or focus groups. He says that he just governs “according to my morals and my belief system.” But, that will likely hurt his fund raising capabilities and therefore be able to get his name and his face in front of enough Pennsylvania voters before the April primary. I recently heard a statistic that a voter needs to have seven different exposures to a candidate before they feel comfortable with that person. I hope that every Pennsylvanian gets those 7 times….Pennsylvania and the U.S. Senate will be better for it.
Please also visit:
- John Fetterman on Facebook
- John Fetterman on Twitter
- John Fetterman on YouTube
- John Fetterman on Instagram
- What does John Fetterman stand for? A conversation with the unconventional Senate candidate
- Meet John Fetterman (interview with Chris Hayes on MSNBC)
- Meet John Fetterman (interview on ABC)
(psst! That’s more than 7 exposures, so now go vote for him in April!)