The campaign signs seen on yards around the area are far from the only sign of enthusiasm for Democratic congressional candidate Jess King.
The crowd that turned out to see her on Thursday, June 28, at Lucky Ducks Bar and Grille in Elizabethtown was large enough that a campaign worker was caught off guard. He had not brought enough volunteer sign-up sheets to go around and had to ask those in attendance to share them.
The challenger to Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker has a challenge ahead. Although the court-ordered redrawing of Pennsylvania’s congressional district boundaries mostly benefited Democrats, it put Lancaster County in with highly conservative southern York County in the new 11th District. The district is ranked by the Cook Partisan Voting Index as R+14, which means the area’s vote in the last two presidential elections favored the Republicans by 14 percentage points more than the national average. Before the redistricting, most of Lancaster County was in the 16th District along with part of Chester County and part of Berks County including the city of Reading. That district was ranked R+5 — a district that favored Republicans, but nowhere nearly as strongly as the new district.
Before King spoke at the event, Democratic state Senate candidate Bill Troutman gave brief remarks, followed by congressional campaign volunteer Kristy Moore.
Troutman, who last year became the first Democrat elected to the Elizbethtown Borough Council in decades, said he was glad that he had just gotten the endorsement of the activist group Lancaster Stands Up earlier in the day.
“That was a great thing to read this afternoon,” Troutman said.
Troutman said he had long been an active member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and said he was glad to see that this year, Democrats are running candidates in many races that they had not bothered with in previous years.
“I don’t want it to end up just like every other year,” Troutman said.
He said it was important to have voices in the state Legislature fighting for fair funding for schools, small business and family farms, as well as pushing for energy policies that are environmentally responsible.
“What we decide this November is going to affect all of us for generations,” Troutman said.
Moore, who teaches seventh grade in a Lancaster County public school district and works in a big-box retail store, said she grew up in Philadelphia, where her father was a union sheet metal worker and her mother was a secretary.
“We never got involved in any campaigns; that was something other people did,” Moore said, but she said her experience led her to volunteer for King.
Moore said many of her students’ parents and grandparents cannot afford to get treatment for illness. Many of their parents do not earn a living wage, she said.
Moore said some of her students come from families that have nicer cars than she does; others dread days when school is closed due to snow because they will go hungry without the school lunch.
She said she was impressed when she heard King speak.
“She is not a typical politican; Jess is a good person,” Moore said, drawing laughter.
She said thinks like the mass murder at a school in Parkland, Fla., and the detention of migrants at the country’s southern border are disturbing, but said she now has hope.
“It’s going to be all right,” Moore said. “We’re going to get Jess to Washington and she’s going to work to fix all of this.”
King told the crowd that she was glad to have 60 interns working on the campaign, some of whom are too young to vote.
She described her childhood growing up in Leola. Her father died in a plane crash during her early childhood.
“Social Security survivors benefits were essential in our family surviving,” King said.
When she was 5 years old, her mother remarried. The family started a paint store and painting contracting business. She said working for the family business taught her about integrity and hard work.
King said welcoming refugees to this country is an important value. She noted that her own ancestors were Mennonite refugees unable to practice their religion freely in Europe.
“My own ancestors were religious refugees to this country in the 1600s,” King said.
She said she was shocked to learn of immigrant children being locked in cages.
“I think we have an opportunity to build a longer table and not a higher wall,” King said, getting applause.
King said something needs to be done about growing income inequality.
“Half of Americans have not seen a raise in 40 years,” King said, adding that the top 1 percent has seen 60 percent of the growth in income in that period.
“This is not an example of a society, of an economy that is sustainable,” King said.
She said Congress should expand the Medicare program so it covers everybody. The current program covers people over the age of 65.
“In the richest country in the world, health care should be a right and not a privilege,” King said.
She said medical bills are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy. Also, the No. 1 reason why people choose not to start new businesses is that they cannot affort to buy individual health insurance plans.
“We’re stifling innovation and entrepreneurship” by not having universal health care, King said.
King said there needs to be more investment in developing a skilled work force. She said Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster could expand its enrollment tenfold and still not meet the demand employers have for skilled workers.
She said if employees were making better wages, it would improve local economies.
“Half of Americans haven’t seen a raise in a generation, and if they did, they’d spend it in the local economy,” King said.
King urged the crowd to look at Federal Election Commission reports of campaign finance. She said 97 percent of Smucker’s money comes from political action committees, but none of hers does. She said she has raised more money than Smucker for two quarterly reports in a row without taking PAC money.