John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor Spoke to the Cllub

John Fetterman, the Commonwealth's current Lieutenant Governor, describes himself as "A different kind of Democrat"

He is frank to admit that he doesn’t look like a typical politician,

and more importantly, he doesn’t act like one.  He supported legalizing marijuana before it was popular, officiated a same-sex marriage before it was legal, champions sensible gun control and pushed for single payer healthcare long before it was mainstream.

While John has tosed his hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat beving vacated by Pat Toomey, the emphasis of his presentation this morning focused on his hopes that Pennsylvania will join surrounding states and legalize Marijuana for recrational use. However, to understand his crusade a brief overviw of his background is insightful.

A Pennsylvania native, John was born to teenage parents just starting out on their own. At the time, his father worked nights to put himself through college. John grew up in York, PA, and followed in his father’s footsteps to Albright College, where he played offensive tackle for the Lions.

At 23, John joined up with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and his life has never been the same.

John threw himself into the program, mentoring his ‘little’ – an 8-year-old boy who had recently lost his father to AIDS and whose mother was also battling the disease. Before she passed away, John promised that he would continue to look out for her son and make sure that he graduated college. Fifteen years later, John and his ‘little’ had both held up their ends of the bargain, with his little’s graduation from Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, PA.

But John wanted to do more. He joined AmeriCorps and served in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District, where he helped set up the first computer labs in the neighborhood and taught GED classes to young mothers and fathers.

He went on to earn a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

John returned to Pennsylvania to start a GED program in the town of Braddock, one of the poorest and most challenged communities in the commonwealth.

In 2005, encouraged by his students, John ran for mayor. He managed to win the crowded primary by a single vote. In his 13 years as mayor, John worked to rebuild the once-booming steel town back from collapse, creating jobs, getting youth engaged, and bringing creative urban policy solutions to Braddock. The town now has a community center, urban gardens, and a free store run by John’s wife, Gisele.

Together, John and Gisele have fought for causes they believe in, from immigration reform to LGBTQ+ rights. When Pennsylvania lawmakers continued to push outdated discriminatory policies banning marriage equality, John stood up and officiated one of the first same-sex marriages in the commonwealth. And when they wanted to build a four-lane interstate highway through Braddock, a town that’s more than 80% Black and already suffered historically high asthma rates, John was the only elected official in Western Pennsylvania who opposed it on the grounds that it was environmental racism. 

In 2016, John decided to run for U.S. Senate to confront the inequality crisis at the highest level of government. Although he lost the Democratic primary, John confounded expectations, earning 20 percent of the vote as a relatively unknown candidate in a four-way race.

Two years later, in 2018, John ran to be Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor, and this time dominated across the commonwealth, winning a five-way Democratic primary and a commanding victory in the general election.

As Lieutenant Governor, John has transformed the position into a bully pulpit for criminal justice reform.

Weeks after taking office, John embarked on a listening tour of all 67 counties, something no sitting Lt. Governor has ever done, to engage with Pennsylvanians about legalizing marijuana. In three months, the historic tour saw over 10,000 people turn out in person and tens of thousands more engage online. Following John’s final report and recommendations, the Governor announced his support for legalization for the first time. 

As the chair of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons, John has led the fight to give second chances to non-violent longtime inmates and free those who have been wrongfully convicted. 

He has taken numerous steps to overhaul the clemency process in Pennsylvania, including eliminating all fees associated with applying for a pardon, making the pardons application more user-friendly, and working to move the application process online.  Under John’s tenure, the Board has recommended more applicants for commutation than under any lieutenant governor in decades. 

While John does not use marijuana nor would he want his children to become users, he views the legalization of "weed" as a logical outcome of the Commonwealth's and nation's failed "war on drugs".  Harkening back to the days of prohibition, the 18th Amendment was disliked by a vast majority of Americans and its primary legacy was the rise of organized crime which cornered the illegal liquor market during the 1920s.

He also sees legalization as a potential financial boon for the state which could generate several billion dollars which presently are being earned by the drug cartels to help fund many underserved programs, infrastructure projects and other initiatives.  In addition, it would eliminate the policing costs of enforcing existing marijuana laws and the costs of judicial and incarcerating s many as 20,000 violators annually.

John also points out that several, very conservative states, including Arizona and Montana, as well as New Jersey and soon to join the list of states legalizing marijuana New York. e argues forcefully that not enacting legalization will only serve to let the cartels continue to profit along with neighboring states where Pennsylvanians will be able to shop for their weed.

Between 65% -70% for the people with whom John has met and discussed the topic across Pennsylvania agree with his position. 

When questioned about whether the Commonwealth should be relying on so-called sin taxes levied on gambling, liquor, and marijuana, John stated that while he personally doesn't use such substances, also including tobacco, he understands that other people make other choices.  So long as those choices are not a threat to the public, there is no reason to prohibit their sale and use.

Another question dealt with the possibility of people driving automobiles while under the influence.  While he recognizes it could become a problem, John asked that should we ban cell phones which cause many accidents because irresponsible drivers are texting or otherwise using them while driving.  Do we return to prohibition and ban alcohol sales because due to the highway tragedies created by impaired driving?  Should cigarettes be taken off the market because of the numbers of deaths directly or indirectly attributed to their use.  Personal behavior can not always be constrained by laws … as prohibition, the war on drugs or even prostitution have proven out.

Lt. Governor Fetterman also expressed his revulsion at the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol and labeled it an attack on the most fundamental tenant of democracy.

Other issues about which John has become an advocate are:

  • The minimum wage should be a living wage of at least $15 an hour. All work has dignity, and all paychecks must too.T
  • Health care is a fundamental human right – just like housing, food, and education. 
  • Climate change is an existential threat. We need to transition to clean energy as quickly as possible, and we can create millions of good union jobs in the process. 
  • Sensible gun control legislation – believing that there is not need or excuse for military grade weapons and ammunition to be available to the general public … while emphatically not advocating taking guns used for hunting, target shooting or home protection away from the general public, with exceptions for those with mental illness or violent crimes on their record.
  • Weed should be legal, nationwide, not just in Pennsylvania — for jobs, justice, veterans, farmers, and revenue. It’s time to end the failed war on drugs. 
  • Immigration is what makes America, America. We need a compassionate response to immigration reform that actually treats immigrants like human beings. 
  • Black Lives Matter. John served as mayor of a city that’s more than 80% Black, and has championed the idea that Black lives matter since long before it became a hashtag. 
  • The union way of life is sacred. It’s what built this nation, and it must be protected.  
  • A woman’s right to an abortion is non-negotiable. Women should have control over their own bodies and their own lives. Period.
  • LGBTQIA+ communities deserve equal protections under the law. John has always stood for equality, and was one of the first elected officials in PA to officiate a same-sex wedding – when it was still illegal. 
  • Get corporate money out of politics. John refuses contributions from corporate PACs, and he signed the “No Fossil Fuel Money” Pledge.

John and Gisele have chosen not to settle in the Lt. Governor’s Mansion, instead opening up the pool in the official residence to children who typically wouldn’t have access to one. They live with their three children Karl, 11, Gracie, 9, and August, 6, in a restored car dealership in Braddock with the family dog, Levi.

While  many politicians love to sound tough on the stump their actions are all too often driven by what wil lhelp them get re-elected.  Refreshingly, John Fetterman not only "talks the talk" he also "walks the walk".