John Hanger has made a noticeable impact in the 2014 Pennsylvania Democratic Gubernatorial Primary, despite being out-raised by the top-four candidates from approximately 2:1 to 13:1. As anybody who follows this race knows, Mr. Hanger has been defined by himself, the media, and his supporters as the “pro-weed candidate” — being the only one out of all eight candidates to support full legalization in the state. And props to him for doing so. Marijuana legalization makes sense. But it is not the number one issue in this primary, and some people need to stop pretending it is — or that it’s even close.
Beyond marijuana legalization, I also support strong issue candidates early-on in primaries, because it forces the likely front-runners to answer certain questions and clarify positions they normally wouldn’t — therefore pushing the field to the left and getting a better sense of where they lie ideologically. These issue candidates, if they cannot garner enough support in the polls or with donations to keep their campaigns afloat, should drop as soon as possible — but after they’ve forced the front-runners to elucidate their policy positions on their preferred issue(s). And if they can accumulate necessary money and support to continue while doing so, then I wish them the best — but if not, step aside so we don’t have a nominee who wins with 15% of the vote.
To be fair to the journalists I’m upset with about how they’re treating this topic, marijuana legalization is a known sexy issue — obviously way sexier than things like pension reform or transportation policy — but candidates like John Hanger, to his credit, have already forced the top-tier candidates to clarify their positions on marijuana. If it wasn’t for him, we likely wouldn’t have such strong commitments from almost every front-runner on their support for medical marijuana legalization. And while medical marijuana legislation is possible if Democrats have a strong 2014 showing across the board in Pennsylvania, full legalization is just not, so why are people treating it like it’s even mildly feasible? And more importantly, why are people treating it like it’s something that should be our new governor’s top priority?
Pennsylvania has huge issues ahead of us. Unions could get hammered by potential upcoming Right to Work (Less) legislation. Our job growth rate is terrible. We have not recovered from Governor Corbett’s massive education cuts. Women’s reproductive rights are under attack. Marriage equality is literally being compared to acts of incest. 700,000 Pennsylvanians are being denying health coverage because of Corbett’s refusal to expand Medicaid. The list goes on-and-on. And, yes, governors have to do more than one thing at once, certainly, but you can only use so much political capital at a time — and I certainly wouldn’t want my governor to put marijuana policy ahead of any of the things on the aforementioned list.
Do I support full marijuana legalization? Absolutely. Would I be excited if it passed in Pennsylvania? Of course. But will I make it in cornerstone in my gubernatorial primary decision-making? Not even close. And I implore others to make the same distinction.
(Final note: For those of you who will say that John Hanger is not a single-issue candidate, I don’t disagree, as he’s outlined other topics — but this is clearly how he is trying to garner support in this race. And Pennsylvania Democrats should focus on more immediate and pressing issues when making their decision.)