Central PA's LGBT News Source

Will LGBT voters create change?

Dauphin Co. - #3 in PA for diversity

New treasurer for PA's Democratic Party

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“Most people don’t realize that Dauphin County is the state’s third most diverse county, ahead of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,” says Alex Reber, recently elected treasurer of the Pennsylvania State Democratic Party. He is the first-ever, openly-gay person elected an officer and the first within the 18 to 32-year-old age range.

“As elected treasurer, I’m a backroom guy making sure our processes and procedures are within all the rules and regulations, and laws that apply,” Reber explains.” He receives no pay as treasurer.

Regarding demographics, Reber reflects what The Central Voice reported in 2010 following that year’s census.

At the time, Dr. Gary Gates, UCLA’s Williams Center director told Voice Harrisburg has the fourth highest concentration of same-sex households among cities and boroughs in the state, according to 2010 US Census figures released by UCLA’s William’s Institute.

For the 2010 census, three hundred and eighteen households reported themselves as same-sex couples which accounts for 15.45 of every 1,000 couples in the capital city.

“Census data have been incredibly important in LGBT-related policy debates,” Gates explained. “They show how same-sex couples are very often economically and demographically similar to their different-sex counterparts and yet are treated differently under the law.”

For example, Voice recently reported that Trump appointee Robert Redfield, CDC head, recently disclosed that the agency will roll back support for the collection of data on the health and well-being of LGBT people through the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

Working from the bottom up to create a more embracing atmosphere – like including the LGBT community in census and other government-collected data - is Reber’s recommendation.

“The Democratic Party is a bottom up organization,” Reber says. Each polling precinct elects representatives who then elect their leadership at the county and state level.

The state committee values diversity. “We have 370 members by a formula that brings in as much diversity as we can,“ Reber says. Dauphin County has five members on the state committee under the rules. On the state level, there are “two women, two men, and the next biggest vote getter.

The state Democratic Party’s main focus is electing candidates. An example Reber uses is the “Commit to Vote” program in which potential voters are sent a card about one month before an election to remind them of their commitment.  Reber explains that voters fill out cards indicating their commitment to vote. The cards are collected while canvassing and at events. “The cards are mailed back to them as a reminder of their commitment to vote in an upcoming election.

For the LGBT voting community “We coordinate with HRC Rising, the Human Rights Campaign national effort that has launched locally, when appropriate and allowed under the rules.”

Reber says the state committee also coordinates with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee helping US House candidates and their counterpart in the US Senate known as the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

Dauphin County

How does state versus local add up when it’s time for an election?

Dauphin County is trending Democratic Reber says. In election cycles going back a few years, “Democrat candidates have reached the high 48% of the total vote in municipal and countywide elections, within 1,500 voters of winning,” Reber says. That’s a documented, upward trend,” Reber says. In a way, he is reflecting what 28-year Harrisburg Mayor Steve Reed always said – there are Democrats outside the city. The challenge is to find them.

Reber says the key to successfully running a state-level political party is to “coordinate our fund raising and other resources” with county and municipal party organizers and candidates themselves. For example, Reber explains that “a dollar donated to the state party may help them send an organizer to your area or pay for advertising”.

Topsy turvey?

Since the 2016 Presidential election, pundits have called into question the future of the Democratic Party on a state and national level. Is the party still relevant?

“Absolutely. Since 2016, we’ve seen a surge in volunteers and candidates getting involved,” Reber says. He notes there are “more Democratic candidates running for the Pennsylvania state legislature than we have in 20 years”. One-hundred and eighty Democrats are running for 203 seats in the Pennsylvania House and 24 are running for 25 seats in the Senate.

An April 2018 Reuters/Ipsos national online poll with 16,000 registered voters ages 18 to 34 shows their support for Democrats over Republicans for Congress slipped by about 9% over the past two years, to 46% overall. What strategies will the state Democratic Party use to appeal to this demographic?

Reber counters “that is one poll not backed up by what we see in Democratic registrations in Pennsylvania”. As of July 16, “we have 1,041,524 registered Democrats in the state ages 18 to 34 compared to 640,054 registered Republicans in the same age group,” Reber says.

The party is also using “enhanced social media techniques and texting applications to increase our outreach to young people,” Reber points out. Party volunteers are also “knocking doors in of the state’s 67 counties,” he confirms.

Although hard to definitively track, consensus is that 20-25% of cis-gendered, male and female same-sex-oriented voters cast their ballots for President Trump. Voice asked Reber for his perspective on that phenomena.

“I know LGBT voters who supported Donald Trump. He waved a rainbow flag and said he cared about our issues. They believed him,” Reber says. “We have seen by his policies and appointees that he cares more about getting support from LGBT opponents”.

Can LGBT voters create change through the electoral process? Reber says yes.

In 2004, when he first attended a state-level Democratic Party confab, Reber says “They slipped me a flyer, almost whispering where the party would be, off in a room, out of the way” like the LGBT folks were doing something that should be hidden. In 2018, I’m the elected treasurer. I’d say that’s change.”

About Alex Reber:

Prior to assuming his treasurer's role, Alex Reber, recently elected treasurer of the Pennsylvania State Democratic Party Reber had considerable experience.

He is senior accountant with Miller Dixon Drake, PC and has held numerous positions in the Dauphin County Democratic Party, PA Young Democrats, PA Democratic State Committee, Harrisburg City Audit Committee, Capitol Region Stonewall Democrats. He is the currently elected tax collector of Millersburg Borough and former board chair of Planned Parenthood Keystone.