The reality is more complex. Schwartz’ vote for the farm bill came after an extensive push by her to insert $125 million for a program that offers financial aid for building new supermarkets in food deserts — low-income neighborhoods that were abandoned by groceries a generation ago and now lack healthy food options, The program that Schwartz successfully added is modeled after a program that was conceived by activists and lawmakers here in Philadelphia and has been pretty darned successful, as anyone who’s noticed the spanking new supermarkets in places like West Philly or Brewerytown would attest.
Lawmaking is nuanced — but nuance is the kiss of death in today’s party primary. Some of Schwartz’ problems like her involvement with Third Way are self-inflicted, but it is hard to deal with the sinkhole that is Congress while her rivals who don’t have to cast votes are out winning environmental endorsements or throwing up their pro-pot billboards.
The fresh food financing initiative is a very good program, if less impactful than state government simply letting all supermarkets sell booze. And to supporters, this is an example of Schwartz’s ability to engage constructively with Republican lawmakers – a skill they believe will pay dividends should Schwartz become Governor, since it is exceedingly unlikely that Democrats will flip the PA House in addition to the state Senate.
In this telling, Schwartz has put in important work building trust with the dwindling ranks of the responsible wing of the Republican Party in the US House, and that reputation will carry over to lawmaking in Harrisburg.
That’s understandable – trust is important, and the human element of legislative politics is frequently underrated by people like myself who are looking at these negotiations from 10,000 feet.
What I can’t understand is why Schwartz didn’t burn the Republicans at the very last minute, once her fresh food program was safely inserted into the bill and cleared for passage. Why didn’t she tell them she’d vote for the bill in exchange for the program, and then say “Psych!” and not vote for it in the roll call?
Schwartz supporters would probably say that she’d see this as irresponsible, because it would damage her relationship with Republican House members she’s built trust with.
There’s an obvious counter to this argument. She’s leaving in less than a year! Daylin Leach or Val Arkoosh will replace her in the 13th District in the next session.
And what’s truly irresponsible is cutting food subsidies for 175,000 households, or about $65 a month from those who can least afford it. These benefits already are not generous, and as we’ve seen from the SNAP Challenge accounts of people who have tried to live on $4.50 a day, it makes you really tired and hinders your ability to make good decisions. Cutting $65 a month from that is only going to make life harder for people.
What’s actually more important? Schwartz’s responsibility to the House Republicans to vote for their bill in exchange for their inclusion of her fresh food program? Or her responsibility to Pennsylvania’s poorest households not to take food off their tables? On consequentialist grounds, the choice not to burn the Republicans at the last minute seems repugnant.
And politically, this is just horrible Governor’s race politics. Schwartz supporters would probably say that this shows she is a hard-headed leader who is willing to do the right thing, even at the risk of exposing herself to political attacks. But again, what really was the right thing to do here? Not only did Democrats not want her to take this vote, but it weakens her ability to claim a strong contrast with Tom Corbett on the issue of poverty in the general election, not to mention the primary.
Allyson Schwartz has been an important friend to progressives on key issues like equality and women’s health and privacy. But she does have a conservative streak, and not even on issues where conservative positions are popular. It’s votes like this that are leading many activists I know to conclude, unfairly or not, that her Congressional voting record could be an albatross in the general election, and start looking to candidates who do not carry the baggage of a long voting record.