Democrats will have a choice for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor in 2018

Yes, voters get to choose a separate candidate for the position.

Kathi Cozzone and Aryanna Berringer

Kathi Cozzone and Aryanna Berringer

Courtesy the campaigns
Sarah Anne Hughes

If you know that Pennsylvania has a separately elected lieutenant governor, congratulations: You know more than many people.

Maybe you paid attention during civics class. Or maybe you’ve heard about Pennsylvania’s current lieutenant governor, Democrat Mike Stack, and the allegations that he’s verbally abused his staff and recklessly spent taxpayer money.

While state Democrats are coalescing around Gov. Tom Wolf ahead of his 2018 re-election bid, there isn’t the same level of unity to keep Stack in office.

Already, two Democrats have declared their candidacy to challenge Stack, and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman is rumored to be mulling his own entrance. No Republicans have announced their intention to run.

If it’s an office you’ve never even heard of, you may question why you should pay attention to the lieutenant governor race at all. The candidates have an answer for that.

Should Pennsylvania have a lieutenant governor?

Pennsylvania’s state constitution provides for the election of a lieutenant governor, making the commonwealth one of 18 states to do so. If you’re curious about the history, consult PennLive’s deep dive into why Pennsylvania’s 19th century statesmen (what’s good, Thaddeus Stevens) revised the constitution to provide for the separate position.

The outlet also noted, “To this day, one of the key criticisms of the post is that it’s largely a ceremonial one, apart from being able to break ties in the Senate and serving on the pardons board.” PennLive’s editorial board has even called for the state to eliminate the lieutenant governor’s office.

Candidate Aryanna Berringer, an IT project manager for Giant Eagle who lives in Murrysville, says the position is “underutilized,” explaining that the lieutenant governor’s role of chairing the Board of Pardons could be a much more important task.

She tells the story of visiting her father in jail when he was incarcerated because of a marijuana charge. Berringer was 10 and remembers seeing the shame on his face through the glass that separated them. He struggled to find work after that conviction, she said.

“We have a terrible backlog of pardons,” she told The Incline. “The only way we can get a drug charge like this taken off someone’s record is through the pardon process.”

As someone “who knows the impact that has on families,” Berringer believes the pardons board chair should also be involved in activism for juvenile justice reform, something that could have benefitted her dad.

“There’s so much more we can be doing in that particular area,” she said.

Bringing bipartisanship back

Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor also serves as president of the Pa. Senate.

Candidate Kathi Cozzone knows the exact impact that body, as well as the Pa. House, has on local governments.

For three terms, Cozzone has served as a Chester County commissioner. Over the past decade, she’s become “increasingly frustrated that the legislature doesn’t really understand that the mandated services we provide on their behalf need to be funded,” she told The Incline.

Those programs include administering 911, elections and a wide array of human services supports.

“Generally people don’t know what we do until they need the services,” she said.

Like Berringer, Cozzone thinks that to be a leader you have to do more than what’s listed in a job description.

She sees serving as lieutenant governor as the “perfect opportunity” to not only make the legislature aware of its affect on local governments but to continue the work she’s started in Chester County. That includes workforce development, keeping non-violent offenders with a mental illness out of the criminal justice system and fighting for pipeline reform.

Cozzone, whose county includes hundreds of miles of pipelines, was appointed by Wolf to his Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, and she said she would advocate for recommendations made in that body’s report as lieutenant governor.

Perhaps most importantly to anyone paying attention to the budget quagmire, Cozzone touts an ability to reach across the aisle. “I’ve been in the minority for the last 10 years, but I’ve worked very successfully with my Republican colleagues to work on behalf of the people that we serve,” she said.

The lessons of elections past

Unlike Cozzone, Berringer does not have experience in elected office.

Shortly after 9/11, she enlisted in the Army at age 18 and served during the Iraq War. When she was honorably discharged, she went to college under the GI Bill. Now with two masters degrees, she manages IT projects for 219 Giant Eagle stores in five states.

Both have — unsuccessfully — sought higher office against Republicans: Berringer for U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts’ seat, and Cozzone for state Sen. John Rafferty’s.

“In 2014, with Gov. [Tom] Corbett being as unpopular as he was, I believed there would be an opportunity to win that senate seat,” Cozzone said, “and if not, to talk to people” about the tough tasks facing county commissioners. Now running for a statewide office, that’s what she plans to do again.

Berringer, then Aryanna Strader, was greatly outraised by Pitts during the 2012 race. It probably won’t surprise you to hear Berringer say that experience taught her how to raise money.

“When you grow up poor, the last thing you do is ask for anything, because you feel like people have already given you so much,” said Berringer, who is the youngest of 10 children. “That was a really hard thing for me to overcome.”

But bigger than that, Berringer said she learned “we lack representation” — we being women, people of color and young people.

“I technically should be generations away from ever considering running for office,” she said. “I don’t have a degree from Harvard. I didn’t go to Yale. I didn’t grow up well-off. My story isn’t normal for most politicians.”

Yet, she added, when voters don’t elect people who have real-life experiences, we lose “so much in terms of the conversations” we can have.

“I needed to run because we need a seat at the table,” she said.

If either Berringer or Cozzone emerge victorious with Wolf in the general election, she would be just the second woman to serve in the position. Berringer would also be the first person of color elected to an executive office in Pennsylvania.

Fetterman declined to comment for this story.

Cozzone said she’s not running solely because she’s a woman, but agrees there needs to be more women throughout the government, including in the legislature and executive office.

“We as a gender, outside of parties, are truly not represented,” she said.

Berringer also sees having women in higher office as critical, especially as state and federal politicians debate women’s healthcare, paid family leave and how to grapple with the inequality facing people of color. She’s lived out these debates, she said, whether it was going to Planned Parenthood at 16 for healthcare services or returning to work six weeks after delivering her three children.

“We need these experiences,” she said.