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Democrats in Pennsylvania are up in arms after the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsed a pro-Donald Trump candidate with a history of making inflammatory and anti-transgender statements.
Committee members voted 49-19 in favor of endorsing Heather Kass over Jessica Benham, a bisexual progressive candidate and disability rights activist, in the race for a seat in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.
According the Pittsburgh Current, Kass has used her social media to insult transgender people, mock gun control, say that drug addicts should overdose so there’s “less shit in the world,” and call people on public assistance “lazy no good idiots.”
Speaking to the Current, Benham said she takes it personally “as someone with a preexisting condition that the endorsement goes to someone who calls themselves a Democrat and rails against the Affordable Care Act, something that allows me to have health insurance.
“She [Kass] knocks people who aren’t straight, mocks people who believe in common-sense gun laws and supports Donald Trump,” Benham said. “So, yes, I take what happened today very personally.”
Benham, who has been endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, told LGBTQ Nation that she plans to continue with her campaign despite the county committee’s endorsement of Kass.
“I will continue running the same campaign that I always intended to run — one focused on talking to the full electorate who will be voting at the end of April and continuing to learn about the issues important to them, not one that aims to please a small group of political insiders,” Benham said.
“I look forward to continuing to champion issues important to people in my district, as well as causes specific to people with disabilities and LGBTQ people,” she continued. “I hope to be the first out LGBTQ+ woman in the Pennsylvania state legislature and the first openly autistic state legislator elected in the country.”
Benham added on Twitter that she was “disappointed” with the party for its endorsement of Kass.
Today, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee chose to endorse my opponent, an outspoken Trump supporter. I’m disappointed in my party tonight especially because it’s so crucial that we come together to defeat Donald Trump this year.
— Jessica Benham (@jessicalbenham) February 17, 2020
The county committee has also been criticized for endorsing a candidate to challenge incumbent state Rep. Summer Lee, the only black woman representative from the region.
The committee also refused to endorse Lee during her first campaign two years ago, justifying the decision by saying they were only supporting incumbents.
“Now even as the incumbent, the @AlleghenyDems have refused again to endorse the only Black woman to EVER be elected from this region,” Lee tweeted. “Seat at the table where?”
2nd time running. Won 1st time w/68%, increased voter turnout, supported new dems, voted more "dem" than they do
Now even as the incumbent, the @AlleghenyDems have refused again to endorse the only Black woman to EVER be elected from this region. Seat at the table where?
— Summer Lee (@SummerForPA) February 16, 2020
Other Democrats have chastised the Allegheny County Democratic Committee for endorsing Kass.
State Sen. Lindsey Williams tweeted that those who supported Kass should be “ashamed of themselves.”
“Anyone who is supporting or whipped votes for Heather Kass should be ashamed of themselves,” she tweeted. “And in case that is unclear, I mean State Rep. Harry Readshaw, State Rep. Bill Kortz, and City Councilman Anthony Coghill should be ashamed of themselves.”
Allegheny County Councillor Bethany Hallam (D) told the Current that fellow councilor Anthony Coghill his endorsement of Kass was “about stopping Jessica’s momentum, not about backing Heather Kass.”
“I’m really pissed about this whole situation,” Hallam said.
She added: “If you look at the comments that Heather Kass made, they weren’t 25 years ago, they’re recent…. [Kass] thinks gender identity is a joke, thinks people with substance abuse issues deserve to die and she gets the endorsement. We should all be taking this personally. What the fuck is going on here?”
Regarding the county committee’s decision not to endorse Summer Lee, Hallam said it was “disgusting.”
Sean Meloy, Senior Political Director at the LGBTQ Victory Fund and member of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee said that the endorsement of Kass was “appalling,” LGBTQ Nation reports.
“Heather Kass is in open revolt against many of the core principles of the Democratic party – including its support for LGBTQ equality,” Meloy said.
“For her to receive the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement is appalling and exemplifies the sort of good old boys politics voters are continuing to reject,” Meloy continued. “It is clear those members of the committee feared a change agent like Jess Benham — a queer woman with a disability who is outspoken in her support for equality, affordable healthcare and the labor movement.”
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