The Lead

W. Pa. lawmakers announce guests for State of the Union address

By: - February 6, 2023 4:00 pm
The U.S. Capitol. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The U.S. Capitol (Samuel Corum/Getty Images).

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Summer Lee D-12th District, are bringing a previously incarcerated man and a union organizer to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. And Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District, has invited a striking worker from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

Dennis Horton, along with his brother Lee, were incarcerated for nearly 28 years for second-degree murder, a crime both claimed they did not commit. In May 1993, the two brothers gave a ride to a friend, not knowing the man had just committed a murder-robbery in Philadelphia. When police pulled over their car, they arrested all three men. 

Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s former lieutenant governor, presided over the Hortons’ commutation hearing, in his capacity as chairperson of the state Board of Pardons, after pushing for their release. 

Then-Gov Tom Wolf commuted the Hortons’ sentences in in 2021.  

“It’s an honor and a privilege to welcome Dennis to Washington to attend the State of the Union address with me,” Fetterman said in a statement. “The incarceration of Dennis and Lee for a crime they did not commit is a stark reminder of the work we need to do to make our criminal justice system more equitable and fair.”

Lee’s guest at the speech  will be Nila Payton, an organizer for Hospital Workers Rising. 

A worker at the UPMC health system in western Pennsylvania, Payton has described her struggle with medical debt. She ended up $4000 in debt to her own employer, which the healthcare system eventually sent to collections. 

“No hospital worker should be in medical debt to their employer–especially when that employer rakes in billions on the backs of Pittsburgh taxpayers each year,” Lee said in a statement. 

“I’ve been proud to fight alongside Nila Payton since my days as a State House Rep and it’s been a privilege to stand in solidarity with the movement she has built organizing for livable wages, safe conditions, and collective bargaining power for all Pittsburgh hospital workers, Lee continued. 

Deluzio invited James “Hutchie” VanLandingham to attend the speech as his guest. VanLandingham is one of the members of the Communications Workers 0f America striking against the Post-Gazette. He’s worked at the PG for 28 years and has been on strike since October. The trip will be his first-ever to Washington, D.C., according to a statement from Deluzio. 

In his statement, Deluzio vowed to defend the striking workers “and … the union way of life. It is an honor to host Hutchie at this year’s State of the Union to put workers’ rights and the labor movement in front of the President and in the national spotlight.”

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly