Meet the Delegates: Joe Smallhoover – Democrats Abroad

Joe SmallhooverJoe Smallhoover is the Chair of Democrats Abroad France. We tried unsuccessfully to find some time together during the convention, but finally a mutually workable time a few days afterwards.

While he lives in Paris now, Joe was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Upper St. Clair, PA. He attended Washington and Jefferson College and Duke University. He holds an MA in Germanic languages from the University of Virginia and did advanced studies in Europe on a Fullbright, as an exchange teacher before returning to the US to obtain a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He has lived in Paris since 1985, and has practiced law in France, Belgium and Germany.

DocJess: Where did you get your interest in politics?

Joe Smallhoover: I have been involved since I was in diapers. My grandfather was the Chair of the Allegheny County Commissioners from 1934 until the late 1950’s and active in the Democratic Party all his life. I grew up in that household and was treated to seeing state and local dignitaries on a regular basis and learned the ins and outs of politics.

DJ: Democrats Abroad is a group of ex-pats…

JS: Let me stop you. Often people say “ex-patriots” instead of “expatriates” as if we are not patriotic Americans. We certainly are patriotic, and one of the ways we show that is by voting. We just happen to be living outside the country and prefer to be called Overseas Americans or Americans Abroad.

DJ: Sorry, I meant no disrespect.

JS: I know. It’s a common theme we deal with.

DJ: So. If I lived outside the country, how would I join Democrats Abroad? What exactly do you do?

JS: Democrats Abroad (DA) is recognized as a state party by the Democratic National Committee and we even have our own primary. The French and English groups are the oldest within the umbrella of DA, both chapters having been formed in 1964. We have committees in 41 countries, active but less organized committees in another 20 countries, and members from 160 countries.

If you are an American abroad, you can vote in the state primary of the state you lived in just prior to moving overseas, or you can participate in the Democratic primary as a part of DA.  Democrats Abroad, by the way, also participates directly in the DNC, with seats on various committees.

DJ: Is that true for the general election?

JS: Overall yes, in most cases. Federal law says that Americans living abroad can participate in Federal elections. There is a Federal ballot that can be used, or in some states, Americans abroad can file an absentee ballot for that state which would include all the offices on all the other ballots for that state.

However, some states will make you pay state income taxes if you vote on the state ballot because it establishes part of a residency requirement. Some states won’t charge taxes. It’s a fluid situation as states do change their rules over time. I lived in California just before I moved to France, and it used to be that you had to pay state taxes to vote absentee in state and local elections, but that was changed a few years ago.

Many states have an overseas ballot that is a Federal ballot. These ballots are both for civilians overseas as well as uniformed (military) voters. The rule is you can file one ballot or the other, not both.

DJ: What do you do to encourage voting?

JS: In France, we have an event every week across the land. We have multiple talks on issues that affect people. We also have caucuses, such as the Minority, Women, LGBT, and Youth. We have programs to discuss topics like the environment, economy, etc. We hold dinner debates, as well as social events. We are active and embedded in the American community overseas.

I started an internet site close to 30 years ago, before it was popular, after someone complained he couldn’t find Democrats Abroad. It was a nascent, flat site, but it was a start and I saw the benefit of early adoption. Now, we’re active on our websites, and we leverage social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to do as much outreach as possible so people can find us easily.

DJ: Do the Republicans have something similar?

JS: They tried, but they were more about fundraising. They’ve dissipated. They’re smaller than DA by at least a factor of 10, and they are not active in as many places. We have precincts and wards and a “county/state” structure while the Republicans have some elections but they’re relatively small, and most of their folks are involved by appointment and not election.

DJ: Was this your first convention?

1928-democratic-national-convention-ticket-valueJS: No. A member of my family has been present at every convention since 1928. I have attended all the conventions since 1996.

DJ: What did you think of Philadelphia?

JS: Each convention is a little different because of the dynamics of delegates, candidates and the city itself. Philadelphia was very welcoming. It was a wonderful feeling, being a native Pennsylvanian. The convention was smoothly organized. There were very few glitches that make being and attending difficult. Except meals were difficult. The lines were long and once you were in the arena there weren’t any other nearby options. But that’s to be expected and taken in stride.

The convention itself was absolutely spectacular. The speakers were tremendous and there were a number of surprises like Khizr Khan. When he held up a copy of the Constitution, it was one of the most powerful things I’d ever seen at a convention.

I also appreciated Gabby Giffords. I’d met her in Paris before she’d regained the power of speech, and to see her take the podium, and speak, well, all I could think was if she could do this with her limitations, imagine how much brilliance must be locked inside of her.

DJ: And Larry Sanders?

JS: We had all seen him tear up in private, and were overwhelmed by the pride he had for his brother. It was very powerful, and then, we got to see his brother react. It was a moment that won’t soon be repeated.

DJ: One last thing. Some of my readers either live overseas or have kids who live overseas. How do they connect with you?

JS: Our site is and if they need to register, they can go directly to As long as someone makes the deadline, which differs in the various states, a ballot should be automatically sent, although one can download a Federal write-in absentee ballot as a substitute. All the instructions are available on the website.

See our full series of delegate interviews.

Meet the Most Senior PA Delegate: Benjamin Franklin

Ralph Archbold as Benjamin Franklin at the National Museum of American Jewish History

Ralph Archbold as Benjamin Franklin at the National Museum of American Jewish History

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice bumped into Pennsylvania’s most senior delegate at the National Museum of American Jewish History, before the Bend the Arc reception during the Democratic National Convention. To our delight, Benjamin Franklin took the opportunity to chat with us about the convention and his relationship with the Jewish community. [Read more…]

Meet the #DNC Delegates: Anna Payne

Anna PayneAnna Payne is an elected delegate for Bernie Sanders from Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District. She works for a credit union. Anna lives in Middletown Township, Bucks County with her mom and stepdad, a dog and a cat.

DocJess: When did you decide you wanted to be a delegate?

Anna Payne: Back in 2012, I watched the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, and thought it was very interesting and cool, and I was curious about the people on the floor and the roles they played. I thought that to get there, you’d have to know someone. I was in college majoring in Political Science, and one of my courses had a class about delegates, what they do and what the different processes were in various states to become a delegate. I learned that most of the delegates are pledged to a candidate. I started doing research on how the process works here in Pennsylvania. It’s a long process, but I knew I was up to the challenge!

I worked on the Obama Campaign in 2012 and joined my local Democratic Party in 2014. I stayed involved with the committee and once I found out that 2016 convention was to be held in Philadelphia, I thought “that’s perfect” and I knew I had to try to become a delegate.

DJ: What made you decide to become a Bernie Sanders delegate?

AP: Bernie was a no-brainer for me. He’s my guy. I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in 2008, I thought then that Obama was the better candidate, but I looked at both Sanders and Clinton. I had been following Bernie on Facebook before he became a candidate, and once he announced, I thought that he had better ideas than she did on the issues that matter to me. I could tell he really cares, for him this wasn’t a career move, this was for the future.  When he talks, he talks from the heart, he actually gives a damn.  He wants to change the system, he is honest, and he has integrity and that is refreshing.

DJ: Did you go to the Sanders organizing meeting?

AP: I missed the Philadelphia meeting because it snowed, and then when they rescheduled it, I had to work. But I had already gone to the Pennsylvana Democratic Committee meeting in Doylestown in December explaining how people could become delegates. They covered information about petitions, signatures and the whole process. So I went online and applied with the state, and I also filled out an application on the Sanders campaign website. I wasn’t taking any chances, so I also sent a letter to the Vermont headquarters. The campaign approved me after both my application and receiving my information passed on by the state.

DJ: How was running for delegate?

AP: First I had to get on the ballot. Once I found out that the time for signatures was only two-and-a-half weeks, I thought, “You want me to do what? I work a full time job.” I hosted a signing party at my house that I advertised via social media, and that was a big help. Plus, I went to different Democratic meetings and house parties. I couldn’t have gotten the signatures I needed without the help of my family and friends. All the Bernie delegates for our district also worked together to help each other out, without their assistance. I don’t know if I would have obtained the magic number needed in time.  Luckily none of my signatures were challenged. In my CD, I don’t think either campaign challenged anyone, and that the campaigns were really fair to one another.

DJ: Did you campaign after getting on the ballot?

AP: I certainly did. I used Facebook, Twitter, other social media, recruited poll volunteers. I went to all sorts of Democratic meetings in the district, plus I worked through the Bernie campaign. Also, I became a Middletown Committeewoman.

DJ: You made it. Congratulations! What are you looking forward to at the convention?

AP: I’m very excited! This is my first convention. I look forward to playing a role in shaping the party, and the future of the party. Really having an impact on history and the future. Looking forward to everything since I’ve never done any of it before.

DJ: Are you going to vote for Hillary Clinton if she’s the candidate?

AP: I might vote for Hillary, I probably will, but the convention is not over yet. What will the platform ideas be that the party formally adopts? In order for people like me to feel our voices matter to the party, we need to see Bernie’s ideals adopted. The ones that we supported him for: Hillary has to reach out to us. She recently embraced part of Bernie’s idea for free college tuition. If she keeps trying to at least meet us halfway, and abandons her old ways, like big donors, then that will make people feel better about supporting the party in the fall.

DJ: I read today that Clinton came out for lowering the age for Medicare to 50 or 55 as part of Obamacare. Is that the sort of thing you mean?

AP: I would like to see a bigger step then lowering the age to 50, that doesn’t help me any. I have Cystic Fibrosis and that is why universal health care is so important for me. I get insurance through work, but I have a $6,000 deductible. For me, healthcare is a really big deal. I’m a fan of the Affordable Care Act since now I can’t be denied because I have Cystic Fibrosis, and there are no caps on insurance payments. The ACA does a lot of good but it doesn’t go far enough, and one of Bernie’s ideas is basically Medicare-for-all. The ACA does a lot of good things, but there are so many people left out. I lecture and fund-raise for Cystic Fibrosis organizations. I see so many people using Go Fund Me for lung transplants, people with Cystic Fibrosis who can’t get married because they’ll lose Medicaid. I’m currently receiving Medicaid as a supplement that I pay a premium for. I’m terrified to cap out wage wise, and I often wonder what would happen if I get married, as the Medicaid is my safety net.  Somebody needs to do something about this, and it’s a big reason I support Bernie Sanders. He really understands.

DJ: Do you plan on staying involved with politics after the convention?

AP: Absolutely. I think it’s very important to get involved and stay involved: the only way that things will every change is if people get in involved, stay involved and stand up. I think people are more aware of primaries, caucuses, elections and candidates since this year’s elections season. I’m involved with CF: I make speeches and raise money, and I plan to do the same going forward with politics. You can’t just vote and think things will change, you cannot just sit on the sidelines. This fall I plan to work for candidates up and down the ticket.

DJ: Do you want to run for office?

AP: It’s a dream of mine. But a lot it depends on my health.

DJ: The convention costs are high. How are you covering them?

AP: I hadn’t realized how much it would cost or that I’d have to stay at the hotel. I’d planned on staying on a friend’s couch. I have a Go Fund Me account. I don’t have enough money yet, but I’m working on it. I was part of a Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser in June, and I’m hoping those donors will give to this, too.

DJ: What’s your Go Fund Me account?


DJ: Any final thoughts?

AP: Just to reiterate: don’t stay on the sidelines, get involved.  I hope this election as taught us all to do our research about our candidates, I know our lives are busy but our future is important.  As Americans we are lucky to be able to vote,  and no the system is not perfect,  but if more of us start to pay attention do our research and get involved we can make a huge difference.

See our full series of delegate interviews.

Meet the #DNC Delegates: Chuck Pennacchio

CHUCK PENNACCHIOIn the interest of full disclosure, Chuck and I have worked on a number of issues together over the past decade, and met through Healthcare4AllPA.

Chuck Pennacchio is an elected delegate for Bernie Sanders from Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District, having received the most votes in the April 26 primary. He is a lifelong political activist, educator, and filmmaker. He lives in Plumsteadville, Bucks County, with his wife and two children.

DocJess: When did you decide to support Bernie?
[Read more…]

Meet the #DNC Delegates: Stephanie Markstein

Stephanie MarksteinIn the interest of full disclosure, Stephanie and I have worked on a number of campaigns together over the past decade.

Stephanie Markstein is an At-Large Delegate representing Bernie Sanders. She is chairwoman of the West Chester Democratic Committee, an elected position. Stephanie is also a singer-songwriter and a yoga teacher/personal trainer.

DocJess: So, Stephanie, is this your first time as a delegate?

Stephanie Markstein: Yes, I am a rookie delegate, and I’m very excited.

DJ: How did you get to become a delegate? [Read more…]

Meet the #DNC Delegates: Sabrina Fedrigo

sabrinaIn the interest of full disclosure, I have known Sabrina since she was a child.

Sabrina Fedrigo is a Bernie Sanders delegate from Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District. She is a college student and part-time nanny. She lives in Collegeville with her boyfriend, their two dogs, three cats and a chinchilla.

DocJess: When did you first decide to support Bernie Sanders?

Sabrina Fedrigo: Back in July 2015, I was only really hearing about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and I didn’t think either of them really represented my values. I took the “I Side With” quiz, and found I was aligned with Bernie Sanders. Then I researched him and found he spoke truth about education and income inequality. I really respect him for speaking the truth on important issues. I started going to the local organizing meetings and I applied to be a delegate. I was chosen as one of the candidates to run for delegate at an organizing meeting in Philadelphia in January of this year.

DJ: What was your experience running to get on the ballot? [Read more…]