Pam Levy has only missed one Republican State Committee meeting in the last decade.
She enjoys the meetings, where she gets the chance to meet people running for statewide office, discuss current events and then, when she returns home — the meetings occur in towns and cities across Pennsylvania — disseminating what she learns to the community.
“It’s a way to give back to my community, gathering information,” said Levy, who’s been on the committee as a representative of Montgomery County for more than 10 years. “I’ll walk door-to-door. I’ll take candidates around. It’s also great to meet your neighbors.”
Members of the Republican and Democratic State Committees fulfill essential roles in the political process, although they don’t serve with much fanfare. Besides attending meetings and providing information to community members, they help decide who to endorse in statewide elections for their party’s primary. If a certain percent of the state committee decides to endorse a candidate, that candidate receives the state party endorsement.
The May 15 primary elections saw a new slate of party members elected to the Republican and Democratic State Committees, as well as the re-election of some already serving. The number of representatives varies depending on the party and county. A few of them, like Levy, are Jewish.
Committees also exist on other levels, such as the county and local levels. Many of the state committee people have experience serving on lesser committees. Levy, for example, started on the Lower Moreland Township committee.
Similar to other political positions, committee members run in elections for their office, although they are sometimes appointed. Unlike other political positions, committee people are unpaid. Their terms last four years.
Lynne Lechter was elected to her first term on the Republican State Committee as a representative of Montgomery County on May 15. She also had experience as a local committee person and ran for the state House of Representatives in 2000 and 2008.
She said a campaign for state committee is more based on who the person is, rather than their political beliefs.
“[As a committee person], you are really nominated and elected on your background, who you are, what your reputation is, what your experience is, are you a stabilizing factor, are you good for the party, have you had a lot of experience in trying to get people to vote, in dealing with candidates,” she said. “It’s very different. It’s sort of like being on an executive committee or on the board of directors of a company.”
Murray Levin, who was recently elected to his third term on the Democratic State Committee as a representative of Montgomery County, said his committee campaigns have had a much lower profile than his U.S. Senate campaign in 2000.
“Running for state committee is a little more under the radar,” he said. “Most people are not that aware of the office. It’s on the ballot. Some people campaign very vigorously. But it doesn’t get the attention that running for, say, Congress or anything like that would. It’s a very different event, a very different activity. Both have a lot of great pleasure though.”
When Levin first ran for state committee, Republican Tom Corbett was governor, which was one reason why he sought the position.
“I’m interested in electing members of the Democratic party on a statewide basis, now more than ever,” Levin said. “I wanted to play whatever role I could in helping to formulate our positions on important issues. So I thought of the state committee as the body where I might be able help in some way on both of these goals.”
Ruth Damsker is also entering her third term on the Democratic State Committee as a representative of Montgomery County. Although she was elected her first two terms, she was appointed for her third term.
“It’s like running for governor,” Damsker said with a laugh.
She started as a local committee person in Cheltenham Township and now holds the same position in Upper Gwynedd Township. As a local committee person, one of her responsibilities is to work the polls during elections. She also used to work as an elected Cheltenham Township finance officer and as Montgomery County commissioner.
For Damsker, getting more women elected was a key part of why she decided to continue serving on the state committee.
“I have tried to mentor women and get women involved, which we’ve been very successful [at], actually,” she said. “I’m very happy to say that, in Montgomery County, we have a lot of women who are running.”
When deciding whether or not to endorse a candidate, committee people often consider that candidate’s platform and how similar it is to their own beliefs. Though many voters don’t pay attention to who is on the ballot for committee, the job can have an important influence over which candidates receive their party’s endorsement.
Because she’s pro-choice, for example, Damsker said, she would be less likely to endorse a candidate who wasn’t.
At state committee meetings, members often have the opportunity to meet the candidates, which helps Levy decide who to support. It is one reason why she rarely misses a meeting.
“What you see on TV or what you get in letters is not the same impression as when you actually meet somebody and talk to them,” Levy said. “I find it very important. … It’s important to go and find out what is going on, meet the people and decide yourself.” l