John Fetterman, the towering, tattooed mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania who fell short in his attempt to challenge Pennsylvania Junior Sen. Pat Toomey in the 2016 elections, is back at the forefront of progressive politics in the commonwealth as he directs his attention to an often-overlooked statewide position: the lieutenant governor’s office.
Fetterman emerged as a strong champion for progressive values during his campaign for Senate, making issues like raising the minimum wage, reforming how campaigns are financed and revitalizing the middle-class centerpieces of his 2016 campaign.
After not receiving the Democratic nomination in 2016, Fetterman said he was driven to run for the lieutenant governor’s office due to the interest his Senate campaign received and the platform that the position could offer to help address those issues.
“It just came down to a decision. Do I do one more term as mayor? Or do I once again seek a large platform—a statewide platform—to talk about these issues?” Fetterman said.
The Braddock, Pennsylvania mayor said his first priority as lieutenant governor would be to work with Gov. Tom Wolf in whatever ways the governor needs. Fetterman also noted that while he wants Pennsylvanians to understand the role of the office, the position of lieutenant governor allows for latitude.
It is that freedom that Fetterman hopes to use as a platform to stand up for disaffected communities throughout Pennsylvania.
“Another priority would be to be that kind of statewide champion for all of these communities across Pennsylvania that have been left behind or that need and deserve some additional investment, interest, attention, support,” he said. “It’s about setting the stage and really redefining what the lieutenant governor’s office can and should be for Pennsylvania.”
Fetterman said he hopes to use the platform to advocate for working-class citizens to protect them from heavily-financed special interests and predatory corporations. Out of everything he learned from his first run for Senate, he said the destructive nature of money in politics is what struck him the most.
“Citizens United, that has equated speech with money, that corporations are people, is probably the single most corrosive threat to American democracy that I’ve seen,” he said. “If you’re worth $10 billion, you effectively have the ability to purchase a presidential candidate.”
“I always say, ‘Relax, it’s much worse than you think,’ and it really is. That’s the biggest single thing I learned there, and I don’t mean that in a good way,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman says the money ingrained in the American political system has a chokehold on much of the progress that Americans want to see, and that changes in how campaigns are financed are necessary in order for voters to see results from their elected lawmakers.
“Why can’t we pass gun reform? Because of the NRA. Why can’t we negotiate for drug prices? Because the goddamn pharmaceutical industry literally slathers Congress in campaign cash. You name it,” he said. “If you got down to it where it’s all got to come from low dollar donors… you would see a radically transformed American democracy.”
Being a strong supporter of campaign finance reform, Fetterman maintains that in a political culture that revolves around money, it’s important to have candidates that turn a blind eye to large checks.
“I don’t want to pay more attention to someone that gives me $2,500 than someone who gives me $25,” he said. “That’s the way it has to be right now because of how gross it is. That’s the bottom line.”
Fetterman will be challenging current Democratic Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack for the office in 2018. His dedication to being a champion for middle-class Pennsylvanians is something that he hopes will propel him into Harrisburg alongside Wolf in 2018.
When asked what one thing he wants Pennsylvanians to know about him, Fetterman said he will stop at nothing to improve the lives of residents that deserve more.
“There isn’t anything I won’t do to be a champion for all these places across Pennsylvania who deserve better than what they’ve got,” he said.